We were in the middle of various submarine schools in New London. It was the deep part of winter – very cold and icy in Connecticut that time of year. As I recall, it was a graduation day for several more senior classes than us so many of our instructors were attending the graduation. They had trusted us and left us to sit in some of our classrooms for the long morning – to study. Sure. Right.
A bunch of us decided that – instead of sitting in our classrooms – we should all head over to the library. There, we could study but we could also read books, magazines, or newspapers. And besides, the library was warm and had comfortable seats and it was far more civil than sitting in a cold classroom on chairs made of steel and plywood. Good idea, we all thought.
In order to not make too much of a scene, it was decided that small groups at a time should head over to the library instead of one single large group. Again, this made sense to everyone so we all grabbed our jackets and hats and slowly filtered – in groups of four or five – over to the warm and cozy library.
And it worked! We all made it over in a little bit, found our warm spots, and settled in for a nice morning of reading or chatting very quietly.
Funny thing, though. The library never had more than maybe ten people in it at any given time so we could only surmise later that the duty librarian had gotten a bit suspicious when the library had filled up with maybe fifty young sub sailors – all in the middle of a workday morning, no less.
So, we had been settled in all comfortable for maybe thirty minutes when suddenly several grumpy – and very misunderstanding, we thought – chiefs walked in and started escorting us out onto the cold mall in front of the library. They told us to stand out there and wait for them. Oh no – we had been compromised by someone. Now we were going to have to pay our dues, it seemed. Who had this crazy idea anyway – to run off to the library instead of staying in class and studying? Sheesh…
Anyway, it’s interesting how this all worked out. The prosecuting chiefs led us down the hill to a cold and windy pier on the Thames River where several fast attack submarines were tied up. This, actually, was as close as some of us had ever been to real submarines. Our job, we were told, was to pick the ice and deposit it over the side of the pier into the river. Yes, pick and chip ice off of the concrete pier. Make it clean and safe. The group were all given big heavy metal chisels and snow shovels. This is what you get for leaving the classrooms without authorization, we were told.
It was pretty bad. Not the chipping but the cold on the river. It was frigid. But, interestingly, after the grumpy chiefs left several members of one of the boat crews came out and told us not to worry about the ice and snow. Once a day, they said, a machine would come by and clean it all up. It would be by any time now so don’t worry about it, they said. Instead, they invited us down onto their boat for lunch. And maybe a short tour. Well, of course we were up for this. To get away from the cold icy wind, certainly, but we were really excited to get down on our first boat.
And this cinched the deal for me. I remember it was tiny and tight inside. But people were scurrying around. It was packed and loaded with all kinds of electronic gear. We had never seen a real control room – it was our first time to see periscopes and the dive station and the plotting station and a torpedo station. This was awesome. They took us on down to the mess decks and served us something warm to eat and drink. And the crew were very nice to us newbies. They joked that some of the sub school people would often “punish” misbehaving students by sending them down to clean the pier – the boats didn’t care about the pier because of the ice and snow machine that would come by every day. Instead, this particular boat had invited several groups of newbie sailors on-board for their first submarine tour.
It was explained to us by a helpful boat crew-member that we were seeing the difference between a sea-going command and a shore command. We all definitely liked this sea-going command far better than our sub school shore command.
So, after lunch we got a tour of the berthing spaces and a peek at the torpedo room. This was for keeps, to me. This is what I wanted to do, for sure. It was fascinating, and I loved the boat’s crew, too. They were proud of what they did, they seemed mostly crazy, and they had one focus – their mission.
Well, it had been a good few hours. The tour on the boat made the whole library incident worth it. We finished up our tour and made it back to our classrooms for the afternoon sessions.
Interestingly, nothing else was ever said about us going to the library or us getting a tour on the boat or us only half picking the pier ice. Not one word.