A Step Back…
By Darla M Poulos
I am a United States Sailor.
I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States, and I will obey the orders of those appointed over me.
I represent the fighting spirit of the Navy and those who have gone before me to defend freedom and democracy around the world.
I proudly serve my Navy’s combat team with honor, commitment and courage.
I am committed to excellence and the fair treatment of all.
"Well, here she is men, our home for the next few weeks," reverently stated, Lee Crane, Captain of the Seaview, as they stood on the tender’s dry dock at the end of red-lead row.
"This old Gato class sub?" asked Riley, glancing wide-eyed over his shoulder at the line of submarines, destroyers and other boats painted with red preservative paint. A few boats were at the tender in various stages of refit. Others were moored together in groups of six, according to their structure types, with heaving lines attached to heavy wooden pilings. Their rounded hulls, streaked with rust and grime, rocked against the march of time.
"This old submarine fought for us during World War II, Riley and we owe her a debt of gratitude. She’s one of the survivors," softly stated Crane. "We lost fifty-two subs during that war with eight still on eternal patrol."
"Eternal patrol?" again questioned Riley, carefully examining the old boat from bow to stern.
"Yes, when the documents from WWII were declassified, there were eight subs lost and never accounted for. There is no record of them being sunk by the Japanese or Germans. They just went out on patrol and never came back," explained the Captain. "That’s why this sub is so important. She’s been refitted, with all her original gear, right down to the propellers. Her engines have been overhauled, tuned and primed. The boat itself has been totally refurbished and stocked with provisions. She’s headed to a Maritime Museum in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, to be with her sister boat, the S.S. Cobia, for an exhibition. It’s up to us, to get her there."
"Manitowoc, I know that place," stated Chip Morton, Seaview’s executive officer, "It’s one of the Navy’s shipbuilding companies. I believe they built twenty-eight submarines similar to this one, during the war."
"Correct, Chip," replied his Commander, maintaining the rapt attention of his volunteer crew, which numbered thirty-five men. "According to the documents and history that Admiral Nelson gave me, twenty-five of these subs saw action during the war and four were sunk. They, along with the other subs, were the backbone of the Navy and invaluable. At the end of the war, these twenty-five submarines were accredited with sinking 132 Japanese ships, with a total tonnage of 488,918 tons. One Manitowoc ship, the U.S.S. Rasher, was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation and six subs were awarded with Navy Unit Commendations."
"Wow," replied Chief Sharkey, in awe. "Can you imagine, what it must have been like to be depth-charged in one of these?"
The men all groaned, for it hadn’t been that long ago, that they had been depth-charged in Seaview. They had come back from a long, hard mission eight weeks ago, after rescuing an ONI agent named Jaguar. The agent had turned out to be an old friend and rival of their Skipper’s. Seaview had gone into dry dock, for a refit with the finishing touches to be done in New London. While waiting for the refit to be completed, the Navy had asked Nelson to do them a favor…
"I don’t ever want to know," shuddered Kowalski, critically eyeing the old pigboat. It looked too thin to him. He knew from the quick history lessons and training sessions they all received, during the past few days, the Sea Myth was three hundred eleven feet long and twenty-seven feet abeam; with an armament of ten, twenty-one inch torpedo tubes, four aft and six in the bow. In her prime, she carried twenty-four torpedoes with one five-inch fifty-caliber deck gun, two forty–millimeter guns, three fifty-caliber machine guns and twin twenty millimeters guns that were stored below deck.
A diesel engine started up, followed by its mate on the starboard side, emitting a belch of smoke. A few seconds later, the twin motors on port echoed the first set. Exhaust could be seen rising from the after deck, as the hum increased from the armatures.
A man in his late sixties, holding a Navy ball cap, came up on deck through the aft hatch and noticed the men standing on the gangway. Cupping his hands, he shouted, over the noise of the engines, "Captain Crane, I presume?" At Crane’s affirmative nod, he bent and yelled something down through the hatch. The engines were reduced to a low throb and two men came out of the after hatch. Captain Crane led his crew to the end of the gangway, where they stopped, turned toward the bridge and saluted the ensign on the aft end of the cigarette deck. The older man, dressed in a blue chambray work shirt and jeans, met them at the brow on the main deck.
Crane smartly saluted the elderly man and requested permission to come aboard. The seaman granted permission as he squared his ball cap on his graying head. He held out his hand and stated, "Welcome aboard, sir. I’m CPO Mike Cummings, retired and your helmsman this cruise." Crane grasped the older gentleman’s hand in a solid handshake. The CPO then turned to the other two seniors, standing beside him and introduced them, "This here is torpedo man 2nd class, Jacob Stewart and electricians mate 1st class, James Marsh." They each shook hands with the Captain, who in turn, presented Lieutenant Morton, O’Brien, Sparks and Chief Sharkey.
"You three are all that is left of the original crew?" questioned Crane, observing their craggy, knowledgeable faces. Nelson briefed him earlier that a few former members from the old sub would be present to lend a hand on this cruise. Imagine the stories they can tell…He was secretly delighted to have them aboard. World War II submarines had been a great interest and hobby of his, since he was a child. Sitting on his grandfather’s knee, he had often heard the old stories. His grandparent proudly served aboard the old subs, some forty years ago, at the old age of forty-three, the same age Lee was now. The much-repeated remembrances of the old man and a book written by Admiral Falk, had served as a catalyst for his interest in the sea, the Navy and its submarines.
Cummings lifted a hand and plucked at his nose, "Well, they’re a few more, but most of them have passed on or are in a V.A. hospital some where’s. Unfortunately, we’re all that’s left of the able bodied men. It’s hell to get old," he grinned, casually inspecting the Seaview men. "I was told Admiral Nelson would be joining us; I once served under him before I retired."
"Yes, sir," Crane replied, deferring in respect to the man’s age and not rank. "Unfortunately, he won’t be coming with us," seeing the man’s disappointment, he added, "he’s personally overseeing Seaview’s refit. He’ll be along to see us off before we sail." The man noticeably brightened.
"Well then, Commander Crane, I am ready to be relieved of the boat’s responsibility." He handed Crane his informal orders and came to attention out of respect.
The Seaview men also came to attention in an outward show of respect and unity.
Crane read his orders out loud, then came to attention. "Chief Petty Officer, Cummings, I relieve you, sir."
"I stand relieved, sir," replied the elder gentleman.
"At ease," ordered Captain Crane. Seeing his crew’s avid interest in the boat and wanting a relaxed mood amongst the ship’s company, he added excitedly, "Let’s get below and check out our temporary home."
Cummings lead the way, as they nimbly climbed down the aft hatch ladder and came to a halt in the after torpedo room. The first thing Chief Sharkey noticed was the glistening brass covered, torpedo tube doors. My how they shine! The big yellow and black torpedoes rested on smooth, worn tracks on both sides of the boat.
Riley exclaimed, "Look, there are bunks on top of the torpedoes! I’ve forgotten what it’s like to have limited space and these old boats are really cramped."
"Of course, you bonehead! There wasn’t much room for seventy-seven men all told. Even with the bunks spread all over the boat, most men had to hot bunk it." At his look of consternation, Sharkey went on, "You guys don’t know how good you’ve got it on Seaview."
No truer words were spoken, thought Patterson as they started forward. They passed through the maneuvering room, then the aft and forward engine room, which consisted of four, ten-cylinder, double-crankshaft, Fairbanks-Morse diesel engines. The engines were humming along at their lowest idle. The noise was deafening.
Pat yelled over his shoulder to Ski, "Look at these babies. They’re as clean as a whistle!"
"I’m glad this isn’t my duty station!" Ski hollered back. "I’d be deaf in no time."
Next, came more crew’s quarters. These bunks, in rows of four, folded up against the curved sides of the bulkhead. Little green lockers, a foot wide, were dispersed between the rows of the thin, single mattress beds. The decking consisted of a see-through grate, which looked into the after batteries housed beneath them.
Mr. Morton read off a few names, "Clarke, Harker, Simmons, Ray…these are your assigned crew’s quarters. You’ll find the keys in your lockers." He heard a couple of low murmurs with one man stating, "Well, at least we’re not sleeping above a torpedo."
The crew’s mess, aft of the galley, consisted of long, yellow tables with benches on either side. The cold storage unit was located beneath it next to the pump room.
"This looks like the size of a shoebox," complained Cookie. This is definitely a one-man operation. The assistant must stand practically in the corridor.
The electric stove and sink were adjacent to each other with the small oven under the heating unit. A deep fryer was on top, next to the sink with utensils, hanging in a wire mesh over the flat surface of the stove. Compact cupboards surrounded the tiny space with food crammed into each one. The built-in fridge stood next to a mixer and can opener, permanently fixed to the bulkhead. Dishes, glasses and silverware were kept in specially made bins to hold them in place. The pots and pans hung from a rack above the stove.
Cookie leaned on a small counter, looking through a service window into the officer’s wardroom. This room was painted sea green with yellow tile on the deck. A small oblong table stood in the middle of the room. Built-in hardwood benches surrounded the mounted table with a scattering of padded chairs, added for comfort. A lone coffee pot was connected to the bulkhead and served as one of the boat’s few modern conveniences.
The radio and communications shack were next door to the officer’s wardroom. Sparks, upon entering, could only stare in fascination at the old equipment. The tiny room was crammed full with old radios, receivers and decoding equipment.
"Look," he excitedly exclaimed. "Transistors, batteries and tubes, real tubes and get a load of this…an antique manual typewriter?" Carefully running his hand over the surface of it, he dropped out of the tour and immediately began inspecting his domain.
Grinning, the officers went into the control room. Lee didn’t know quite how to describe it in his mind. Cramped would be a good word. White painted, exposed wires, pipes, valves, circuits and ductwork were jammed tightly against equipment with a low ceiling. A big brass wheel, primarily used in emergency situations, was to the right of the very scarred chart table. It sat on top of the green, cylinder shaped gyro, with the compass in the middle of the tiled surface, dominating the center of the small room. Behind the conning tower ladder, stood two red wheels for the planesmen, with the Christmas tree board to the right and above the ballast tank controls.
"Wow, this is a far cry from Seaview," stated Chip, in wonder, as Kowalski and Riley headed up the conning tower ladder, to find their stations respectively.
"Yep, we’re going to appreciate Seaview much better when this cruise is over, no doubt about it," agreed the Skipper. "Let’s stow our gear and get ready to get underway." The ratings came back down from the conning tower and were joined by Sparks with the other officers.
Grinning from ear to ear, Lee reminded Chip of a kid in a candy shop. "You’re enjoying this aren’t you?" he asked.
Lee threw him an amused glance, "Yes, from the time I was little. You know, I’ve read all the old war logs. I always wanted to go on a war patrol in one of these old boats. Just imagine all the action?" Getting no response from Chip, he sobered and said, "Even in Viet Nam, the action wasn’t anything like in World War II." He headed forward, finding the officer’s quarters, with Chip behind him.
A deep groan was heard from Chip, as more of the ratings and other officers found their quarters. "Home sweet home," his XO mumbled.
The officer’s quarters weren’t much bigger than the men’s. The Captain’s stateroom was painted green and contained a narrow bunk with a fold down bunk above it. A phone was connected to the side of a built-in desk with a safe beneath it. Small, green, oblong lockers graced the bulkhead between the bunks. A fold down stainless steel sink was at the other end of the tiny room. Their only door to privacy, from the passageway, was a green curtain.
Seeing the extra bunk, Crane said, "This sub is one of the few where the captain's quarters has two bunks. You might as well bunk with me. Though we only have half a crew, it'll give everyone a spot and the men won't have to hot bunk."
"Green and yellow seem to be the main décor," smirked Chip, dropping his sea bag on the bunk.
"Well, Chip," grinned the Captain, "I’m pulling rank and taking the lower bunk." He noticed his exec’s grimace, "Besides, you’re younger than me."
"La de da," complained Chip, good-naturedly. He looked across the way and noticed Sparks with O’Brien going through the same motions of getting unpacked and settled in. Cummings, their helmsman and Frank, who had the duties of pharmacist mate, were bunked with them. Chief Sharkey went to the forward torpedo room and claimed a bunk there with Riley, Kowalski and Patterson.
As the senior staff unpacked and became familiar with their quarters, they could hear the ratings conversation forward.
"Chief," asked Patterson, "you want starboard or port?"
"Not that it makes a difference, but I’ll take starboard." He hefted his seabag up onto the bunk over the torpedo. Climbing over the explosive device, he mumbled, "I’m sure glad, these things aren’t armed."
The men chuckled, as Ski teased, "Now come on, Chief. We’ve faced scarier things than a hot torpedo."
"That may be true," puffed Sharkey, somewhat out of breath, boy, do I need to lose weight, "but, during the war, a few of these babies had been known to have a life of their own."
"Oh, like coming to life, still on the rack?" interjected Pat, as he pulled out his clothes, personal items, magazines and a few books from his seabag, placing them in the small locker beside his bunk.
"You got it, kid," flatly stated Sharkey. "I heard more stories of subs doing a quick 180 degree turn or diving deep when the gyros went haywire. I guess that’s how the Scorpion was sunk."
One of Pat’s books slid off the bunk and hit the deck. "Blast," cursed Pat. "Hey, Riley hand me that book, will ya?"
"Sure," replied Riley, scooping it off the deck. "The Who Done It Caper?" he queried, an odd look on his face. He handed it back to Pat. "Wasn’t Heather reading this a couple of days ago?"
"Yup, that’s the one," confirmed Pat. He slammed the locker shut, leaving the book on top of his bunk. "She said this is a short, old, dime novel and it’s a real mystery which has a surprise ending." He picked up the old book and gently ran his thumb across the worn, yellowed pages. "She knows I love old things, especially books. After I’m done reading it, I’m suppose to pass it on to the next guy."
"Uh, oh, " snickered Ski, "there’s more to the book than meets the eye. Knowing Heather, she’s got some surprise waiting for us."
"Maybe, maybe not," defended Pat. "After all, she’s in charge of morale. He heard a smirk from Riley. "That’s only because she made the mistake and complained to the Skipper, that she was bored one day."
Sharkey, taking up the tale added, "Yeah, and he gave her something to do, in more ways than one."
Laughter followed that statement and Lee grinned too. Seeing his exec’s amusement, he calmly defended, "If I remember correctly, it was a rather boring day." He zipped his empty seabag closed and stuffed it under the bottom bunk.
"You mean, before or after, you took Heather to your cabin?" teased Chip, getting in on the joke.
Lee rubbed his chin, "Mmm, I guess you’d call that a piece of afternoon delight." He left with a self-satisfied grin.
The Senior Staff soon found themselves busy making preparations to get under way. Working with only half a crew was no obstacle. The hard part was organizing the boat. Duty watches were soon drawn up. The men divided into various watch sections and departments, according to the needs of the boat and their area of expertise. The men, having been cross-trained on Seaview, only needed time to familiarize themselves with the old equipment and their new duty stations. In a few hours, the Sea Myth was ready to begin her sea trials and exercises before heading for the Great Lakes. It was a must, to familiarize the men with the old equipment and see how well the submarine performed. After completing a thorough checklist on all compartments and procedures, Capt. Crane ordered the deck crew to single down the lines. Chief Sharkey, being officer of the deck, ordered two of the three lines attached to each of the four cleats, wound down and stored in the stowage bins beneath the deck.
Admiral Nelson joined them shortly thereafter. Much to Nelson’s pleasure, CPO Cummings proudly gave him an entertaining tour of the boat, reminiscing about old happenings aboard the sub. Ending up inside the control room, the men grabbed onto the gleaming brass rails and quickly climbed up the gray ladder into the center of the conning tower. Lee was operating one of two periscopes, in the middle of the tower, while to his right Chip tested the phone system. In the older boats all chiefs or key personnel wore telephone headsets, which were plugged into a unified system. There were no intercoms, so to speak, except for the public address system, which was located in the captain’s stateroom.
"Testing, testing, if you hear my voice, please report," requested the XO into his headset.
Standing beside the hatch, Nelson looked around the cramped conning tower. To his right was the torpedo data computer (TDC) station. In the nose, stood another brass wheel connected to its counterpart in the control room. The helmsman’s station was mostly in the conning tower. The boat was conned from the bridge, with the officer of the deck giving orders through a two-way squawk box, mounted on the sill. On some boats, the officer yelled his orders down through the open hatch when they were on the surface.
Around to port, stood the radar and sonar stations with Kowalski busily acquainting himself with the old equipment. "Get a load of these old tubes and circuits," he marveled to Riley, who just joined him at the station.
Next and aft stood the two periscopes, one an attack-scope, the other a radarscope, with wider lenses. Beyond them, a small chart table embedded into the curved section of the bulkhead. Lastly, by the hatch on the starboard side, a silver pickle-shaped knob hung suspended between the TDC and the brass steering wheel. This pickle, controlled the periscope’s movement up and down from its well.
"Maneuvering, manned and ready," said Marsh, the electrician’s mate.
"Engine room ready to answer bells," called in Patterson, adjusting the choke on engine number four.
"Aft torpedo room hears you loud and clear," reported 2nd class torpedo man Stewart.
"Damage Control raring to go," added Cookie, doubling as chief damage control officer and cook.
Half listening to the plugged in headset lying on the chart table, where he suspected his captain had left it and leaning an elbow on a map, Nelson asked, "All squared away, Lee?"
"Yes, sir," replied Crane, glancing away from the one-eyed periscope and nodding to Morton to lower it back into it’s base below the deck. Morton, having completed his checklist, hung up the phone and grabbed the pickle depressing the button, but nothing happened.
"Here, sir, let me get that pickle for you," quickly stated Cummings, reaching up and expertly wiggled the button, then pressed inwards. "It was always a touchy thing. I can’t tell you how often we took it apart. Never did find the problem. I guess, some things never change," he grinned at the men.
"Humph," grunted Nelson, chuckling, "I’m sure glad you’re aboard Mike, knowing the boat as you do, it’ll make this cruise a lot easier."
"Thank you, Admiral, I’m only too happy to oblige," beamed Cummings, watching the periscope disappear into the well.
"Amen to that," agreed Crane. "I can hardly wait to hear all the old stories," he rubbed his hands in anticipation. "First though, we have to get underway." He looked over to his exec, who moved to the small chart table. "Everything set, Chip?"
"Aye, sir," he picked up a piece of paper and handed it to the Admiral. "Here’s the sailing list. Our quartermaster," he nodded to O’Brien, who just came up the ladder, "already entered the names in the log. The men have all their gear stowed and have become familiar with their stations. Stores were all loaded yesterday and the course has been set." He sighed, dropping the pencil on the chart table. "We’re ready, when you are."
Putting the list in his shirt pocket, Nelson responded, "You’re staying with the same course we plotted a couple of nights ago?"
"Yes, sir," nodded Crane. "After the sea trials, we’ll head for the St Lawrence Seaway and work our way through the Great Lakes until we reach Manitowoc Wisconsin."
Nelson slapped him one on the shoulder, and said, "All right Lee, let’s get underway. Good luck and God speed." He went back to the control room ladder, turned and started down it, when Lee’s hesitant voice halted him on the first rung.
"Admiral?" Lee was across from him, ready to ascend the ladder to the bridge.
Nelson stopped, looked at his watch and turned back to his Captain. Twenty-six minutes…looks like I owe Chip a steak…I gave him twenty minutes from the time I boarded. I wonder what took him so long to get to this question? Must be the excitement of taking this boat out that delayed him. He reminds me of a kid with a new toy…
Toying with his ring, Lee saw the merriment in his superior’s eyes and somewhat chagrined with himself, he asked, "You’re ah, going to check on Heather…from time to time?"
A ghost of a smile crossed Nelson’s face. He really does love my daughter, oh Heather, you did really well in marrying this man. "Now Lee," pacified the admiral, "You know, she’ll be totally fine at your mother’s house. She’s getting a little mother-henning from Rose and the experience will do her a world of good."
"I know that, sir, but she’s stubborn, headstrong and not used to someone else, besides us, telling her what to do and I know my mom…"
"Lee, stop worrying and that’s an order! I want you to relax and enjoy yourself this cruise out," sternly ordered Nelson, feeling more like a parent, at the moment, than an officer. Seeing his captain’s look of embarrassment and knowing the other men were all ears, he quickly added, "She’ll be all right. Your Mother will handle any problems that may crop up," a look of dismay crossed Lee’s face and he quickly continued, trying to reassure him. "She’s perfectly safe and I’ve already agreed to call her," besides, my curiosity would kill me, if I didn’t. Having a mother is going to be a whole new game for her, that’s for sure. He let out a chuckle and smartly cracked, "Will once a night be enough?"
"Yes, Admiral," flatly replied Lee, secretly relieved. Not wanting the men to see his flushed face, he reached for the ladder and nimbly climbed it to the bridge. Nelson, in turn, descended the one to the control room, missing the smiles of the remaining men.
Captain Crane stood on the bridge with his exec, Chip Morton, by his side. Three men were standing watch overhead, up by the periscope shears, each sharing one-third of the horizon with binoculars in hand. Crane carefully watched the current in the Thames River as it swept around the buoys in the channel. The current is light and should push us away from the dock. We’ll have to be careful how we pull out of here or we’ll hit our port beam. He waited until Nelson crossed the gangway, and then spoke into the two-way squawk box, which was connected into the telephone system, extending to all internal compartments of the boat. "Standby to answer bells."
The old submarine, having no external communication system, forced Crane to cup his hands and shout down to Chief Sharkey, "Take in the brow!" Sharkey motioned to the men on the dock, to pull up the gangway and push it out of the way. That done, Crane yelled, "Take in lines two and three!" The dock line handlers took off the two middle lines from the cleats and heaved them to the deck crew, where they were quickly snaked down and stored in the bins next to the ammunition for the deck guns. "Take in number four!"
Once the line was wound down and stowed, the current took hold of the boat and gently pushed it away from the dock. "Slack one!" Lee shouted to the bow crew, then, he yelled to helmsman Cummings inside the conning tower, "Rudder amidships, all back full!" Immediately following with, "Take in one!" The last line was heaved over to the bow and quickly stowed with the deck crew, immediately heading below decks. The OOD made his way to the bridge and Mr. Morton went down into the conning tower.
The Sea Myth backed fully into the Thames River, pivoting on her keel, with one engine going ahead and one backing. She headed downstream at one-third speed ignoring the tugs that waited to assist her out of the channel. The shoreline was slowly changing from green to a fall hue with a variety of colors dotting the coast. A crisp northeasterly wind put a chill in the air and the men donned their jackets. Harbor traffic was light with only an occasional Navy boat headed up the river to the shipyard or submarine base. They by-passed a freighter on its way out to the ocean and came up behind a New London ferry on its daily run to Block Island. People on the boat waved and pointed at them with expressions of curiosity on their faces.
Time flew by and in a short while, the old submarine reached the Atlantic Ocean at the foot of the Thames River. Crane altered course to the northeast and brought the boat up to 12 knots. The captain set the regular watch with the three lookouts and the OOD, who was still Chief Sharkey. The men felt exhilarated with the wind blowing through their hair and the sea spray soaking their faces. The day was idyll with sunshine in abundance, the temperature at a mild sixty degrees, while the sea cooperated with waves cresting at two to four feet.
Speaking into the squawk box, Crane ordered, "Navigation, bring us within a mile of the coast. Maneuvering cut power to one-third." Staring up at the men standing lookout, he shouted, "Keep a sharp watch, we’re bound to meet some traffic!" As the boat reduced speed, the wind diminished to a gentle breeze, becoming noticeably warmer on the bridge.
"Going by the old homestead, sir?" asked Sharkey, keeping a straight face. He’d never been there, but knew his skipper had grown up in Providence, Rhode Island. After he’d left the nest and gone into the Navy, his mother had bought a small beach house along the coastline in Block Island Sound, adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean. He’d heard the comment from his Skipper’s own mouth, that she wanted to be closer to her boy.
"Yes, Sharkey. My mother’s beach house is south of a little town called Green Hill and located on the old coast road. We’ll be able to see it when we pass by. I made arrangements, before we parted company, for Heather to be on the back deck when we sail by."
Sharkey, jokingly commented, "You’re trusting her to be on a balcony, sir?"
Immediately understanding Sharkey’s wry sense of humor, for Sharkey was as overprotective as he himself, Crane slapped Sharkey on the back, "No need to worry, Sharkey. She’s seen the light. There’ll be no more stunts like that one. She hasn’t touched a drop of whiskey since she climbed on top of that rail…Thank God. Besides, she promised. I can only hope, that from now on, she thinks before she acts."
"If you say so, sir," murmured Sharkey, not believing it for a moment. Boy, who’s kidding whom? Both men exchanged glances and burst into chuckles.
Sharkey studied the coast, noticing the houses were mostly in a cape cod style, a double storied house with the entrance square in the middle. Many had widow’s peaks, which were famous along the eastern coast. He knew the significance behind them. In the old days, the wives watched for their seafaring husbands to come home from the sea. A small, fenced in structure built on top of the roof, made it easier for the wife to spot her man’s ship with the aid of a telescope, while the boat was still miles out in the ocean.
The skipper expertly conned the old submarine through the harbor-coast traffic, as they passed small towns, beaches and state parks. A huge freighter blew his horn in acknowledgement, overtook them and left them in his wake. Road hog, thought Sharkey, as the water splashed and nearly swamped them. Smaller pleasure boats gave them a wide berth, roaring past, their throttles wide-open.
"Where’s the fire?" mumbled Sharkey. The lookouts grinned at their commander’s use of a few choice words as well.
Soon, they were close to the town where his mother and wife were. Captain Crane started following the coastline with his binoculars.
Sharkey put his own binoculars up to his eyes and patiently waited for his skipper to point out the elusive house. He was soon rewarded, when Crane pointed and said excitedly, "Up ahead, on the hill, the white brick house with blue trimmed shutters." It sat on a peak, overlooking the rocks below. A long wooded staircase extended to the beach.
The men trained their glasses on the back of the house, spying two women, leaning against a slender rail on the wide, wooden deck, running the length of the house. A tall, black haired woman stood next to a short petite, redheaded woman, sporting a long single braid. The older woman held in her hand a telescope and it was pointed directly at them. Upon seeing the sub, she excitedly tapped Heather on the shoulder. The younger woman immediately thrust a hand-painted sign over the edge of the rail.
Lee’s heart warmed at the sight of the two people he loved most in the world. He waved, as he read the sign out loud, "You lucky bas…" the end of the sign was bent from the wind and he couldn’t make it entirely out. No need, for he clearly got the message. He brought his glasses down a bit from his eyes, frowned and asked Sharkey, "Does that sign say, what I think it says?"
Sharkey, hesitantly replied, "Yes, sir…looks like, she’s still… ah, upset." He inwardly chuckled. Spitting mad is more like it.
Lee remembered only too well…
It was their last night aboard Seaview, before she went into dry dock. Admiral Nelson wanted his family to meet for dinner in the wardroom. Sharkey, being Heather’s godfather, as well as a cousin to his deceased wife, was invited to attend along with Chip Morton.
Lee put his arm around his wife, who was known for her mercurial moods, and idly scratched her shoulder with his nails, as they waited for Cookie to serve their meal. He’d put the news off, as long as he dared. "Heather," he hesitated a moment, then decided to get it over with, "our plans have changed. When Seaview docks, we’re taking an old submarine back to a museum and you’re…ah… going to my Mother’s." He waited for the news to sink in for she seemed preoccupied.
Heather watched Cookie wink at the exec, as he set their portions down before them. Hungry, she picked up her fork and turned her attention in Lee’s direction, barely realizing he’d spoken to her. The aroma of tuna casserole teased her senses and she waited, expectantly for the explosion that was sure to come. The captain hated tuna and everyone at the table knew it.
"Heather? Did you hear what I just said?" asked Lee, taking off the warming lid, grimacing. He heatedly looked directly at Chip and demanded, "Tuna? You think you’re going to win the bet, that no one’s suppose to know about, and everyone does with tuna?"
A bet had been made between Chip and Lee on their cruise from Santa Barbara to New London. *Lee, still in mourning over the loss of their unborn child hadn’t been eating properly. Unknown to the captain, the senior staff, more than worried, conspired to stimulate his appetite. Chip bet his skipper, two tickets to a dinner and a Broadway play that he couldn’t eat everything on his plate at each meal. Wanting to show his XO and fed up with everyone’s worry over him, he fell for the bet, which was to last until Seaview’s refit was completed.
Lee slammed the lid back down and looked helplessly at Cookie.
"I’m sorry, Skipper, the cupboard was bare. I waited as long as I could to fix this stuff," commiserated Cookie, keeping his eyes averted from his captain’s angry hazel ones.
Nelson stepped in and defended the hapless cook, "Cookie’s right, Lee. I had him stock only enough to get us to port. I don’t have to tell you, what happens to foodstuffs that are left aboard when a boat goes into dry dock.
Rats, thought Chip with a shudder. I hate rats. He glanced at Heather and knew she was thinking the same thing. Then, her eyes flashed fire and he realized Lee’s words had registered in her mind.
"What do you mean, I’m not going with you and the men?" she loudly exclaimed, dropping her fork on the table, landing with a clang, setting Lee’s nerves on edge.
Curling his lip in distaste at the food on his plate, Lee brought his dark head up and took in the profile of his rigid wife. He could well imagine the thoughts going through her pretty head. Damn, this is not going to be good…
Her hands balled beside her plate, as a myriad of expressions crossed her expressive hazel eyes from hurt to confusion. With her cheekbones, riding high with color, she started to say something, then moaned instead. Her face lost a bit of color, as her eyes widened and she declared, "Lee, I’ve never met your mother, how can you just…dump me on her lap? What if…what if she doesn’t like me? What if…I tick her off?" She looked at him in desperation, "I’m good at ticking people off… You know that…look at how often…I tick you off…"
Cookie used to her tirades, unobtrusively slipped around the table with the coffee, filling each cup. After pouring the Captain’s mug, he asked, "You want me to remove this, sir?" indicating the hated tuna.
Lee shook his head no, at the same time glaring at Chip. With a deep sigh, he turned his attention to his more than agitated wife, wishing he’d waited and told her in the privacy of their cabin. Gently cupping her chin, he reassured, "Heather, she wants to meet you." At her shocked look of disbelief, he went on with a slight smile. "Honest, scout’s honor," he held up his hand, like a boy scout.
She giggled, in spite of herself. It brought back a memory of the time they’d first met at the safe house in Martinique.
Sharkey, sitting on the other side of her, tried to help out by saying, "Heather, you have nothing to worry about. She’s just like the Skipper."
She stiffened and Sharkey wondered, what he’d said wrong, until she cried, "You mean, she’ll yell at me all the time?"
Horrified at her misinterpretation and the growl he received from his captain, Sharkey rolled his eyes and grabbed her arm, turning her towards him.
Nervous now, all his superiors were watching him, Sharkey carefully went on, "Look Heather, she’s a sweet lady, like any mother is." A pained expression slashed through her eyes and he visibly winced, damn, how could I’ve forgotten she grew up without a mom and her grandmother had just about ripped her heart out…Tenderly grasping her forearms, while rubbing his thumbs in a soothing manner over her trembling shoulders, he tried again. "Listen kid, it’ll be all right. Trust me," he pleaded and in an unaccustomed display of affection, kissed her forehead.
Heather studied his face a long time. There was no one, other than her husband and father, she trusted more. From the time she had been a baby, it was Sharkey she’d run to with her problems. She slowly nodded, "Okay, Shark, if you say so." Still somewhat troubled, she turned to her plate and started to eat.
The crisis momentarily over, the men also began to eat, including the captain. Lee shoveled down his food, barely tasting it. He really hated tuna. The room was surreally quiet with the only noises coming from the galley. Cookie was washing the dishes and jovially kidding with the men from the crew’s mess. "When we get on the Sea Myth, we’ll have plenty of fresh stores and I’ll cook you guys up my favorite breakfast of French toast," bragged Cookie.
Heather’s head came up and she asked, "Just why can’t I go with you guys on the Sea Myth?" She kept her eyes on her plate, as she played with her knife, a habit she knew irritated her husband. She heard the men sigh, almost in unison, then slammed her knife down on the table before Lee could take it away from her. She brought her eyes up, critically studying each man. Running out of patience, she sharply asked, "Well, is it going to be dangerous or what?"
"No, Heather," flatly replied, her husband. "It’s going to be a piece of cake." He pushed his plate aside and started in on the lemon bar, silently daring Chip to try and steal it. Chip held his hands up in a gesture of defeat.
Nelson, quietly listening to the conversation between his men and daughter, looked up and smirked, as he ate his bar, "You really think so, Lee?" Boy, are you in for a rude awakening.
"Yes, Admiral," replied his captain, a bit too cocky for Nelson’s taste.
Nelson gave him a slight smile and remarked, "Mmm, we’ll see. After a few of days in the classroom on a simulator and the sea-trials, we’ll see how easy it is."
Lee had a feeling, the admiral was laughing at him.
"I’m still waiting…" reminded Heather, starting to pout, a trait she rarely used. "It sounds like all fun to me."
That got a rise out of her husband. "Fun?" asked Lee, bewildered. "Where in blue blazes, do you get fun?" He shook his head negatively, trying to understand her woman’s mind.
Heather could tell he was clearly peeved. Well, so am I and scared. "Then, give me an answer. Why can’t I go?" Why’s he so mad at me? It’s a simple question. Did I insult him, just because I don’t want to go to his mother’s?
Chip studied his moody captain. Something is fishy here and it’s not the tuna fish. Is he worried about her safety? No, that can’t be it; she’ll be at his mother’s beach house. No one knows she’ll even be there. In the morning, he’ll launch the flying sub and take her there personally, and knowing Lee, he’ll appoint a trusted man to be her shadow. So, what is it? And why is she so out of character? Pouting? She never pouts. He decided to intervene, "For starters, Heather, there is no privacy on an old sub."
"What do you mean, Chip? Seaview has no privacy and I’m here," she asked, trying to understand, as she nervously twisted her napkin in her lap.
Chip got another scowl from his captain and frowned. He watched Lee’s jaw tighten, as he nursed his coffee. "Heather, Seaview has spacious cabins and room to roam. In an old sub, it is very confining. The men practically live on top of each other. The atmosphere is warm and most of the time, the men will be in various stages of undress."
At her perplexed look, Lee cut in, "In other words, it’ll be uncomfortable for everyone, especially for… me with you on board."
"Lee, I’ve seen the men in various stages of undress many times. After all, I don’t live in a nunnery and I don’t walk around this boat with my eyes closed, either."
"That’s not what I meant and you know it, " snapped her husband.
"Then, just what do you mean?" she sniped back, forgetting her anxiety for the moment.
He looked her point blank in the eyes, "I don’t want you ogling, the men."
In a voice of disbelief, accompanied by a sound that sounded strangely like a stifled giggle, she retorted, "Ogling the men?"
Lee chagrined, looked away from her, for he hadn’t meant exactly what he’d just said. I trust her implicitly, but the boat is confining. She’s beautiful and to have her on the boat, in close proximity and not be able to touch her at my leisure, in private or anywhere else, without the men knowing…well…it’d be hell. On Seaview, we can go to our soundproof cabin and the men can only speculate…
Heather, not understanding her husband’s statement, pondered out loud, "Let me get this straight. Now… Debra Woodgate, your old girlfriend, would ogle the men." She brought her hand to her chest, "Me, myself, I just enjoy looking for my own…pleasure," she heard her father cough, while Sharkey groaned. There are 125 men on board, how can you not notice? I’m a woman after all, married yes, but not dead. She glanced at her husband’s stormy face and knew she’d ticked him off…again. Blast, quit being so over protective. She heavily sighed and quickly finished, trying to reassure him, "But Lee, honestly, I would never ogle the men."
That appeased him for a minute, as she coolly got up from her chair. Tossing her napkin on her plate, she grabbed her lemon bar and headed for the door. Once there, she turned and boldly gave her husband a heated-lust-filled look, which took his breath away. Then she quipped in a low, husky voice, "Lee, you’re the only man, I’d ever care to ogle." On her way out, she quietly, shut the door, leaving the men speechless.
Silence reined for a solid thirty seconds until Lee jumped up mumbling something about pleasure. He strode to the door in long, angry strides and wrenched it open. Seeing his wife headed up the ladder-well to ‘A’ deck, he yelled, "What do you mean, you enjoy looking at my men?" Getting no answer, he took off after her…
Sharkey discreetly shook his head on the bridge as he remembered the incident well……
The men heard them arguing all the way to their cabin. The grapevine ran wild as usual. The men saw both points of view, the skipper trying to protect his men, her and himself from numerous problems a woman onboard a small sub would create. Shoot, at times, it’s easy to forget she’s even aboard Seaview. Besides, she just fits in most of the time. But, a WWII pig boat? Hell, it just wouldn’t work, there’s no place for a woman…I’ve never known her to be so stubborn…She tried everything she could think of, to talk him out of leaving her at his mother’s. What’s up with that? It must be her insecurities coming to call…By the time, we docked, the Skipper was totally exasperated with her…Well, he couldn’t help it, she’d try the patience of a wooden man. Besides, time was short……
Getting his mind back to the present and not wanting his captain to see his grin, Sharkey kept the binoculars to his face and trained on the house. "Ah, Skipper, she flipped the sign over."
Lee instantly brought his glasses back up and relocated the house. The sign simply read, ‘We love you’. He felt better. He hadn’t liked the way they had parted. Calling down to the helmsman, he ordered a zigzag. Cummings immediately steered the boat to starboard, then back to port. The maneuver was repeated a few times in succession. The Skipper flashed his wife and mother a Hollywood smile, as the Sea Myth passed them by.
"Rig for dive," ordered the captain into the squawk box on the bridge. He immediately, heard the intake valve slam shut, as the engines turned over to the batteries. "Lookouts below!"
Three men scrambled down from their perches, above the boat and headed down the hatch located behind the officers.
"Rig out the planes!" The huge planes, flush against the bow and stern, descended into the water as the captain yelled, "Clear the bridge!" Crane and Sharkey followed the lookouts down into the conning tower, with the captain grabbing the wire hatch lanyard. Bowing his back, he pulled the hatch cover home hearing a click, as the latch engaged. Sharkey ascended up the ladder, whirled the center wheel and tightly dogged it on its seat. Bong, bong went the diving alarm, as Sharkey came back down the ladder and clamored down the hatch to the control room, where he took his place as diving officer.
The chief turned a knob and high-pressure air whistled into the control room. A moment later he shut off the valve and checked the barometer with Mr. Morton. It remained steady as the Christmas tree board changed from red to green. A second later, Sharkey announced, "Pressure in the boat, all green, sir."
Mr. Morton climbed up a few rungs of the ladder to the conning tower and reported to the captain, "Everything’s set below."
Crane standing by the periscope ordered, "Take her down."
The exec spoke into his headset, "Dive, dive, dive!"
" Five degrees down angle on the planes," said the chief, with full responsibility of the dive, including depth until trim is met to his satisfaction.
The venting of air could be heard and a slight pressure to the ears was felt. The slight downward tilt of the bow was noticed and the noises from the working planes were clearly heard, as the boat began its descent. The ballast tanks filled with water, creating negative buoyancy, as the water gurgled up the sides of the boat and conning tower, only to become silent once the boat was totally submerged.
"Up scope," ordered Capt. Crane in the conning tower. A sharp crack was heard from the electric brake on the periscope hoist motor, as it was released and the scope ascended noiselessly on its well-oiled cylinder. The captain pulled down the handles, peered into the one-eyed scope, slowly walked around in a circle, then declared, "Bow’s awash, stern’s awash." He flipped the handles up and ordered the scope down, then turned and stood behind Cummings at the helm.
"Mr. Morton, I’m taking her to fifty feet and leveling off," stated Chief Sharkey.
"Aye, fifty feet," repeated the exec into his headphone, relaying it to the conn.
The regulator tank was blown nearly dry and the inboard vent opened to relieve pressure. The sub was barely under, when Sharkey tapped a gage with his fingertip and worriedly announced, "Mr. Morton, the pressure is increasing."
Chip quickly scanned the pressure gage, repeating the chief’s words to the conn.
Before Crane could react, a frantic cry came from the after torpedo room over the telephone system, "Water’s coming through the after hatch! I repeat we’ve got flooding in the boat!"
"Damn!" swore Cummings, who’d been listening on his own set. "The hatch jammed again!"
Crane glared askance of Cummings, as he instantly ordered, "Blow all main Ballast! Abort the dive!" He could already feel the pressure in his ears from the encroaching water, as it compressed the air space. The men plugged into the phone system, immediately started emergency procedures.
"Blow bow buoyancy and surface! Full up angle on the planes," instructed Mr. Morton, in an outwardly calm voice he didn’t feel. He went over to the base of the ladderwell, which ascended into the conning tower, and jerked the klaxon alarm three times. The alarm sounded, bong, bong, bong, as the heavy, watertight doors went banging shut with an echo of iron ringing in the men’s ears.
Holding their breath, the planesmen reversed angle frantically, turning the red wheels (one for the bow, the other for the stern) the opposite way and putting them to hard rise. Sharkey shoved the hydraulic handle home, releasing three thousand pounds per square inch of air into the bow buoyancy tank. The sub slowed its descent and gradually brought it’s nose up, climbing to the surface with pressurized air, whistling through the ballast tanks, forcing the seawater out.
As the emergency procedures were being carried out, Crane demanded of Cummings, "What do you mean, the hatch jammed again?"
"Yes, sir," sheepishly answered Cummings, plucking his nose. Crane realized it was a nervous gesture. "It’s sensitive. All the hatches are." He diplomatically, as possible, asked, "Sir, did you have the men check the hatches before closing them?"
"No, why?" snapped Crane defensively. The admiral’s knowing smile haunted him.
The helmsman weighed his words cautiously and preceded with, "The dogs of the hatch tend to get caught between the rim and the seat, if they aren’t fully open when the cover is closed." He kept his eyes focused on the course indicator and his hand steady on the wheel, as the young captain digested what he said. Of course, in the old days it was in the ship’s orders to check the hatch when rigging for a dive and again after each surface maneuver.
The boat broached the surface and leveled off much to the relief of the men.
Turning his attention to the problem at hand, the captain ordered, "All stop." The command resounded throughout the boat, as the exec repeated it through the phone system. "Crack the hatches, look outs to the bridge."
Grabbing jackets and binoculars, the planesmen headed up the conning tower ladder with Sharkey in the rear. The main hatch was cracked and a whistling sound was heard from the slightly increased air pressure venting out. In no time at all, the dive routine had been cancelled and the surface routine established.
Crane continued with his orders, "Put the low-pressure pump on the main drain. I’m heading aft," he flatly told Chip through his headset.
Before heading aft, Crane, feeling chastised by the older man, kindly asked, "Is there anything else… I should be aware of?"
"Yes, sir. If I remember correctly, the main induction valve sticks occasionally and has to be manually shut."
Crane didn’t like the sound of that. The valve was 36 inches in diameter and the biggest, most important valve on the boat. It hydraulically opened and closed the big pipe responsible for the tremendous air intake needed to run the diesel engines when on the surface. If this valve remained open, it would cause massive flooding immediately upon diving. He mentally shuddered, recalling how the Squalus, a new submarine, had sunk in 1939, during her sea trials. Twenty-six men had died, almost half their crew…
Wishing he’d have asked the helmsman about known problems on board the boat, before they had sailed, instead of relying entirely on the refit crew to have fixed them, Lee replied, "Did that happen often?"
Cummings, once again plucked at his nose and slightly grinned, taking in the worried Captain’s face. "Only once, sir, " at his questioning look, his grin widened, "the Christmas tree showed green and we were headed down. A nervous seaman, having just heard about the Squalus, saved the day; he’d kept his eyes glued to the induction valve and to his horror water started imploding in."
"What happened then?" asked Chip, overhearing the conversation, as he came up into the conning tower. All the men in the tiny room could hear the story; after all, there was no privacy in the small submarine.
"He manually pulled the hydraulic controlled valve closed, yelling his head off the whole time. The boat still sunk to the bottom, but we were able to pump ourselves out and go on our merry way," he chuckled, recalling the memory.
A visible shudder took Lee, once again reminding him of their predicament. He headed aft, making no further comment.
By the time the captain reached the after hatch in the torpedo room, the men had things under control. Cookie was standing at the top of the ladder working the dogs back and forth with Patterson and Stewart keeping a tight grip on a long rope extended to the deck. They each were pulling on the rope at opposite times adding leverage to the jammed wheel. Water continued to stream down soaking everyone under the hatch.
Crane, looking up, anxiously asked, "How’s it going?" It could have been a disaster and it would’ve been my fault. The responsibility weighed heavily on his shoulders.
"We’re getting there," grunted Cookie. He tugged the stubborn wheel a few more times. "One dog is clearly jammed by the narrowest fraction of an inch. The latching mechanism engaged, causing it to lock in place, but I can still see daylight about an inch around the edge."
Crane confirmed out loud, what he already knew, "The Christmas tree showed green instead of red because it locked into place."
"Yes, sir, afraid so." Cookie wiped his perspiring face with a wet sleeve giving his arms a rest. The water had finally slowed to a trickle much to his relief. With the water only hitting him occasionally, he was better able to see the jammed latch. He worked the wheel some more, but it refused to give way. "I think I need a maul and chisel."
Clarke, who’d been standing idle, quickly rifled through the toolbox on the flooded deck and located the requested tools. He quickly climbed the ladder and handed Cookie the chisel, then came back down. The damage control officer carefully wedged it against the jammed dog and lightly tapped it with the wooden hammer until the latch moved more fully into place.
"Walla," he exclaimed, as the wheel turned freely in his hand. He twisted it all the way around while pushing upward on the cover. It gave way and he gently laid it down on the topside deck. Warm sun and fresh air greeted the men looking upwards into the blue sky. "Man, that sun sure feels good," mused Cookie, realizing all at once how wet and cold he was.
Crane started up the ladder and motioned for Cookie to exit the hatch. Squatting down beside the hatch cover, both men examined the dogs. "Nothing wrong with the mechanism, sir," explained Cookie, turning the wheel a few times, "just a bit touchy."
Crane concurred stating, "From now on, have the men double-check the dogs to see that they are wide open before we dive and after we surface."
"Aye, sir," replied Cookie, his teeth chattering. He clamped his jaw closed in hopes the captain wouldn’t notice.
Not letting on that he noticed, Lee commanded, "All right, Cookie, get below before you catch your death."
The burley seaman didn’t have to be asked twice, as he scrambled through the hatch with Crane behind him. His hands were numb and blue from the cold water of the Atlantic. Lee stopped on top of the ladder and pulled the hatch-cover home with a satisfied thud. He tightened the wheel himself and checked to make sure there was no light around the base. Assured, he then pulled the long ropes off the wheel and let them drop to the soaked deck below. Inspecting the deck from his vantage point, he noticed the water was receding down to the bilges where he could hear the faint hum of the pump motor.
Climbing down the ladder, he firmly ordered, "Cookie, get some dry clothes on, then make your self something hot to drink and don’t forget to add a little fortitude."
Cookie gratefully acknowledged the order and headed forward to the warmth of his domain.
A soaked Patterson snaked up the rope with Stewart stowing it in the proper locker. Crane, then ordered both men to get changed and join Cookie in the galley. He then turned to the men standing around, "The rest of you men get cracking on this mess." He picked up a phone out of the bracket on the bulkhead, "Prepare to dive."
Lee literally held his breath when the boat gracefully slid beneath the sea. He was still angry for failing to check on all the minor details that entail a dive. The boat is old. It’s not possible for the refit crew to foresee every little problem. I should’ve known better. The boat leveled off at fifty feet with a cruising speed set at one-third. He’d just ordered the periscope down and had come back down to the control room where he now stood behind the small chart table. Determined more than ever, to get through the sea trials in one day, he started the boat through her paces, alternating between the two rooms.
First on his list of drills were the ‘angles and dangles.’ Is everything properly stored? Not quite, an unattended coffee cup came flying out of no-where to land with a splat on the deck. A locker not closed tight lost all its belongings. A tool chest slid its way aft crashing into a watertight hatch. The captain was not pleased.
"Sloppy," grumbled Crane, picking up the phone. "Now hear this, the same rules apply for the Sea Myth as they do on Seaview. You will treat this boat with respect or answer to me. Clean up the mess and be prepared to answer for the next drill."
He gave them two minutes then did another emergency blow followed by a crash dive. He called battle stations and rigged for all sorts of numerous problems. After four hours, the watch changed and he ran them through a different set of drills. Another four hours passed and he ran them through another series. At the end of each shift, he simulated a fire or disaster in the conning tower. Thus, cut off from the supposed damaged conning tower, the men had to run the boat from the tiny control room. It was a different perspective that had proved interesting. In the end, with the original watch back on duty, he decided to keep to the tradition of the boat with four hours on and eight off, instead of the usual six on and twelve off.
The men were now very familiar with the boat. He had complete confidence they could handle any trouble fate tossed their way. Exhausted, he set a new course and increased speed, heading for the northeastern seaboard. Suddenly, the lights grew dim and the boat became sluggish. His tired brain wasn’t picking up on the problem, even though he knew it was simple. A knowing look passed between Cummings at the helm, still in the control room after the emergency drill, and Marsh, the electrician’s mate stationed at the electric control board.
Lee frowned, the admiral’s words slipped through his mind, "We’ll see how easy it is." He ran his hand through his hair and rubbed the side of his temple to ease the nagging headache he’d picked up some time ago.
The control room was completely quiet. They were staring at him. A man cleared his throat. They’re all waiting for something…but what? He recalled every procedure in his mind that he could think of. What am I missing? Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Marsh lift a hesitant hand towards the battery circuit breakers and put it down again.
It finally dawned on him, "Change over to series, fifteen hundred aside." The men released their breaths with an audible sigh. Marsh quickly pulled all power off the parallel breakers and shifted to the series breakers. The lights instantly brightened and the power noticeably increased.
Lee grinned, in spite of the fact he was rather flushed. "Whew, it’s a bit warm in here," he grudgingly commented, wiping the sweat off his forehead with his sleeve. I should have remembered the simple fundamentals of batteries and electricity. I hope I didn’t damage the power cables and motor armatures from the high current. Any student knows for slow speeds the two main storage batteries are normally connected in parallel, and for high speed switched to series…thus doubling the voltage and halving the current for any given power requirement. Geeze old Pete, I can’t believe I forgot that. The admiral sure was right...
Chip, seeing his skipper was more tired than he would ever admit to, stepped in with, "Lee, Cookie has dinner waiting for you. I believe, its one of your favorite pastas. Why don’t you go eat and get some sack time?" In answer, all he got was a sullen look from his friend. "I can handle anything that comes up here." He leaned over the chart table and pretended to study the map.
Lee leaned against the table from the other side and in a lower voice stated, "You know, you’re never going to win that bet if you keep reminding me to eat." He paused, watching Chip’s inscrutable look slide into place. "That was you, who ordered my lunch to be brought to me here in the control room." It was a statement not a question.
Chip casually picked up the pencil from the plot table and marked their location on the chart. In no great hurry, he softly retorted, "Fair is fair, Lee. I don’t want to take unfair advantage of you when you’re under the gun."
Dead serious now, Lee asked, "Who really put you up to this bet? Doc?"
"You still haven’t figured that out?" asked Chip, showing genuine surprise.
Lee, twisting his ring, still leaning on the chart table, "I know it’s a plot and I know you and half the crew are all in on it…I just don’t know who instigated it."
"What difference does it make?"
Standing up straight, Lee barked, "Because, I’m going to keelhaul him when I find out." He got a few odd looks from the men standing watch.
"Why?" innocently asked Chip grinning.
Lowering his voice again, overly tired and unable to recall the last time he’d slept, he bit out, "Do you have any idea, what all I’ve had to eat in order to win this ridiculous bet?"
Chip knew, very well, everything Lee had to eat for he’d been under orders with Cookie to see that he ate it.
"Lee," he pacified, "your food has been no different from the men’s. We’re all eating the same thing. It just so happens, you don’t like to eat that’s all." He left the chart table to double-check a few gages around the control room.
Lee too tired to argue anymore gave him the conn and headed aft towards the galley.
The off duty men were exhausted, but too wound up to sleep. Sharkey noticed the Skipper dragging tail into his stateroom and motioned for the men to pipe down.
Pat was reading the book Heather had given him with Ski skimming through one of his girlie magazines. Riley was listening to his surfer music on a pair of headphones, nodding his head in time to the rhythm, while Sharkey tried to sleep. The boat itself was strangely quiet with only the hum of the forward and after batteries making any noise.
Pat bolted straight up and gasped, "She can’t do this!"
"Do what?" asked Ski, nearly jumping out of bed from Pat’s unaccustomed raised voice. Riley kept jamming oblivious to the conversation. Sharkey on the other hand just opened one eye and silently waited for the rest. This ought to be good.
Lee had just taken off his shoes and settled down in his bunk, too tired to remove his clothes, when Pat’s comment was heard through the curtain.
Pat closed the book and tossed it on top of Ski where it slid to a halt on his girlie magazine. "I don’t believe she did that," he expounded. "Blast! Wait til I see her again."
Ski chuckled, moving the book off his magazine. "I told you she was up to something."
"Shut up, you don’t need to rub it in," spouted Pat. "Read the back inside cover," he further instructed.
Chuckling, Ski reluctantly put the magazine down, picked up the book and read it out loud, "If you can figure out who done it; Cookie will bake you a rum cake." He lowered the book, "What’s that suppose to mean?"
"Don’t you get it, Ski? The last chapter is missing. We have to figure out who done it."
"Not we, Pat. You! I’m not getting into this." He tossed the book over to Riley, who had his eyes closed, startling him when it landed on top of him.
Flipping over in his bunk, Pat mumbled, "Oh come on, it’s only 90 pages and it takes about 3 hours to read. Besides, rum cake is wonderful." He flipped back over and noticed Riley’s avid interest. He was reading it with his earphones on still jamming to the music.
Ski wasn’t buying it. "Reading is not my bag, now pictures…" he went back to studying his pinup girls.
Sharkey dozed off during the exchange, figuring he’d catch up on the scuttlebutt later.
Lee’s last thoughts were, come on guys, the butler did it, the butler always does it. Rum cake? Hmm.
"Well, that’s the last time we’ll need a registered pilot to guide us through," expressed Lee to Chip on the bridge, turning away from the orange-hulled boat, which carried the name Huron Lady on her side. "We’re in undesignated waters now and both of us qualify as pilots for the Great Lakes."
They were at the pilot exchange point in Port Huron, Michigan having passed through the St. Clair River. They’d navigated around Nova Scotia into the St Lawrence Seaway where they picked up their first pilot. Each body of water and river canal has its own requirements how a vessel, depending on the size and type, passes through its domain.
Crane bent towards the squawk box, "Helmsman, bring us to course three-five-three." He heard an "Aye, sir, 3-5-3." The boat turned ever so slightly to the required course. Leaning on the rail, Lee asked, "Chip, what’s the weather report?"
"Sparks just handed it to me five minutes ago. There’s a cold front moving in by Harbor Beach. The Lake Huron forecast read cloudy, rain, winds twenty knots out of the southwest, gradually changing to west, northwest, especially in the northern parts of the state. Waves five to ten feet with intermittent thunderstorms for the next three days."
"The weather in the Great Lakes is as changeable as a baby’s diapers," complained Crane. As if I’d ever get to see that. His wife’s pale face flitted through his mind. Boy, how I miss her. What was she so worried about? My Mom is the most loving woman I know. She’ll take good care of her. She’ll treat her like the daughter she never had. He let his thoughts drift back to their last evening together…
"Blast it, Heather, do you want to fight about my Mother and the men all night or do something more…pleasing?" he’d asked, slamming the cabin door.
She’d gone over to the bunk and kicked off her deck shoes while keeping her back rigid against him. He went to his desk, took off his tie, throwing it on the surface as he slid off his shoes with his toes. He kicked his shoes under the desk and unbuttoned the cuffs to his shirt, swearing when one popped off. The button made a pinging noise as it bounced across the blue deck to land at his wife’s feet. Heather, undoing her braid, bent down and snatched it up angrily flinging it back at him. He deftly caught it and dropped it on his desk, as he unbuttoned the front of his shirt.
Boy, is she peeved. Was it only a minute ago she’d literally ogled me in front of my peers? How can she be hot one moment and cold the next? What’s gotten into her? I’ve never known her to do that before, only Peaches had ever tried that maneuver. Women! I’ll never understand them. His own temper began to build as he started for the head. He heard her sadly sigh. He stopped in front of the head’s mirrored door with his hands on his shirt, preparing to take it off when he saw her reflection in the mirror. She solemnly ran her hand through her long red hair bringing up the ends to inspect. His heart turned over.
Softly, "Heather, what’s eating you?" He silently stood rooted to the spot watching a multitude of expressions cross her beautiful face.
"Nothing," was her response, still refusing to look at him. She pulled a few split ends apart with trembling fingers not looking at him.
Nothing my ass…she’s splitting her hair, that’s a sure sign she’s upset. Bewildered now, at her mood swings, he not unkindly bit out, "Then, why are you pouting?" He ran a hand through his own hair messing up the curly locks.
"I’m not pouting!" she yelled, clenching her hands in front of her.
"Well, what do you call what you’re doing then?" He countered, yanking off his shirt and wadding it up.
"I’m…I’m…" damn the man… she growled under her breath, as she marched over to the head. She snatched his old shirt, she used for sleeping, off the hook from the door and threw it on the bunk. She gave him a heated look that plainly said, ‘You should know why I’m angry.’ as she marched back to the bunk and began to undress. Her eyes were shiny with unshed tears and her jaw was clenched.
He could clearly see the Nelson stubbornness and her Irish pride were in place. He sighed exasperated. Tossing his shirt on top of his old one on the bunk, he reached out for her. Not understanding anything that had just taken place, but nevertheless wanting to get to the bottom of it, he gently asked, as he put a firm hand on her bare shoulder, "Love, talk to me."
Caressingly, he lightly rubbed her collarbone, feeling its tenseness. He brought up his other hand and began to slowly massage her neck, working out the tight kinks. Tenderly, he worked his magic on her, as his long slender, tanned fingers worked their way down to her shoulders. Gradually, he felt her relax and melt into him, her head coming to rest against his chest. He bent down, inhaling lavender as he kissed her on the temple and encircled her in his arms. They stood in place for some time, he holding her and she drawing strength from his strong secure arms.
"There’s no place I’d rather be," she softly whispered, not moving.
Carefully, he turned her around in his arms, burying a hand in her thick hair. He kissed the top of her head as he drew her to his chest. She rested her body against his, eyes closed and face turned away. Not in any rush, he played with her hair, touched and kissed her in all her favorite places…waiting for a response from her. She slowly brought her arms up and locked them around his waist. He felt her shudder…a wet substance landed on his bare chest…it wasn’t the response he had in mind. Something’s still wrong.
For a second, he froze totally at a loss. He lifted her chin and gazed into her eyes. He sucked in his breath, for in that moment he knew, she was far away from him. Her luminous hazel eyes are full of pain. What’s wrong? What did I do? She reminds me of a hurt abandoned child. Oh no…not again? Damn your grandmother. Why’d she have to hurt you so bad?
"Hea…Heather," he gasped, when she didn’t respond. Get a grip, Crane, you’ve been through this before. It has to be a flashback…but what triggered it? Not willing to panic yet, he automatically fell back to the routine he’d established over eighteen months ago, when she’d first been brought aboard. Lee picked her up, cradling her in his arms, as he grabbed the afghan off the bunk. He quickly sat down in the recliner, always by the bunk and covered them both with the blanket. Slowly, he began to rock…
He didn’t know how much time had passed when she finally stirred. Momentarily confused, she lifted her head and helplessly moaned, "Oh Lee, not again… please tell me it didn’t happen again…not after, all this time?" she collapsed back on his chest, burying her nose in the crook of his neck. He could feel the warmth of her breath, tickling his throat, as her arms tightened around his waist.
Slightly grunting, he smiled into her hair and murmured, "Afraid so, Love."
A few moments went by and he thought she’d fallen asleep, when she mumbled, "Lee… if I blow it… and your Mom doesn’t like me…will you still love me…?"
Lee realized, as he stood on the bridge watching the whitecaps crash into the sea, that she’d asked a loaded question. Of course, I will… now and forever…haven’t I shown you often enough? Haven’t I proved it over and over? Will your insecurities ever stop? Trust me, that’s all I ask… just trust me. Again, he recalled her pale face, as she stood on his mother’s deck with Ron, a trusted crewman to guard her welfare. He’d barely had time to introduce her to his mom before he had to return back to Seaview. Nelson had been summoned to Washington and needed the FS1. While, he and the men were scheduled for some classroom time for a brush up on the old sub. A question from Chip brought him out of his reflections.
"Did you know, Lee, that Michigan is known for a devil’s triangle?"
"What?" Lee shook his head to clear his thoughts. "You don’t seriously believe in that stuff?"
Chip grinned, "Not anymore than the next sailor does. But, we’ll be in one, when we reach the Mackinaw Straits."
"You’re not worried, are you?" asked Lee, glancing at his watch before he held up his binoculars, looking for a marker buoy and a landmark. They were only a few miles from shore.
"No," replied Chip, a bit sheepishly, shrugging his shoulders. A raindrop hit him square on the top of his head. He looked up into the gray turbulent sky and groaned, "Looks like the rain is here." Scattered drops were now spitting on the boat. "Lee, are we staying on the surface?"
Still looking through the binoculars, he found the buoy as a raindrop hit the lenses, blurring the picture. He lowered the glasses from his face, wiping them on his shirtsleeve, speckled with raindrops. He sighed deeply. "You know as well as I do, in these old submarines, we’ll make better time on the surface, even in a storm. On top of that, Lake Huron has scores of camouflaged reefs and encrusted islands. I’d feel a lot more comfortable if we stayed on the surface for as long as we can."
Chip visibly grimaced. "I’d better have Frank dispense the motion sickness pills and get the lookouts their foul weather gear."
He headed below as Lee raised the binoculars and studied the darkening clouds.
"This is nothing compared to some of the storms we went through on our way to the China Seas. We passed through all kinds of straits and it was their monsoon season, " bragged Stewart, with a gleam of merriment in his eyes. He was looking at one of Ski’s girlie magazines in the crew’s mess. "Talk about your pigboats…"
The boat did a long roll to port. Clarke clapped a hand over his mouth, stood up and frantically looked around for one of the slop buckets. They were scattered throughout the boat for the head was in constant use.
"Why can’t we dive?" whined Harker, holding his stomach, his face a light shade of green.
Cookie brought in a tray full of cold cuts, "Sorry guys, this is all you get. I can’t risk a fire in the galley. Besides nothing stays on the stove anyways."
"I thought you had some kind of straps to tie the pans in place," quizzed Riley, grabbing a sandwich, as he clung to the table while the boat did another dip. They could feel her sliding down a steep wave.
"I do, but that doesn’t mean the food will stay in them. This is not Seaview and we don’t have her modern conveniences. We’ll just have to make due with what we got." Done with the lecture he turned and staggered back to the galley, nearly crashing into the exec on his way out the door.
"Why can’t we dive," moaned Harker again, getting on Riley’s nerves.
Stewart gave a low whistle of appreciation to one of the pictures. "My, my, this one beats Abbey."
"Abbey?" asked Riley, chewing on his tuna sandwich, still clinging to the table. The boat was now headed up a wave.
"Yeah, Abbey," reminisced Stewart with stars in his eyes. "She was our pinup girl." He looked over to the wall by the door and pointed. A rectangular shaped outline could be seen that was slightly brighter than the rest of the paint. "Abbey was right there, dressed in her natural form. We used to pat her butt, along with Judy’s, for good luck when we went to battle stations."
Chip, grabbing a baloney sandwich and overhearing the conversation said, "Maybe we can convince Ski to part with a couple of his girls…" seeing Riley’s look of he’ll never do it, he went on musing, "What if I tell him for old times sake?" Again Riley shook his head, "… the good of the boat?" Another negative shake.
"I could just outright order him," flatly stated Morton, taking a bite of his sandwich. The boat crested a wave and sharply headed down, causing the men to grab onto the table and its contents. Chip saved the plate of sandwiches, since he was practically thrown on top of them, while Stewart held onto Ski’s magazine, never taking his eyes off the beauty he drooled over. Riley grabbed a careening coffee cup, as it slid down the table towards Harker, who groaned and muttered, "Why can’t we dive?"
Mr. Morton gave him a cold command stare then took pity on the man, turning green at the gills. The XO straightened up, grabbed another sandwich, making sure it wasn’t tuna, then said, "The Captain wants to stay on the surface as long as we can tolerate it. We make twice the time and it saves on the batteries." With that, he turned and weaved his way to the door. He came forward one compartment and poked his head into the galley, "Coffee?" he hopefully inquired, eyeing the big brass coffee urn making bubbling noises. It was located just inside the galley door.
"Brewing, sir," was his response.
Relieved, he ordered, "Bring a pot to the control room with a few mugs."
Chip slowly worked his way forward, eating his sandwich, as the boat bucked and plunged. He was slammed into the bulkhead twice and forced to dodge a crewman, running for the head. Next, he tripped over the sill of a hatch nearly squishing Lee’s sandwich, as he caught his balance against the radio shack’s doorframe. Sparks pulled a piece of paper off a pad and turned in time to see the XO regain his equilibrium. Chuckling, Sparks handed him the paper, "Latest weather report, sir."
"Thanks, Sparks," murmured Morton, taking off once again for the control room. Once, there, he paused for a moment surprised at finding it nearly deserted. Will I ever get used to the conning tower being the main command center? Voices filtered down from above and Chip stumbled over to the hatch ladder as the boat lurched to starboard.
Still holding the now mangled sandwich, which oozed mustard onto the weather report, Chip carefully made his way up the rungs to the station above.
Capt. Crane was just descending the ladder from the bridge dressed in full foul weather gear. "Whew, it’s not fit for man or beast out there," he commented to Chip, stripping off his wet oilskin wrap. "Cummings, come to course three-four-one."
"Aye, sir 3-4-1," replied the helmsman. He immediately turned the big brass wheel to the correct digit on the navigational indicator. The boat swayed to port as he made the course correction. A wave caught the submarine, as she turned, rolling the boat further, forcing the men to grab onto the ladderwell for support.
"How high are those waves out there?" yelped Chip, hanging on one handed with a knee braced against the ladder. A rogue wave covered the upper deck, spilling water into the open hatchway. Chip looked up, just as the water came cascading down. Knowing there was nothing he could do, for the boat was still in a banked turn, he tightened his grip on the ladder and extended his other hand outwards with the odd shaped sandwich, in hopes the water would miss it.
"About six to eight feet, just enough to give us trouble," answered Crane, staring at the misshapen sandwich. He felt water drip down his back and knew immediately what was happening. Taking the foul weather gear he still held in his hand, he threw it over Chip and the sandwich, jumping back out of the way as he did so. The water missed him and landed fully on Chip. The rain gear helped deflect the cold Huron water, much to Chip’s relief, with only his back getting the worse of it. The poor sandwich survived somewhat in tack. It was now stuck to the weather report, which he handed to Lee.
The boat righted it self and the water pooled on the deck, with some of it dripping down into the control room.
Lee took the squashed sandwich and peeled the paper from it. At his questionable look, Chip griped, "Don’t even ask. You’re lucky it got here at all." He shook out the rain gear, letting the excess moisture drop on the deck where it mixed with the puddle on the deck and dust from the boat, making a gritty, slippery substance on the tiled floor.
Seeing the agitated state of his normally unflappable exec, Lee diplomatically replied with, "Thanks, I am hungry." That statement got an odd look from the rest of the men in the conning tower. "Dare I hope there’s hot coffee?" He polished off the sandwich with a few bites, giving credence to his words.
"Cookie said the big pot is brewing and he’ll be along in a few minutes," replied Chip, tossing the rain gear over the tiny chart table in front of the periscope shears. "Where are we at anyways?"
"Just north of Harbor Beach. We’ve got 125 sea miles to go before we reach the Mackinaw Straits." Lee read the weather report, deciphering it between the yellow mustard spots. "Looks like bad weather all the way. We’d better have the lookouts change stations every hour. I don’t want them catching pneumonia." He brought his right hand up and rubbed the back of his left shoulder, working out the kinks.
"Shoulder bothering you again?" solicitously asked Chip. A giant of a man had clobbered Lee with a stout stick, leaving a nasty bruise, when he had rescued an ONI agent three months ago. Since that time, he’d trouble with it aching and stiffening up.
"Mmm," not wanting to draw attention to it, he simply said, "not really, its just the dampness…"
Chip slightly smirked, "It’s probably arthritis, we’re getting old, Lee."
"Don’t remind me," retorted the captain. A burst of lightening partially illuminated the inside of the conning tower. The electrical equipment briefly buzzed.
"Skipper," called out Kowalski, on radar and sonar. "SJ radar shows heavy clouds rolling in west of the port bow."
Crane immediately yelled into the squawk box to the bridge. "Sharkey, what’s the weather like up there?" The boat did another roll for an answer, as a loud clap of thunder was heard vibrating across the water. The sound echoed repeatedly, telling the men the clouds were heavily stacked.
"Black, ominous, there’s a green tint in the sky and it looks eerie. The rain is completely horizontal now, " reported Chief Sharkey.
Crane, tense now, "Bring up the radar scope." He walked over to the periscope and waited as Chip pushed the button on the pickle. The crack of the periscope motor could be heard as it lifted. Crane bent down, pulled the handles into position and came back up with the scope with his eye, already studying the outside through the wide-angled lenses. He slowly walked around not happy with what he was seeing.
The telephone buzzed and Lee picked it up, "Skipper, Sparks, weather radar reports a tornado coming across north of the Harbor Beach area. It’s on the ground!"
"Thanks Sparks," said the captain, hanging up the phone. "Sparks reports a tornado on the ground, heading our way."
Lee, Chip and Ski quickly looked at the radar screen, trying to find the elusive hook that indicated a tornado.
"There it is!" shouted Ski, in his excitement. It wasn’t often they got to deal with this type of weather. In Seaview they were usually submerged.
"Sharkey," shouted Lee, once again into the squawk box, "There’s a tornado heading our way. Looks about three miles due southwest of us. Can you see it?" He went back to the periscope and took another look around. Wanting a better look, he left the periscope in position and headed for the bridge ladder. "Chip, I’m going up for a quick peek." He quickly climbed the ladder, not bothering with the rain gear.
Sharkey was still watching the sky with his binoculars glued to his eyes. The rain had stopped. The air was oppressive with a warm sticky feel to it. Cool air occasionally blew in from the northern climbs, converging with the warm air from the southwest. Crane looked up into the dark sky, as Sharkey pointed and said, "Look at those strange clouds, they’re intermeshing and starting to swirl!"
"That’s the beginnings of another tornado," frankly explained Crane. "The funnel could drop anytime. Notice how dark and quiet it is now?" The waves were calm, the boat glided easily through the water a mile from the shore. There was no wind, just a stark silence. An eerie green glow could be seen over the shoreline. "That’s hail," stated the Captain, "it usually precedes the storm." Black clouds could be seen beyond the green, as the noise of a freight train echoed across the waters. The day quickly changed to night. Crane glanced at his watch. "It’s only eighteen hundred hours and its almost pitch dark." The men stared awestruck at the vastness of Mother Nature. Not a sound could be heard, except for the noise of the train becoming louder as each second passed.
Chunks of ice started raining down from the sky, stinging them. It snapped Lee out of his stupor, with the realization that the train noise was not what it appeared to be. Horizontal rain, once again started pelting them and the wind picked up along with the waves. The men topside, with Morton at the periscope, watched as the storm swept over the land and headed straight for them.
The weather’s beauty was now marred by the anxiety of the men. The Captain yelled into the squawk box, "Rig for immediate dive! Lookouts below!" The main induction valve, under the cigarette deck, went banging shut. Their eyes wide with fear, three men came scurrying down from their station by the periscope’s shears. They dropped down the hatch as Crane yelled, "Clear the bridge! Dive, Dive!" Sharkey and Crane instantly followed the lookouts down the portal, with Lee slamming the hatch cover home.
Chip jumped down the ladder into the control room, nearly crashing into Cookie, who had a hot pot of coffee and mugs on a tray. "Tornado!" yelled Chip, at the incredulous cook, who stopped dead in his tracks, watching the antics of the exec.
"Tornado?" inquired Cookie, setting the pot and cups down on the chart table. He went over to the dive station where Mr. Morton was frantically watching the Christmas tree lights. Knowing time was against them, with the picture in his mind of the dark funneled cloud bearing down upon them, Chip started filling the ballast tanks, reasoning a little forbearance wouldn’t hurt. The venting of air was heard as a slight pressure to the ears was felt. The board finally turned green and Morton yelled, "Pressure in the boat!" as he carefully watched the barometer gage.
Cookie, at the same time, hit the diving alarm twice and moved over to the identical double wheels where he rigged out the bow and stern planes, just as the lookouts came stumbling down from topside. The anxious men quickly peeled off their foul weather gear and took over the red wheels.
Chief Sharkey had just tightened the hatch wheel from the bridge, when the wind and first wave hit, knocking the boat heavily to starboard. Sharkey hung on for dear life, feeling his feet leave the ladder.
Crane, having clamored down the bridge ladder, hit the slippery deck and hastily made his way towards the radar periscope. He almost made it when the boat listed to starboard, knocking him to the deck with a loud thud.
Chip had given the diving station over to Cookie. He reached the top of the conning tower ladder, poking his head above, when he saw Lee’s feet slide out from under him. Down below him, he heard the crash of the coffee pot and mugs as they hit the deck.
Cummings fought the big brass wheel, trying to bring it back on course, as he heard Mr. Morton yelling orders, " I have the conn! Full down angle on the planes!" Then he heard him yell, "Helmsman, rudder amidship, increase to full speed! "
Cummings instantly clicked the rheostat beside the great wheel and got an answering click, from the electricians mate in the maneuvering room, of a speed change. The crewmen changed over to full speed and the boat ran ahead.
The boat, at a steep starboard angle, seemed to take forever to right itself and start her bull nosed snout down into the water. Lee, having the breath knocked out of him, struggled to regain his feet. The angle changed with the bow, sharply descending at a thirty-degree angle into the water, as another fierce wave overtook the boat. Lee, once again found himself sliding towards the bow. But instead of coming to a halt under Cummings feet, he found himself wedged inside the periscope well!
Excruciating pain shot through Lee’s left shoulder, as he grabbed onto the rim of the base, to keep from falling deeper into the well. His mind refused to think how far down the well went. The excess water, which had landed on the deck earlier, came rushing towards him, hitting him in the face. The bitter, gritty taste of lake water on his lips left a strong fish smell in his nostrils. Gritting his teeth and going against the angle of the boat, he slowly pulled himself up. After considerable effort and a few choice cuss words, he managed to get his elbows above the rim. That was as far, as he could go. His left arm felt strangely heavy on his shoulder, as pain lanced its way into his neck and down to the tips of his fingers. He shifted his weight as much as possible to his right elbow and shoulder, in hopes of relieving the pain.
Ski, having been knocked to the deck, helplessly tumbled towards the bow of the boat, with his legs coming to rest under the big steering wheel. The coldness of the brass dug painfully into the back of his legs, as the wheel jammed against him. Cummings desperately struggled to free Ski from under the wheel, as the boat plunged downward. Fighting to stay on his feet, the helmsman reached for Ski’s outstretched hand and pulled with all his might, while keeping a tight grip on the wheel. Inch by inch, Ski felt himself moving towards freedom, as the old salt relentlessly tugged on his arm. Flat on the deck, he soon noticed his Skipper’s predicament. "Mr. Morton!"
Sharkey, suspended from the ladder, managed to get his feet back on the rungs. Hearing Ski’s cry, he looked over his way, immediately taking in the situation. Letting go of the ladder, he dropped to the deck and rolled with the momentum of the boat, coming up against the starboard bulkhead. He quickly righted himself and crawled over to the skipper.
Mr. Morton had been on the ladder between decks when the wave struck. He’d no choice, but to hold onto the ladder as the boat pitched to starboard. Hearing his friend’s bellow of pain, he’d looked over his shoulder, held his breath and watched his commander slide into the periscope well. Chip climbed out of the hatch, but the boat threw him across the deck into the bulkhead just before Chief Sharkey dropped down from above. Momentarily stunned, he observed Sharkey crawling over to their captain. Chip shook his head and immediately went to assist his chief in pulling Lee out of the periscope well.
Lee gave a bellow when the men roughly hauled him out of the well. He knew they had no choice. Not sure what was wrong with his shoulder and only knowing it hurt like hell, he laid on the deck waiting for the boat to level off. Drifting in a haze of pain, he listened for the telltale signs. The regulator tank, used as a negative tank, was blown nearly dry as the ballast tanks filled. The inboard vent opened, relieving pressure. He could hear the planes working and the creak of her structure as she plunged downward. The gurgling of water, flowing up the sides of the conning tower, was the next affirmative sound. Graceless on the surface, the old boat swam like a fish under the sea.
The XO called down to Cookie, still at the diving station, "Level off at a hundred feet."
The slant of the deck finally lessened, as she returned to an even keel. The surface activity could still be felt, but with less intensity.
The captain sighed in relief, even though his ordeal wasn’t over. The boat is safe. God was with us one more time.
Concern evident on their faces, the men gathered around their fallen skipper. "Lee, are you all right?" asked Morton, doing a visual exam. Even with his untrained eye, he could plainly see that his left shoulder was out of alignment. "Get Frank," he ordered Sharkey.
Sharkey, in an overly loud voice, yelled down to the control room, "Get Frank! We need him in the conning tower, on the double! The Skipper’s been hurt!"
The captain groaned at that statement, "Blast it, Sharkey, you needn’t tell the whole damn boat." He didn’t like all this attention and he was embarrassed.
"Sorry, sir," replied Sharkey, now contrite.
Feeling bad he yelled at the chief and upset with the whole thing, Crane somberly murmured, "Forget it, Sharkey." Then turning to the rest of the men, he woodenly pleaded, "I’m okay, just help me sit up."
"I don’t think that’s a good idea, Lee," cajoled Chip, wishing Doc were here. "Just stay put until Frank gets here."
Lee scuffed at the idea and tried to rise on his own.
Chip immediately supported his shoulders, by putting an arm around his back and helped him up by grasping his good arm, using it for leverage. No sooner was he in a sitting position, then Lee’s face drained of color. Pain once again shot into his shoulder and he couldn’t, for the life of him, move his arm.
Frank came bounding up the hatchway ladder and absorbed the medical emergency immediately. Bending down on his knees in front of the Skipper, his knowledgeable eye took in the drooping shoulder. "Hurts like hell, doesn’t it?" no blood, no open wounds, good…
A pale Crane sheepishly grinned and simply stated, "Yeah."
Already knowing what was wrong, Frank calmly stated, "Let’s get his shirt off him."
Three pairs of hands started to undo his shirt much to the captain’s protests. "I can unbutton my own shirt!" he yelled, looking heatedly at Chip. The XO just rolled his eyes and let Frank take charge of his patient.
Frank opened his medical bag and took out a syringe along with two vials of medicine. He tore open an alcohol wipe and cleaned the top of the bottle before inserting a needle. Pushing the plunger home, he then drew back on the needle extracting 50 MG of Demerol. He recapped the needle, took the other bottle and repeated the procedure only extracting 5MG of Versed.
Lee’s eyes rounded at the sight of the two needles. Losing some of his spunk, he weakly asked, "What…what are you going to do with those?"
Taking a tourniquet out of his bag, Frank wrapped it tightly around the captain’s upper right arm, until the veins stood out. He grabbed three alcohol wipes and picked a spot on the side of his lower right arm and roughly rubbed it down with each one. "Skipper, you have a dislocated shoulder, I have to reduce it… now." He took out a pair of rubber gloves and put them on.
"Now? Here? In the conning tower?" wildly questioned Lee, not liking the situation at all.
"Sorry, sir, we don’t have a sickbay and this is as good a place as any." Frank let him ponder that statement, as he brought out a 20 gage angio-cath needle and pulled the cap off with his teeth. Lee nearly panicked at the sight of the huge needle.
"Big poke," flatly stated Frank, as he inserted it into the vein until he got a blood return. He pulled the hub off the other end, advancing the catheter deeper into the vein and pulled out the hard needle, leaving the slender floppy catheter in place. He handed the exposed needle to Sharkey. "Be careful with that," he ordered. The worried chief nodded his head, swallowing. Turning to the white-faced captain, the pharmacist mate asked, "How are you doing?"
"Fine," gritted the captain, as he looked up at Chip and caught his grin before his poker face dropped into place. Trying to be brave, he sarcastically accused, "You’re enjoying this!"
For an answer, he was distracted with Frank pulling out a clear IV bag full of fluid. He handed it to Chip and told him to keep it elevated, so the blood wouldn’t back up in the line of tubing he was attaching from the bag to the angio-catheter needle. That done he reached up and pulled the tourniquet off his arm as he set the drops. Next, he pulled the cap off the needle with his teeth and dropped it to the deck. Tapping the needle with the back of his finger, he brought the bubbles to the surface. Lee watched in dread, as he expressed the air from the syringe with a squirt and then slowly injected the Versed into the IV tubing, counting two minutes. "This drug will help relax you."
Yeah right, thought Lee, glancing at his men’s worried faces. Frank pulled the needle out of the IV and again handed it to the uneasy chief.
"I don’t feel the least bit relaxed," testily said the captain.
"Give it time, Skipper," reassured the medic, taping the IV in place. He capped the two needles and put them in his bag, much to the relief of the chief. He then, inserted the last needle with the Demerol into the IV tubing.
Lee felt a burning sting in his vein. "Damn!" he swore. "It smarts!"
"This is supposed to help with the pain," calmly assured Frank, as he counted out the next two minutes.
"When?" grouched the captain, his right hand clenched while his face beaded with sweat.
Frank smiled and patiently explained, "You have to relax. The drugs will work quicker that way. The Versed is working. Boy is it working. I’m going to have a whole new set of problems to deal with soon. He pulled the needle out, recapped it and put it with the others.
Waiting for the medicine to take effect, the pharmacist mate counted out the respirations. 20…a little fast. He’s definitely nervous. Next, Frank checked his pulse, counting off fifteen seconds on his watch. Pulse 100, that’s also fast, but understandable. He’s still hurting. He wrapped the blood pressure cuff around his arm, lifted the ends of the stethoscope to his own ears and inserted the round disc beneath the cuff. Taking the bulb, he quickly pumped it up until the cuff was tight and the skipper complained, "Frank, you just put an IV in that arm!"
Ignoring his outburst, Frank slowly let the air out of the cuff, relieving the pressure and taking the readings that he needed. 152/95, high, but not surprising, it’ll come down, once we get the bone back in place. He took the cuff off his arm and placed it back in the medical bag. Looking him straight in the eye, Lee knew the moment of reckoning had come…
The skipper’s bellow was heard clear to the stern, as Frank rotated his arm, popping the bone back into place. Lee felt pain fill his entire being. His heart raced, his body trembled and sweat soaked his clothes. Not comprehending the effects of the drugs and completely unreasonable now, he lashed out, "Damn it, Frank! That hurt like hell! I thought it wasn’t supposed to hurt! Isn’t that what those shots were for?"
Calmly, Frank laid his skipper’s arm over the top of his stomach. " The shots are working, but you’re very tense." He let that sink into his commander’s mind. "Now, hold your arm tight against your body, it’ll help relieve the pain. I’ll have to make you a sling when we get back to your stateroom."
Crane grudgingly did as bid, surprised the position helped. He griped, "I don’t need a sling. It’ll be fine now!"
"Sorry, skipper, that’s not how it works." At his captain’s look of dismay, Frank carefully cajoled, "Your arm needs a rest. When you relax, the drugs are going to hit you full force." Another look of apprehension crossed his face. Frank reached out and reassuringly squeezed his good arm, "You are going to have to stay off your feet for a while or you’ll find yourself flat on the deck and I’m sure you don’t want that to happen."
Crane could well picture himself passing out, for his senses were already reeling. He cursed somewhat dazed, "Damn drugs…"
Seeing his dilated eyes, the medical corpsman patiently tried to explain again. "Skipper, the medicine is taking effect. I just need to run this bag of normal saline through your system to keep you hydrated. I also need to observe you for a while to see how you do with the Versed, then I’ll take the IV out. Do you understand?"
"Yes, I understand," curtly answered Crane. "I can stay right here in the conning tower. Now, let me up."
At Frank’s nod, the men helped him up to his feet. He cursed again, unable to help himself. He swayed on his feet, the pain making itself known again in his shoulder. Stubborn to the end, not liking the fussing, he contrarily objected, "I don’t need to go to bed, I can just sit here and read the war patrol." Nodding to the plot table where the book sat, he stumbled towards it, coming up short when the IV tubing pulled at his arm.
"That’s it," firmly stated an exasperated Chip, still holding the IV solution. He came up to the table and grabbed the book in front of his captain’s eyes. "You’re hitting the sack now, before you find yourself face down on the deck." Catching the black scowl his skipper gave him, he hastily added, "You can read this log in bed until the medicine wears off." Seeing that he was going to protest again, he added his punch line. "Besides, if you wipe out, it won’t be me explaining to Heather how you got those bruises on that handsome mug of yours."
The men slightly snickered, setting Lee’s frazzled nerves on edge. He tossed them a dirty look to hide his embarrassment at the mention of his wife. I can hear her now…"All right, all right," he bit out unhappy. "I’ll rest for a while, but only a while."
Chip handed Frank the IV bag and the logbook. The medic led the way down the hatch to the control room, with Crane in the middle and Sharkey in the rear. Passing through the control room, the chief relieved Cookie at the diving station, who in turn picked up the tray with the broken mugs, which a crewmember had just swept up and went back to the galley. Once in the captain’s stateroom, the medic made sure his skipper was settled in his bunk, helped him don a fresh shirt, then left him to his reading.
A short time later, Frank checked on him and found him sound asleep with the war patrol log, resting on top of his chest. Frank went to work and fashioned a sling to keep his arm in place. When he was done, he checked the IV bag to ensure it was administering the correct dosage. Lastly, he did a respiration and pulse count on the sleeping man and thought, All in all, he handled it pretty well.
Lee Crane awoke with a throbbing pain in his left shoulder. He carefully rolled over to his right side, knocking the logbook he’d been reading to the deck. The thump of the book alerted Frank, who was across the corridor in his own quarters, to the fact that his skipper was up. He came through the curtain in time to lend his assistance. Frank, knowing how stubborn his captain could be, reached over and helped him sit-up by lending support to his good shoulder. Crane swung his long legs over the side of the bunk and scooted towards the edge.
"Easy, Skipper. How are you feeling?" he eagerly asked, doing a silent respiration count. His eyes are a bit dilated, probably from the painkillers.
Crane shook his head, trying to clear the fuzziness from his mind. He ran a shaky hand through his hair, which came to rest at the strap that was digging into his right shoulder. Absently, he ran his thumb under the strap that held the sling in place. "Fine, I’m just fine." He looked down at the captive device then up to Frank’s face. "Is this really necessary?"
Frank, imitating Doc in stance and voice, authoritatively replied, "Yes, sir, it is. I wish we had a shoulder-immobilizer," he paused at his skipper’s puzzled look. "That’s a Velcro sling we wrap tightly around the body to hold the arm in place. It’s important that you keep your arm from moving as much as possible."
Crane looked down at his arm and scowled, "Thanks, Frank. I’ll…ah…keep that in mind." Holding up his other arm, he scowled again, "Can you get rid of this?"
"Sure, Skipper," replied Frank, resigned to the fact. He reached up and adjusted the white knob to halt the drips. "Hold your arm out." Crane did as instructed. The medic pulled the white tape off the IV and took a cotton ball out of his pocket. He placed it on top of the needle, added pressure and pulled the floppy catheter out, dropping it to the bunk. "Keeping pressure on it with his thumb, Frank fished for a band-aid in his lab pocket. Finding one he pulled the tape off the back and placed it over the cotton ball. "There ya go, skipper."
"Thanks, Frank," He started to get to his feet, then swayed and heavily sat back down.
"Whoa, Skipper, I don’t think you’re ready for this…yet," protested Frank, trying to discourage his captain from getting up. He dreaded this moment, knowing what a handful this particular patient could be.
Crane licked his lips, narrowed his eyes and set his jaw with determination. Giving no reply to the young medic, he stood up and pushed his way by. Lee felt a bit lightheaded, but he wasn’t going to relay it to his subordinate. He might be Doc’s extended hand, but it doesn’t mean I have to listen to him. After all, Doc’s not here…
Frank gave an inaudible sigh, worried for the medicine wasn’t out of the captain’s system. It was his duty to warn him of the effects. Besides, Doc would be all over him if he ever found out he let his patient go. Firmly, he requested, "Skipper, I need to do a blood pressure check and a pulse rate."
Crane stopped moving towards the corridor, turned around and sternly looked down at the unlucky medic. He’s only doing his job. As Nelson would say, that’s what we pay him for. Silently fuming, he sat back down on the bunk and held out his good arm.
Frank, not believing his luck, pulled the medical equipment from his pocket. He quickly bent over the skipper and efficiently took his vital signs. Pulse rate 91, a bit fast, well, Versed can do that. It calms initially, but can create anxiety also, kind of a reverse effect…and he sure seems agitated. He hurried with the blood pressure. 132 / 84, not bad, just a bit high, probably because he’s feeling pain. He unobtrusively studied the captain. Yes, a little bit on the rigid side, he’s defiantly hurting. Damn if he’d tell me though. He glanced at his watch. It’s only been three hours, still too soon to give him more pain meds. It’s probably just as well, he wants to be on his feet and I don’t think there’s any way I’m going to keep him off them. Stubborn man…
"Will I live?" testily asked Crane, as Frank took the cuff off him. Not waiting for an answer he got up, inadvertently kicking the logbook left on the deck. Disgusted, Lee bent over, picked up the errant book and felt a wave of dizziness overtake him. He transferred the book to his other hand, which felt surprisingly weak. He rubbed his forehead nervously, then took the weighted log from his unstable hand and tossed it on his bunk.
"Skipper, I really think you should stay off your feet for a while longer," asserted Frank, trying to maneuver him back to the bunk.
Resisting the constraints, Crane bit out, "I’m fine. I just bent over too fast." He pushed the green curtain aside and stepped out into the corridor, looking over his shoulder as he went. Taking in the man’s worried face, a pang of guilt assailed him. Feeling regret, but not willing to give in, he lowered his voice and said, "Look Frank, I’ve got work to do. The sub doesn’t run itself. I know the drugs are creating havoc with my coordination." He smiled, belaying the stern visage, "I’ll be careful and I’ll drink some strong coffee. Will that satisfy you?"
Frank knew he’d lost and could only concur.
Crane took off down the corridor to the control room with Frank following discretely behind him. Once in the control room, he stopped and looked around as the pharmacist mate continued past. Lee had the feeling, the corpsman was going to keep an eye on him, whether he liked it or not. No doubt, Doc threatened him with dire consequences before we left. Too bad Doc went to a medical convention in New York. I would’ve enjoyed arguing with him. He was surprised at his thoughts. Blast, this medicine really is playing havoc with my mind.
Walking into the control room he spied Marsh at an electrical box and asked, "Where’s Mr. Morton?"
"He went to the radio shack, sir," replied the crewman, as he checked the wires.
Seeing the man’s puzzled countenance over the wiring diagram, Crane inquired, "Something wrong, Mr. Marsh?"
"Well, now that you mention it," dutifully replied the electrician’s mate with a hesitant lilt to his voice. "The air conditioner is acting up a bit. It seems to blow cold and warm air at its own convenience, sir."
"How’s that possible?"
"I don’t know, sir, but it’s an age old problem. Sharkey and Patterson have it torn apart, trying to fix it."
"Very well," grumbled the captain, shaking his dark head, trying to stay alert. I need some coffee. My head is full of cobwebs and I feel worn out. He unconsciously kneaded the painful joint at his shoulder, making his way to the radio shack.
Upon entering the communications shack, Lee found Chip talking to Admiral Nelson on Gertrude. "Yes, sir, we’re on the surface just south of Alpena. We’ll be making a course change at Presque Isle Light, then its fifty miles to the Straits of Mackinaw."
"No more weather problems?"
"No, sir, once that storm system passed through, it’s been smooth sailing. There are more storms forecasted to the north of us, though. I tell you admiral, that tornado was awesome. I’ve never seen anything like it. So powerful and destructive," expounded Chip, catching Lee’s entrance from the corner of his eye.
"Yes, Chip," grinned the admiral, sitting on the radio console in Seaview, "it’s one of the wonders of nature. I assume, you all came through it unscathed?"
"Well, now that you mention it, Admiral," replied Chip, feeling uncomfortable with his commander standing behind his back, "A few of us got a bit banged up." He heard Lee moan.
"Oh?" expressed Nelson, instantly concerned, "How bad?"
"A few of the men received bruises when we crashed dived and…" he hesitated, seeing Lee’s evil eye aimed at him, but he felt it was his duty to tell the admiral everything. "Ah…Lee dislocated his shoulder falling into the periscope well." Chip visibly winced at Lee’s indrawn breath of contempt. Covering the mouthpiece, Chip defensively shot back at him, "Well hell, Lee, he’s going to find out eventually, you can’t keep that a secret forever…especially since the whole boat heard you bellow."
"I did not bellow," growled the flushed captain, angrily reaching for the phone.
Chip turned around, winked at Sparks and teased him further, "You most certainly did." He started to say something into the phone when an irate Lee Crane snatched it out of his hand.
Nelson could only chuckle and roll his eyes. Chip’s hand had slipped off the mouthpiece making it possible for him to hear their entire conversation. He could just see his stalwart, too serious captain, slipping into the periscope well in the middle of a crisis.
Forcing a light tone in his voice, but still looking daggers at his XO, the captain spoke into the phone, "Admiral? Crane here."
"Lee, good to hear your voice," answered Nelson, taking a puff on his cigarette.
"Same here, Admiral. How’s the refit for Seaview coming?" He swayed on his feet then nonchalantly, leaned up against the radio panel.
The motion hadn’t been lost on the two men sharing the tiny compartment with him. Sparks got up, offering him his chair by saying, "I need a cup of coffee."
Crane sank gratefully down into the chair and whispered to Sparks, "Bring me one too."
Nelson, oblivious to the happenings but hearing the exhaustion in Lee’s voice, cut his explanation short. "The refit is just about done. Washington has another mission for us in a few weeks."
"Oh really? What is it?"
"The details have to be worked out yet, but it involves your old friend, Anthony Masters from the Sea Cub."
"Tony?" questioned Lee, his interest perking up. "Is this going to be an ONI operation then?"
"Hmm, appears so," confirmed Nelson, trying to keep the concern out of his voice. Their last mission together had almost been the death of both agents. ** "Look, we’ll go over all this when you get back. Everything is in the preliminary stages, anyway." He consulted his watch and waited for the next question he knew would be forth coming. How am I going to explain all this about Heather? She gets into more trouble…
Sparks handed a cup of coffee to the XO, who in turn handed it to his captain. Lee moved the phone to the crook of his neck, which in turn irritated his sore shoulder. More tired than he was willing to admit, especially to Chip, he thankfully accepted the coffee.
"All right, Admiral," he replied to the last statement. He took a sip of the brew nearly dropping the phone, which in turn caused the hot coffee to slosh over the sides, land on his shirt and burn his hand. "Damn!" he swore, forgetting about Nelson on the other end and transferring the cup to the other hand. "This sling has got to go," he growled, shaking his hand to get the excess coffee off his good hand. He absently rubbed it on his pant leg then reached for the hated device, dropping the phone in the process.
Chip rescued the phone and took the cup from him, as Sparks dug out a handkerchief from his pocket. He quickly handed it to his skipper. Lee took the offered hanky and awkwardly tried to wrap it around his burned hand, using the uncooperative fingers from his other hand. The unexpected movement caused his shoulder to hurt and he moaned from the pain’s intensity.
Frank, who’d been tentatively standing by in the corridor, heard the commotion and came in to investigate. He instantly surmised the situation, seeing the coffee stains on his commander’s shirt and the shoddily wrapped hand. Muscling his way through to the skipper, he did a quick exam of his hand and declared, "It’s only a first degree burn."
Chip meanwhile lifted the phone to his mouth to explain the delay to the admiral, when Lee noticed and snapped, "Don’t let him hang up. I need to find out how Heather’s doing." That statement brought a halt to the pandemonium. Completely disgusted with the whole scene and appalled that he let the crew know he was worried about his wife, Crane ordered everyone out.
Nearly choking on his mirth, Chip handed the phone back to Lee, and then quit the room.
In control of the phone once more, Crane asked, "Admiral, you still there?"
"Of course, I’m here!" gruffly answered Nelson, having overheard the noise, but not understanding it. "What in the sam hill is going on?"
"We ah… we hit some rough seas." That part is somewhat true, thought Lee, for the boat is starting to roll again and I can hear thunder topside. No sooner was the thought completed then it was done. The boat swayed to starboard, jerking Lee against the hard wood chair, causing him to moan in pain.
"Humph!" groaned the admiral, hearing the pain in Lee’s voice, he drew his own conclusions not liking what he’d come up with. Not sure if this was the best time to bring up his daughter, but running short on time for a meeting, Nelson demurely said, "Lee, I have a story to tell you about your wife." He paused, hearing an agitated sigh from the other end. Oh boy, maybe I’d better go easy on him…
Lee Crane solemnly inspected the boat from bow to stern. He was in an inhospitable mood. The men, tuned to his emotions, cautiously stayed out of his way. The men must have realized I’m in a foul mood. Good, I’m sick and tired of reassuring everyone I’m fine and blast Heather anyways…
He resumed his impromptu inspection in the after torpedo room. He could still smell the stench of vomit from earlier even though the hatches had been opened, letting the fresh air in. In spite of Frank and modern medicine, the men were still covered in various shades of green, albeit most were on the road to recovery. Stepping just inside the open hatch, he listened as Stewart regaled the men with a tale from the past.
"I tell you, it’s true," Stewart excitedly exclaimed. "The employees from the company that made our torpedoes wanted to show their patriotism and support of us sailors."
"They really painted up a torpedo?" asked Clark, not believing him. "Complete with the name of the hometown and where it came from?" He was holding his stomach for it was, still queasy from the unrepentant waves.
"Yup, we picked it up and it had a bright red bow wrapped around it. Our skipper had to log it, take pictures of it and find a suitable target to send it off too. Compliments of the manufacturer that built her."
"So, what happened? Did they sink a ship?" asked Harker skeptically, leaning on his elbows from his bunk.
"Yep, sure did," grinned Stewart. "She still had her special paint job too, complete with autographs from all the employees. They sunk a tanker, damn if they didn’t. The skipper took pictures through the periscope lenses for proof."
Crane turned and stepped back over the sill, the men never realized he’d been there. He walked through the engine rooms and came to the crew’s mess where he poked his head in. Ray, Chip, Cookie and Frank were in the midst of a card game.
"Pick her up," ordered Chip to Cookie. The cook did as bid and exchanged a ten of spades in his hand, for the queen of diamonds, which was trump. He put the spade face down on the deck.
Frank, sitting to the left of the dealer, threw out an ace of clubs.
Chip, having no clubs, cut with the jack of hearts, getting a raised eyebrow from Cookie, his partner.
Ray asked, "Anyone figure out who killed the playboy in the Who Done It mystery?"
Chip took the trick and lead out the jack of diamonds, taking in two trump including Cookie’s queen of diamonds. Hmm, I still need that king of diamonds. Ray’s out of trump, he played a club on that last round. He decided to flush the king out and threw on the table, the ace of diamonds. A grunt was heard from Cookie, playing the king of diamonds. "I think it was his wife," stated Chip, gathering up the cards and leading out the next card, an ace of spades. "After all, she’s got the most to gain by his death." Three spades fell, one from each man.
"Naaah," countered Frank. "I think it was his mistress, out of spite, because he went back to his wife."
Chip gathered up the trick and held his breath, throwing out the last card, a jack of spades. There’s still one trump and one spade not accounted for.
Cookie squirmed in his seat and replied. "Both you guys are wrong. It was the man’s brother. He’ll inherit the sole fortune from his parents."
Lee audibly groaned and the men looked over to him. "Well, Lee, who do you think did it?" asked Chip, troubled at his behavior.
Ray played the king of spades with joy until Cookie guffawed and threw down the ten of diamonds, taking the trick.
"Chalk up two points, Mr. Morton," proudly stated the cook to his partner.
"Whew," chuckled Chip, glancing at his sullen skipper. "Well Lee, who did it?"
"The butler did it, of course," sniped Crane, turning to leave and stopping dead in his tracks, examining the pinup girl by the doorway.
"That’s Jennifer," stated Marsh, coming inside the mess room. He picked up a glass, took it over to the bottled water cooler and filled it. Walking back to the door, he stopped and admired the view. "Ski donated her for the good of the boat."
Lee, a bit astounded, cracked his first grin since he injured his shoulder, "How did you manage to get him to part with one of his girls?"
Chip cut in with, "I threatened him with the bilges."
The men chuckled and Lee just nodded his head. Seeing the glass of water in Marsh’s hand, he inquired, "How’s the air conditioner coming?"
"We think we got it figured out." Marsh quit talking for the men had started the next round of cards, drawing his interest.
"Well," asked the captain, perturbed. He wasn’t used to the men ignoring him.
Marsh returned his attention back to the skipper, "Pardon me, sir?"
Louder than he intended, Crane bit out, "What’s wrong with the air conditioner?"
"Sharkey thinks it’s out of coolant." His attention drifted back to the card game.
Unaccountably angry, Lee snapped, "So, what’s the water for?" What’s the matter with these retirees? Did they forget Navy protocol entirely or what?
"Ah, sorry, Skipper," apologized Marsh, missing the question again. He waited patiently for the captain to say something.
"The water Marsh. What is the water for?"
"Oh, that?" he grinned, infuriating the captain more, "Ah, Sharkey wanted a drink."
"Humph," groaned Lee, following Marsh out the door.
The card players released their breath in unison. "Okay, Frank," sighed Morton, "What’s up with the Skipper?"
"It’s the Versed." Chip raised an eyebrow. "The drug is well known for its side effects of agitation and loss of recall."
Cookie interrupted with, "You mean, he won’t remember any of this?"
"Probably not, he needs to rest." Seeing their worried expressions, Frank went on, "The memory loss is only temporary, most likely he’ll not recall anything from the time I gave him the shot, until it wears off." He looked down and played idly with his cards. "Then, there’s the Demerol, he’s ah, not used to taking tranquilizers or pain killers. So, it’s making him more tired then usual and you know how he is about his responsibilities."
"So, why isn’t he in bed?" asked the XO, throwing down his cards. The game had lost its appeal.
"You ever try and keep him down short of using a brick or hypo?"
Crane, feeling tired clear to his toes, slowly climbed the conning tower’s ladderwell. His temper was just below a slow boil and nothing was going right. The air conditioner was beyond repair, making it uncomfortably warm in the sub, even with the hatches open. What’s it going to be like when we dive? It’ll give a new meaning to the term pigboat. Sparks had given him the latest weather report. Another storm was rolling across the state and would hit them about the time they made the Straits of Mackinaw. This was a tricky region. It was dotted with islands, not to mention one of the largest suspension bridges in the world. Lake Huron joined Lake Michigan in this area, making for rough currents.
"Mr. O’Brien, have you seen the logbook?" Lee asked, looking on the chart table.
"No, sir, "reported his third in command. "Not sense Mr. Morton gave it to you to read earlier… sir." He was nervous. He’d heard all the scuttlebutt in regards to the moody captain. And we thought his wife was bad…
"Are you telling me…that I have it?" asked the skipper incredulously.
"N…no, sir," stammered O’Brien. "I just meant, you were the last I knew…"
"Don’t you think, I’d remember if…and I repeat if I had it?" growled the Captain.
"Yes, sir, I’m sure you would, sir," pacified the lieutenant, wishing Mr. Morton or Frank would come to his rescue. Where’s Doc when you need him?
Lee, stifling an unexpected yawn, lost track of his thoughts. He rubbed his forehead clearly agitated with himself. I’m either cracking up or am in need of a very long nap. Didn’t I just have one? He glanced at his watch noting the time. 22:36, hmm maybe a little extra sleep wouldn’t hurt. He walked around the conning tower and read all the gages. "Are we on course?" He couldn’t seem to remember where they were supposed to be. It frightened him to the core of his being. What’s happening to me? I can’t seem to think straight. He saw the concern in O’Brien’s face and the others. He rubbed his shoulder, trying to relieve the pain. I can’t afford to take any more painkillers. They’re messing with my mind.
"Mr. O’Brien, answer the question! Are we on course?"
"Yes, sir," came the simple reply. "We’ll be in the straits before dawn."
"Very well," gritted the Captain. "Call me when we get there." Scared, worried and not understanding his own mind and body, Crane laboriously climbed back down the conning tower ladder. Not knowing what else to do, he headed for his bunk and ran into Chip in their stateroom.
"Lee, you look like hell," exclaimed Chip, not immediately realizing the quandary his friend was in.
"Thank you, very much, Mr. Morton," bit out Lee, twisting his wedding ring. His wife’s face floated through his mind. "She almost burnt my mother’s house down. What was she thinking when she set that fire in the fireplace? Didn’t she know enough to open the damper? The smoke was all over the house...Ron saved the day…"
"Lee, you’re rambling," stated Chip, sitting his captain down on the bunk and taking his shoes off his feet. He then pushed the logbook aside and lifted his legs onto the bed. Grabbing an extra blanket at the end of the bunk, he gently forced him to lie down and then covered him up. He shut off the light and climbed into his own bunk above him, then asked, "What’s that about a fire?"
"Heather, she doesn’t know anything about fireplaces. Her grandmother, I’m sure never let her near one, let alone let her set one…and we don’t have a fireplace in the apartment or aboard Seaview…Knowing my mom, I bet she was fit to be tied… Smoke all over the house…They aired the house out for three days…I guess, Heather’s been spending a lot of time in her room…"
Chip didn’t understand anything Lee just recited, but he felt it was important to let him talk. Boy, drugs can do amazing things to one’s mind.
Lee continued to talk and Chip listened. "The admiral said, ‘Mom fixed the problem with homemade cookies and a bottle of wine.’ What do you think he meant by that? The radio was breaking up and I couldn’t hear the transmission very well…"
Lee woke up surprised to find himself in his bunk. How’d I get here? He moved his shoulders to scratch an itch only to have pain snake through his left shoulder into his neck. He tried to move his left arm. It’s in a sling, what the hell? Frank’s handy work no doubt. Confused, he thought back to the last thing he remembered. I actually fell in the periscope well; I don’t believe I did that. The look on their faces when they found me…damn…I’m going to get a lot of ribbing…I can just hear Chip…So, what the hell happened? Let’s see, Frank gave me two shots and…what? He adjusted his position feeling something hard beneath his hip. He rolled to his left side, careful not to bump his shoulder and pulled the offending object out with his good hand. It’s obviously a book. Curious, he turned the nightlight on, eliciting a groan from above.
"You asleep, Chip?" He frowned down at the book and realized it was the log. What’s it doing here? No answers came immediately to mind. Oh well, I wanted to read it anyways.
"No," grumbled his roommate, "I’m just lying here in the dark with my eyes open." He rolled over, the bunk creaking in protest.
Smiling to himself, Lee suggested, "I’ll get up and go to the wardroom." He threw back the blanket and started to swing his legs over the side. His shoulder objected to the movement and he moaned.
Chip, still half a sleep, leaned over the side from above. In his best command voice, he ordered, "Damn it, Lee. Stay in that bunk, you hear me?"
"Why? Am I under orders?" Damn Frank anyways, no doubt Doc taught him well.
"No… yes," griped the exec, having second thoughts as he pulled the blanket over is head. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him. At least, I can keep an eye on him until Frank gets up…Sleep? What the hell is that? Lee talked his head off for hours. I just got to sleep…blast him anyways. Doesn’t the man ever require sleep?
"Which is it? Yes or no?"
Chip put his chin on top of his pillow and opened one blurry eye, silently asking, Why me? Quietly cursing in three languages, two he didn’t know, the XO diplomatically as possible replied, "It’s late Lee, we’ve had a hard cruise today. Your shoulder is…well, it must be hurting, so take it easy and get some rest."
"So, is that an order or not?" persisted the captain.
Wondering where that brick was Frank spoke about, Chip hit his pillow in exasperation and gritted, "Step one foot out of that bunk and I’ll…I’ll break it for you."
"Touchy? Aren’t we?" smirked Lee, opening the logbook. He heard a snarl from above. What did I ever do to deserve that? I feel pretty good. Those drugs really work wonders…
"Skipper? Mr. Morton? Come on, sirs! Wake up! Please…wake up!" cried a distraught Chief Sharkey, frantically shaking his commanders to get them up.
Both men instantly awoke. "What’s wrong?" yelled Crane, acting on the chief’s excitement. Morton climbed down from the top bunk while Sharkey helped Crane to his feet.
Sharkey, out of breath, sweating and very nervous, "Mr. O’Brien…needs your help…we’re in the straits and something strange is hap…happening."
Not waiting to hear more, the men took off for the conning tower. All three careened around the corner of the control room, coming to a halt in front of the ladderwell, leading to the command center. Crane, forgetting about his shoulder and the logbook he still held, ascended the ladder, ignoring the pain.
Morton ordered Sharkey to his station in the control room as he quickly bounded up the ladder on his captain’s heels. The chief was only too glad to go back to his diving station. He’d seen enough…
Chip literally crashed into his captain as they came to the top of the ladderwell. Not understanding Lee’s stationary position, he stood there and looked around astounded at what he was seeing.
Transparent beings, there and not there were standing behind the men at their stations. "Sailors," he whispered in Lee’s ear, "from the old days…" They’re dress was that of blue chambray shirts with dark denim slacks. "…this sub…"
"Impossible," whispered Lee, refusing to believe it.
The beings stood eerily by…not moving…
"It’s like they’re waiting…for something…" speculated Chip, in an awed voice.
Lee shook his head, denying what he was seeing. "Chip, pinch me. Make sure we’re awake and not dreaming."
Chip did so, inadvertently in his sore arm. Lee scarcely felt it.
Not taking his eyes off their visitors Crane, with Morton, walked over to the plot table where Mr. O’Brien stood, looking wide-eyed.
In a clipped voice, "What happened?"
"I don’t know, Skipper." A bit red in the face, he glanced around the conning tower. The men’s eyes were all on them. "We were coming into the straits and I tried to reach you on the phone, as ordered, but there was no answer."
Crane stiffened, unable to recall giving the order. Damn, I was hoping that was just a bad dream. He looked at Chip, who only shrugged. "Well, go on. What happened next?"
"We were on the surface and another storm was in force. It was pitch dark except for the lights from the Mackinaw Bridge, which extends across the two peninsulas. We passed under the bridge and our navigation compass just went wild."
"Wild?" repeated the XO, still watching the ghosts.
"Yes, wild," exclaimed the officer, visibly upset. "That’s the only way I can explain it. You can ask any of the guys on watch to verify it."
"That won’t be necessary, " interceded Crane, "I believe you. Now, how did we get below the surface?" he paused, in doubt, I didn’t order that, did I?
"Well, that’s the scary part, sir," shuddered O’Brien, his eyes glassy, recalling the experience. "Like I said, we were in rough seas. We’d just passed under the bridge and the diving alarm went off. The intake valve slammed shut, the engines changed over to batteries and the men topside scrambled below."
"Wait a minute," interrupted Chip. "Who gave the order to dive?"
"I don’t know, sir," futilely stated O’Brien, swallowing hard. His two commanders were staring at him as if he’d lost his mind. "One never dives without an order and I didn’t give it. I know that. The men know it too, but the bow planes started coming out and Sharkey and the men were afraid of being left topside."
"You mean to tell me, the boat just started diving…on its own?" asked Crane, flinging his hand out, the book still in it. Startled upon seeing the logbook, he set it down on the chart table. In all the excitement, I forgot I even had it.
O’Brien miserable now, Why’d this have to happen on my watch? "Yes, sir. That’s exactly how it happened." He nodded his head for emphasis.
The logbook on the chart table slowly opened. A cool breeze weaved its way through the conning tower, turning the pages.
Chip witnessed the whole incident. "Lee, did…did you see…what I just saw?" he stuttered, unable to accept what just happened.
"The air conditioner kicked in that’s all," ensured the captain, trying to convince himself, he wasn’t seeing things.
"But Lee, that’s not possible. The air conditioner is broke. Don’t you remember?" At his skipper’s blank look, Chip mentally kicked himself. "Ah, the men overhauled it and found it low on coolant. Don’t you think it’s hot in here?" he nervously asked, tugging on his perspiration soaked wrinkled shirt. Casting an edgy glimpse at the volume, he went on, "Besides, the cover of the book is heavy and it couldn’t just open…"
"I thought it was because our adrenalin was up," responded Lee uneasy. How many other things have I forgotten? "As far as the cover goes, we must’ve hit some turbulence. It’s the only reasonable explanation." Not wanting the men to see how flustered he was with his lack of memory, what alone the immediate happenings, he gazed down at the log, studying it.
"Yeah, right and those ghosts aren’t here either." Lee made a wry face not taking his eyes off the log. Chip shifted his attention back to the beings and noticed something strange.
"Ah Lee, is it my imagination or are they fading?"
Lee snapped his head up and observed the apparitions. There, but not there. The phrase stuck in his mind. He couldn’t come up with a logical explanation, so instead said, "They don’t seem to want to harm us."
"How do you know that?" asked Chip skeptical.
"I just know…" his thoughts drifted off and he again focused on the logbook. I can’t explain it. It’s just a feeling…
He must still be under the influence of the drugs, thought Chip, scrutinizing his skipper. Frank never said how long the Versed lasted. Throwing an uneasy glance over at the ghosts and around the conning tower, he decided Lee was right. I trust Lee’s instincts, drugs or no drugs. He’s never let us down and the ghosts don’t seem to be a threat…yet.
"How strange," murmured Lee, lifting his eyes from the logbook, a far away expression on his face.
"What’s so strange?" asked Chip, looking down at the old book.
"The date, it’s exactly forty years ago today, October 15th, 1944," expressed Lee. "They were on a war patrol 200 miles off the coast of Japan. They’d surfaced between Iwo Jima and Marcus Island."
"So?" questioned Chip, not following Lee’s line of reasoning. He started to read the log over Lee’s shoulder.
"Don’t you get it? This date is where the book mysteriously opened too. I get the feeling there’s a correlation between the log and our friends," he nodded towards the ghosts.
Chip in doubt, "Oh, come on. What happened to the turbulence theory?"
Crane ignored his exec and continued to read the log. He flipped a page and lifted his head astonished. He turned the page back to the sheet he’d been reading, then carefully fingered the edge of the page and turned it over. "That’s impossible, I don’t get it," he stated dumbfounded.
"What is it?" asked Chip, instantly alert. He cast a doubtful eye around the conning tower again. O’Brien was doing the same thing.
"Chip, I read most of this logbook only a little while ago."
"It’s gone, everything from this date forward is gone." Crane shook his head clearly at a loss for an explanation.
"Well, maybe the logbook got switched or there’s more than one," offered Chip.
"Impossible, the book’s never left my side," he tapped the book with the back of his knuckle to get his point across. "I fell asleep reading it and it was still in my hand when I woke up."
Totally confused now, Crane raised his voice and choked out, "You mean, I’ve read this before?" The faces of his officers confirmed his statement. "Well, so what? That still doesn’t explain why all the pages are blank from this date to the present. You both, as well as myself, have filled in this log and…it’s gone, vanished, caput!"
"Okay, okay, calm down," placated Chip. "There’s got to be a reasonable explanation." Under his breath he mumbled, so only Lee could hear, "Too bad the admiral isn’t here. He’s good with ghosts."
"Humph," grunted Lee. "Bob, what’s our position, exactly?"
"We’re at forty feet, three miles west of the Mackinaw Bridge."
"You’re sure?" asked Crane, moving over to the periscope with Chip taking his place at the pickle.
"Yes, sir," answered O’Brien, staying behind at the chart table.
Morton brought the periscope up, which made its usual crack as the hoist started up.
Lee pulled a handle down, while Chip helped him with the other. The captain put his eye to the viewfinder and peered through the lenses. A moment later, he pulled back, rubbed his eye, consulted his watch and looked again. He moved the scope slowly around in a circle, while saying, "What time does your watches show?"
The men checked their watches, including Cummings at the helm and Riley on sonar. "06:10?" asked Chip, looking at the men, wondering what was up now. The men nodded in accordance.
"You’re sure?" questioned, the skipper in a doubtful tone of voice.
"Yes, Lee," confirmed Chip, becoming alarmed. He hadn’t liked his tone of voice. It boded ill.
Heated and disturbed, Lee nearly shouted, "Then explain why its evening twilight out there!"
"What!" squawked the exec, taking a peek when Lee stepped back and motioned for him to do so.
"See," needled Crane. "The moon is just coming up, not going down!"
"This is impossible, " murmured Chip, walking the scope around. "Our watches couldn’t have all broken at the same time." He stopped, thought a second and walked slowly around again. Taking his eye out of the viewfinder, he coolly said, "Lee? Did you see the Mackinaw Bridge out there?"
Lee gave him a sharp look, "Of course…" he retracted a moment, then in a disturbed voice, "Come to think of it…and if we’re only three miles from the bridge…it should be in plain sight." He took over the scope and walked it around, twice. "Nothing! How’s this possible?"
"I…I don’t know," stuttered Chip upset.
"Take her up!" ordered the captain.
"Aye, sir," replied "O’Brien, pushing a button on his headset. "Prepare to surface," he turned and descended the ladderwell partway into the control room, reached for the handle of the klaxon alarm and jerked it three times. "Ten degrees up bubble on the planes," he called down to the men at his feet.
"What are we doing? There’s supposed to be a storm out there?" asked Chip, apprehensive.
"What storm? Did you see a storm?" sarcastically queried the skipper, rubbing the sweat off his forehead with his sleeve.
"Surface, surface, surface," came O’Brien’s order to the diving station in the control room.
"Come to think of it, no, it was calm seas," recalled Morton. In wonderment, he went on, "How can that be and where is the bridge? It can’t just disappear."
"That’s what I’d like to know," demanded Crane. Seeing the fear on his men’s faces, Crane got a grip on his temper. In a lower tone of voice he said, "When we get topside, we’ll shoot the morning stars."
"Good idea," agreed Morton. "I’ll get the sextant."
The boat surfaced and the main hatch was cracked. Chief Sharkey, who was still OOD, headed up to the bridge with the lookouts.
"Chief," called the skipper, from the bottom of the ladder-well.
"Sir?" replied Sharkey, backing down the ladder.
"I want you to remain at the dive station."
"Aye, sir. Are you expecting trouble?"
Crane paused a second for he didn’t want to spook the men further, "Lets just say an ounce of caution…"
"Skipper, this is Sparks," called the radioman, over the phone relay system.
"Skipper," O’Brien took off his head set and handed it to Crane. "Sparks is paging you."
Lee lifted it to his ear and pushed in the button with his thumb. "Skipper, here."
Morton and O’Brien climbed the ladder-well to the bridge and Sharkey headed back to his station in the control room.
"Skipper, can you come down to the radio shack?"
Crane hesitant, wanting to go topside, "Is it important?"
"Yes, sir, I think so," replied Sparks, his voice full of tension.
"Very well, I’ll be right there," stated Crane, hanging up the headset by the TDC. He glanced around the conning tower. The ghosts had faded to almost nothing, their shimmering beings barely aglow. He stepped up to Cummings at the helm, "Wasn’t your watch over at 04:00?"
"Yes, sir, but Rodriguez started puking again." He chuckled, "These young kids can’t take the rough seas like us old salts can."
Crane shook his head in agreement, refusing to acknowledge that his own stomach was on the queasy side. Nerves, its just nerves. "Very well, carry on." He turned and quickly sidestepped nearly going through a ghost. "Excuse me," he stated, feeling foolish. What do you say to a ghost?
He strenuously made his way down the ladder careful not to unduly bump his sore shoulder. At the bottom of the ladderwell, he paused beside the chief immediately noticing a difference in temperature. "Sharkey, why is it so much cooler down here?"
"I don’t know sir, my guess is the air conditioner has kicked in."
"I thought it was broke?" asked Crane perplexed. He ran a hand through his damp hair.
"It was, sir," emphatically stated the chief. "I checked it myself and we’re totally out of coolant."
"How do you explain it?"
"I…I can’t, sir. It shouldn’t be working…but it is." His eyes circled the control room. "Just like…just like the diving alarm going off and the boat going under by it self and these…these ghosts or whatever…"
"Yes, sir, what do they want with us?" asked the nervous chief.
"I don’t know yet, but they seem peaceful enough." He patted the man on his shoulder. "Don’t worry, we’ll get to the bottom of it." He walked aft to the radio shack.
"Sparks, what’s going on?"
"Well, sir, I rigged out the antenna as soon as we surfaced and I just don’t get it?"
More problems and complications, I’m starting to see a pattern here. Sighing deeply, Crane said, "What don’t you get, Sparks?" A nagging headache had developed, irritating him along with his shoulder.
Sparks fiddled with the knobs on the radio, turning the tuner back and forth. "Before we dived I was getting all kinds of frequencies. Now, since we resurfaced, all I get is a foreign channel that sounds like Japanese."
His skipper’s hand went up to his injured shoulder where he absently rubbed it. "So, you’re telling me all you are getting is a station full of foreign language?"
"Yes, sir and this is the weird part," he paused a moment and retuned the frequency, "Some woman calling herself Annie, who reminds me of Tokyo Rose, is talking to the American forces like, well like, during the war." He nodded affirmatively, seeing his skipper’s incredulous expression. Not waiting to be asked, Sparks took off his headphones and handed them to the skipper.
"Give up you American submarine sailors. You can’t win this war. Japan’s Navy is superior. We regret having to kill you brave sailors, but you’ve brought it on yourselves. You have invaded our waters and we’re only defending what’s ours. We’ve sunk another of your submarines. The Seawolf now rests at the bottom of the sea…"
Appalled, Crane nearly dropped the headphones. "Its propaganda, all propaganda to erode the fighting men’s morale." He put the headset back up to his ears and the woman’s soft, silky voice droned on. "How many more lives will be lost? Surly you can see how futile it is to fight us. Just think of all your wives and sweethearts back home, pining over their men, waiting for you to come home, writing letters…letters that will never reach you for Japan’s Navy will wipe you out…" an evil giggle trailed her last statement. She puts Debra Woodgate, AKA Peaches to shame, thought Crane.
"This is the Zero Hour, broadcasting from Tokyo Radio, it’s now 8:20 p.m. and for you military men, that’s 20:20, Oct 15th." A giggle followed.
"20:20," murmured Crane, peeking at his watch. "That’s fourteen hours later…"
Totally disgusted, he gave Sparks the headset back. "Keep monitoring the channels, but don’t pipe this crap through the boat."
"Aye, sir," replied Sparks, still confused at what he just heard.
"And Sparks stay on radio silence, just keep your ears tuned. Let me know immediately if anyone tries to contact us."
Crane, deep in thought, headed back to the conning tower.
Meanwhile on the bridge, Chip inverted the sextant and sighted one of the stars in the night sky. With his left hand he made an adjustment on the inverted sextant arc then, righted the instrument and squinted at a celestial body of light.
"Get ready to mark, Bob."
"Ready, sir," replied O’Brien with a stopwatch and notebook in his hand.
Chip slightly rocked the sextant from side to side moving the scale knob.
"Got it, sir," exclaimed O’Brien "Watch time oh six-twenty-three minutes and forty-two seconds ZULU time." He wrote it down in the notebook 06:23 / 42 followed by the calculations of the sextant scale. Chip did another quick sighting on another star.
"Mark!" shouted Morton and O’Brien repeated his previous steps.
"Let’s get down below and figure the results," stated Chip, as he surveyed the seas, an uneasy feeling invaded his senses. Evening twilight, instead of morning, the moon is definitely heading upwards.
"Men," he called up to the lookouts, "Keep a sharp watch. I want to know about anything before it happens!"
"Aye, sir," came the shouted reply from above.
Satisfied for the moment, the XO went below.
"This is not possible," solemnly swore the captain, tapping a pencil against the Nautical Almanac (star charts) that rested on the plot table. He doubled checked the figures for the third time and consulted an old map the men had pulled from the chart racks lining the corridors.
"Lee, we’ve shot the stars three times, using the time you suggested and each time we’ve come up with almost the same positional fix within a few nautical miles of each other," persisted Chip, negatively shaking his head. He too, was having trouble believing it.
"How is it possible that only a few minutes ago we were on course in the Mackinaw Straits heading into Lake Michigan and…and now we’re clear in the Pacific Ocean 200 miles from Japan?" Crane angrily threw the pencil down on top of the table where it bounced and landed on the deck. "How can we be in the exact location as this log says we are, by Iwo Jima, no less?" He smacked the log with the palm of his hand for emphasis, then leaned over the table, setting his elbow on the book and ran a hand through his hair, completely exasperated. "Chip, we’re in the midst of a pure nightmare."
"Look, Lee, Michigan is well known for it’s devils triangle and Japan has the devil’s sea triangle. Do you suppose it could be we went in one triangle and came out the other?"
"That’s impossible," countered Crane again, his mind still refusing to believe what his senses were telling him.
"Why not, Lee?" objected Morton. "We’ve seen stranger phenomenon than this or…these," he held his hand out pointing towards the ghost sailors that were still eerily there, but not there. "It’s as good an explanation as any other we’ve come up with."
The Sea Myth was on the surface, running at full speed heading southwest on a predestinated course away from Iwo Jima. The captain had ordered the boat to a full stop, twice, so they could shoot the stars. Immediately after completing the task, the boat would start up again as if she had a will of her own.
Riley interrupted with, "SJ radar contact!"
"Bogy on the bridge!" came O’Brien’s voice through the squawk box, causing the men’s hearts to skip a beat.
Crane moved over to the radar while Morton climbed up to the bridge. Putting his binoculars to his eyes, he focused in on a couple of old aircraft, heading straight for them. "Lee, I’ve got what looks like a vintage type aircraft about two miles from the bow. Mmm…" he adjusted the glasses for a clearer look. "Lee, it looks like a Japanese Zero complete with the red dotted ensign on the side along with mounted machine guns and…bombs." Bombs? What are they doing with bombs?
Crane couldn’t begin to explain the feeling of danger that came over him. He was about to order the men down from the bridge when he noticed the ghost sailors became brighter. The diving alarm sounded. Bong! Bong! No sooner was that alarm completed, then it changed over to battle stations.
Crane bellowed through the squawk box, "Clear the bridge!"
The men came scrambling down through the hatch and headed for the control room to take over the planes with Mr. O’Brien behind them, still holding the sextant. Morton cast one last anxious look skyward as the zero bore down upon the vulnerable boat. When it was only a few yards away, it raked the water near the plunging bow with a loud round of gunfire from its twenty mm guns mounted on the wings. Ducking down, Chip pulled the lanyard cord home, slamming the hatch cover shut with a bang. He practically fell down the ladder-well while exclaiming, "Those zeros are for real!"
"Flood down express tank!" yelled the captain to the diving officer. "Blow negative with high pressure air!"
Chief Sharkey immediately pulled the hydraulic levers towards him one after the other as he followed through with the emergency dive procedures, giving the sub negative buoyancy to speed up the diving process. Air was soon heard blowing the regulator tank dry, as the ballast tanks emptied of air and filled with water as the submarine dived to deeper depths.
Muffled explosions from above echoed through the boat, shaking it to its core. Dust and insulation rained down upon the men, making the air harder to breathe. The quick change of depth, with the venting of air, added pressure to their ears until the inboard vent was opened, easing the effect.
Crane, watching the depth finder, shouted through the hatch to the control room, "Level off at one hundred feet!"
"Aye, sir!" responded Chief Sharkey.
The boat continued its hard dive at a sharp twenty-degree angle reaching ever deeper into the sea. The captain impatiently waited for the boat to level off when, all of a sudden, he heard, "Skipper, the stern planes are frozen at full dive!"
A moan was heard from Cummings at the helm in the conning tower. He was steadily holding the rudder amidship, guiding the old boat down into the depths.
Crane gave him a scowl and ordered, "Stern planes hold fast. Bow planes increase the angle, start emergency procedures!"
Then yelling over his shoulder, "Another lapse of memory, Mr. Cummings?" As if I should be calling the kettle black.
"It’s happened before on a fast, steep, hard dive, sir," replied the helmsman, plucking his nose.
The boat increased its angle, as it continued its dive, making it hard for the men to stay in one place without holding on. Improperly stored equipment soon found its way to the deck again. The men, sitting on the toolboxes in the control room, felt themselves slide forward. In the after sections, dishes were heard crashing to the deck, along with loud cussing from the men as they tumbled from their bunks.
Gradually the boat started coming out of its crash dive. Crane, who’d been standing between Riley and Cummings, holding onto the sonar console said, "Keep your eyes peeled, if we’re where I think we are, there’s a lot of islands scattered over these waters."
"Aye, sir," replied the wide-eyed seaman. "Ah, Skipper?"
"The ghosts! They’re fading again…they were really bright before we made the dive and so…so very real, at least the one standing watch beside me was and now…and now, he’s faded." He didn’t know how to better explain it and he hoped the captain would understand.
"Riley, if its any comfort to you, I noticed that too…and Riley," the young man looked extremely relieved, causing Crane to smile. "We’re not losing our minds."
"Yes, sir," replied the sonarman, exhaling a pent up breath.
The captain watched the depth gage as the boat finally leveled off on an even keel. "One hundred feet below what I ordered," he mused. Picking up the phone he requested, "Damage control report."
Cookie came on the phone system, "We have water tight integrity, minor damage to some contents, mainly dishes and a few bruised men. Frank is taking care of them now."
"Very well. Have Patterson check the bilges to mark the angle we achieved," he hung up the phone and ambled over to Chip, who was at the chart table reading the war log.
"Lee, look at this," with a shaking hand he flipped the last page. The captain read over to the next page, which was blank only moments ago. Lee read it while Chip explained it, "The whole incident that just took place topside is here. The surfacing, the shooting of the stars and the Jap Zero, its all here!" Not believing his eyes, Chip looked up to his frowning skipper then back down to the page in question. "I was staring right at this logbook when the page turned and the writing appeared. I kid you not, it was there…poof…just like that…and it felt...like someone was standing right beside me. So bright! So realistic…!" He looked up at Lee’s impassive face and hoped his captain didn’t think he was crazy, as he trailed off with, "now he’s dull in color, standing there, as if waiting…"
Crane, lost in thought, ran his tongue over his dry lips, wishing he had a glass of water. Chip, seeing his commander deep in thought and apparently not listening to him, started reading the logbook from the beginning of the Sea Myth’s last war patrol.
A few minutes later, Cookie made an appearance bearing a pot of coffee with mugs. "I thought you could use this, sirs," grinned the cook, setting the tray down on the chart table. He poured the coffee. "Pat said the angle on the bilges read thirty-two degrees. Can you imagine that? You’ll have some bragging rights at the officer’s club," he grinned with the statement falling on deaf ears.
"You’re a mind reader," seriously stated Chip, only half hearing him, reaching for the badly needed brew. He tried to recall how much sleep he’d had in the last twenty-four hours and came up with very little. We’re all working on overdrive.
Lee snapped his fingers and proclaimed, "That’s it!"
"What’s it?" exclaimed both Chip and Cookie in unison.
Crane ignored them for a few additional moments, taking the offered coffee from Cookie. He sipped the hot brew, trying to form his thoughts into words they’d believe and convince himself of their truth.
Cookie left and served the other two men, thinking his commanders were out of the loop.
"Ah Cookie, you’re a man after my own heart," chuckle Cummings, grateful for the warm drink. He involuntarily shuddered. "It’s cold enough in here to freeze the ice cream I know you’re making."
"Right you are, Mr. Cummings. The batch is nearly set. I don’t know what’s wrong with the air conditioner though."
Cummings sighed, "All during the war, it did the same thing. One moment it blew cold, the next hot. The engineers had all kinds of explanations for it, but they never could fix it. Just like the pickle here," he indicated with a toss of his gray head.
Laughter was heard, drifting back to the chart table, from the other end of the conning tower.
Chip, overtired and not feeling like his usual stoic self, impatiently cajoled his skipper, "Come on, Lee. What’s your theory?"
"You’re going to think I’m crazy," wearily stated Crane, putting the cup down on the table.
"Well, you’re in good company then," countered Morton, leaning back against the table. "So, out with it."
Taking a cleansing breath, Crane started with, "I think the ghosts or apparitions are here to guide us." He waited to see how receptive Chip was to the idea. Chip’s deadpan expression fell back into place. Now, he had no idea what his XO was thinking. He fingered the book, frankly stating, "The logbook is a diary, as you know, of all the boat’s happenings. As each event unfolds, it’s being recorded or should I say History is repeating herself."
Chip, trying to understand, repeated, "Are you saying, History is rewriting herself as in the past is the past and you can’t change history no matter what we do?"
"That is correct, Chip, " verified Crane. "Remember when Mr. Pem tried to change history by taking us back to the American Revolution?"
"I’d rather you not remind me of that," griped Chip, reading over the last entry again. "All right, I can buy that. So, you think we’re back in the past?"
"Hmm, not only that," he tossed his XO a wavering smile, "I think we’re on an actual war patrol." He saw his unflappable exec turn pasty in color and continued on with. "In fact, I’m sure of it. You know, World War II has been a hobby of mine since I was a small boy, right?"
Chip nodded in agreement, his stomach was doing a tug of war with the coffee he’d just drunk. Its nerves just nerves.
"Well, we surfaced off of Iwo Jima and according to this date here in the log," he pointed to the book, "it’s Oct. 15, of 1944. This island was still occupied by the Japanese. Now," he had his exec’s rapt attention along with the other three men’s, "Sparks heard a propaganda report from Tokyo Rose…"
"Tokyo Rose?" interrupted Chip, his eyes full of questions.
Lee grinned, in spite of the seriousness of the situation. He didn’t even dare look at the other men’s faces, clearly imaging their reactions to his statements right now. They probably think those drugs are still in effect. "Yes, Tokyo Rose, the woman that went to prison for all the lies she spread."
Chip shook his head in understanding, "Okay, continue. What’d she say?"
She said the Japanese Navy sunk the Seawolf. Now, I know for a fact, Japan didn’t sink that boat." He paused for effect. "She was sunk on Oct. 3rd, 1944 by one of our own boats, the USS Rowell, a destroyer."
An indrawn breath was all that was heard from the now silent men in the conning tower. Chip respectfully asked, "How…how did it happen?"
Grimly, Lee related the details, "She was on her 15th war patrol. A Japanese submarine sunk the USS Shelton not far from Seawolf’s reported position. Her comrade ship, the USS Rowell, went on a hunt for revenge. The Seawolf and three other United States subs were in the vicinity in a no attack zone. You know what that means."
The men did. It’s a safe zone for submarines. No attacks are permitted on any subs whatsoever, thought Riley, silently listening to the story as he kept careful watch on sonar.
"Well, the skipper ordered an outright attack on a submarine that was acting in, what he considered, a strange manner. He either didn’t realize he was in a no attack zone or he hadn’t been informed. Anyways, he sunk her, stating only that the series of continuous signals they’d received on sonar were not in the correct recognition code. It didn’t seem to manner that the Seawolf didn’t try to evade them." He slapped his good hand on his leg, disgusted. "Of course, it was all circumstantial, the USS Rowell painted a submarine on her side and later it had been established that the Japanese sub had received no countermeasures from our side. She made it back to her port in relative safety."
He let that all sink into their minds then recited his first rule of safety. "We’re on our own from this moment on. We’re the potential enemy of all other ships and we’re going to keep out of sight even from our own."
"What if our friends here won’t let us?" asked Chip, motioning at the beings.
"I didn’t say we wouldn’t fight. After all, we can’t alter history." Lee dropped the other shoe, so to speak. "I…ah…have a theory for the ghosts too."
He heard a groan from his exec. "This is going to sound far fetched, but I think when they’re bright in color, they are helping us by acting or stepping in when we’re going against history." He got a questioning look from Chip. He finished with, "When they’re dull or faded, we are right on course."
Chip grabbed his good arm, "Come on, you’re going back to bed. That Versed Frank told us about is still playing with your mind." He started pulling him towards the control room hatch.
"Damn it, Chip, let go!" He yanked his arm from the grip, frantically snapping, "I’m fine! Will you just listen to me?"
Chip sounded off, unable to help himself, "You’re saying we’re back in time and I don’t see Mr. Pem anywhere about!" He ran a hand through his hair, exasperated and tired. His stomach relentlessly flipped-flopped. Now, I know how Melonie feels with her morning sickness. Thinking of his wife, he inwardly groaned, Will, I ever see her again? Will I ever see the baby that no one knows about, especially not Heather. Poor Heather, what will she do without Lee? What will Nelson do without his crew? "I’m supposed to believe that?" Not giving him time to answer, he went on with his tirade, anxious and unreasonable now. "That and the fact that…that ghosts are running…this boat now? Oh, come on!" He leaned his elbows down on the chart table and buried his face in his hands, completely spent.
Crane gently squeezed his friend’s shoulder, noticing the tenseness of it. "Chip, how long has it been since you last slept?"
Not picking his head up, he mumbled, "Ah, I got a couple hours when you finally drifted off."
Feeling guilty for his exec’s weary state, Lee excitedly recalled, "Well, hell, you’ve been up most of last night as we navigated our way through that damn treacherous Lake Erie." Hey, I’m finally getting my memory back. Let’s see, I remember the tornado bearing down on us from the shoreline and my shoulder injury. Blast, I’m never going to live down falling in the periscope well. That’s one thing I wish I could forget…I still have a lapse of time, from that moment until I woke up with Chip asleep in the bunk above me. Boy, what a grouch… hmm, now I see why he’s so tired… Dismayed again, Lee firmly ordered, "Then, hit the sack." Chip’s head popped back up and he pulled himself together. "I’m fine, Lee. No worst for wear than you are," he insisted.
"I said, now!" ordered Crane with a bite in his tone. He glimpsed the book as new writing appeared. Just like Chip said, it just appears. Out loud he read, "Received new orders, we’re to proceed to Balabac Straits in the South China Seas." He moved the book aside and fingered the map sitting on the chart table. "Sure enough, it’s already marked," proving his point to his second in command.
Chip could only sigh.
After the crisis was over, the men temporarily accepted the fact the war patrol was out of their hands. The Sea Myth was still submerged, being broad daylight topside, heading towards the China Sea. Not one to be caught unprepared, Capt. Crane called the men repeatedly to battle-stations for the next few days. They did practice drills, using the ancient equipment on board to simulate the firing of their torpedoes. He found himself, as well as his officers, struggling to use the TDC (torpedo data computer) and the TBT (target bearing transmitter) located on opposite ends of the bridge with the periscope shears in between. The TDC served a duel purpose. It was the positional keeper of targets and submarines. It also was the angle solver, which transmitted data to the torpedo gyros in the torpedo tubes, right up to the moment of firing.
"This TDC isn’t that different from Seaview’s. It still gives us all the information we need in latitude, for approach maneuvers and rapid fire shifting capabilities. Now, all we have to do is get use to it," encouraged the Captain, dialing in information given to him from Ski on sonar, as they executed another series of target drills.
Not satisfied with the results, the captain ordered more practice runs, bowshots, fire control, emergency blows and crash dives. He ran them through every emergency he could come up with, finishing up with drills on detection, avoidance and most importantly dives. He couldn’t work them enough, getting their dive time shaved down. Precious seconds could result in a matter of life or death. By the time they reached their appointed patrol station, the boat would be at its best. Not bad for only half a crew. Of course, the ghost sailors are still standing by. No matter, I want to make sure we can handle any contingency.
Chip had kidded him about the last. "Obviously, the boat survived the war for we’re living proof of that. After all, didn’t we return from the future?"
The Sea Myth had just skirted the Philippines and was nearing its station in the straits. Twilight descended with O’Brien as OOD and Cummings, acting as navigator. The ghost sailors stood passively by, silent as a tomb. The two men shot the stars, a duty Capt. Crane insisted on every morning and evening.
The ghost sailors rankled the captain something fierce, robbing him of all sleep. Lee, being the conscientious captain that he was, found himself roaming the boat. While making sure everything was in shipshape order, unwarranted thoughts nagged at him. I’m captain of this boat; she’s my responsibility. How can I just let these apparitions take over? They let me have command, but won’t let me have control. How can we defeat them? They seem harmless enough, but the men want to go home. Hell, I want to go home. When they’re done with this patrol, will they let us go? Nelson must be frantic by now…he refused to think about his wife and what her reaction would be. Try as he might, her brilliant hazel eyes crept into his memory and he silently moan, Oh love, I’m so sorry. I’ll find a way home. Please…don’t give up the ship…
Grabbing a cup of coffee from the galley, Lee stopped in the men’s mess and did a quick inspection. Turning to go, he noticed the pinup girl tacked to the bulkhead next to the door. Is it Judy or Jennifer? I can’t tell and I’m not about to ask. They’ll think I’m crazy for sure, not remembering a poster girl. Every man knows his pin up girls. Besides, I can’t tell if it’s old or new. Nothing on this boat is as it was. Equipment is working that wasn’t working in Lake Huron and there’s now 24 armed torpedoes along with Cookie talking about the appearance of unexplained food stuffs…He let the thought trail off...
Seeing Stewart sitting at the mess table, reading Heather’s who done it mystery, he wandered over to the table. The man instantly put the book down and stood up with the other men at the table. "As you were men." The torpedoman sat back down with Patterson, Clarke, Malone and Evans.
"Something I can do for ya, Skipper?" questioned the man, moving the book aside.
Lee brought his foot up to the bench and rested his sore arm on his bent knee while inquiring, "Stewart, you and the others were on this boat during the war. Do you, ah…recognize any of our ghost sailors?"
The elder seaman cleared his throat and slowly replied, "No, sir, we don’t. You see, none of us came aboard this boat until April of 45. We were part of the relief crew on account of the Navy’s regulations of changing a third of the crew after each war patrol."
"I see, so none of these apparitions are familiar?"
"None, sir." He cleared his throat again. "Of course, there must be men we knew before this time, but they must still be alive, so therefore they can’t be a ghost."
Lee smiled at the man’s reasoning. "Good point, Stewart." Trying to feel the man out and gleam any information from the past that would entail their future on this war patrol, he asked, "Were there any stories passed down from the other patrols?"
The other men, sitting around the table, stopped playing their board game and waited for the forthcoming stories.
"Well, there were always some good old stories, sir. Like the time they had their laundry tied to the rails of the boat."
Snickers were heard from the men and Stewart turned a shade of red. He defended, "Wait and see boys, when the stink gets too bad, the captain here will order you to wash your clothes and there is no other place to hang’em dry."
Put easily in their place by the older crewman, the men became quiet. "Now, I was saying, they washed their clothes and hung’em out on the rails, for it was a warm, sunny day. Wouldn’t ya know it, but a Jap Zero came out of the blue!" He started laughing at the memory of the story.
With grins on their faces, the men, including the captain, waited patiently for him to continue. Clarke, more anxious than the others, egged him to continue, "Go on."
"Well, they of course had to dive for there sure wasn’t anytime to get the laundry off the rails! Oh and by the way, we don’t hang’em we tie em to the rails in good square knots, using specially designed cloth ties. The knots were so good, that when they surfaced, the clothes were still there." Stewart guffawed a good one and added, "But, they weren’t the same, ya see, the zero sprayed em with machine gun fire and the men had to wear holy clothes for the rest of the patrol." He started chuckling again and the men joined him.
"Any other stories?" prodded the Captain, taking a seat beside Patterson.
"Hmm, yes there were lots, like during the night an explosion in the aft engine room produced carbon monoxide gas. The men all got out except two and the captain had to go in and get’em. He put on an oxygen lung and finally found them after the other officers couldn’t locate em."
"How badly were they hurt?" asked Crane, rubbing his shoulder.
"They were pretty bad off for they’d taken in a lot of gas. They put them on straight oxygen and left them with the nearest tender they could find by their station. That was per near to Midway." Stewart reached for a glass of water and gulped a bit down. "A little warm in here wouldn’t ya say?" he asked, clearing his throat once again. He was flushed and not use to entertaining the captain of a boat. He rambled on, "Most of the stories are the same, but varied depending on the boat, patrol and place in time. We’d come to the surface and it seemed like a Jap Zero was always waiting to drop a flare or bomb on us. We’d stay submerged during the day and surfaced at dusk or sometimes in the dead of night if there was a bright moon. No matter what, we had to come up for at least a few hours during the night to recharge the batteries and draw in fresh air."
"Was there any outstanding action on the eleventh war patrol that the guys regaled you with?" earnestly asked Crane. He took in the curious expression on the older man’s face and briefly explained, "The war log states that we’re on the eleventh patrol."
Understanding lit the man’s brown eyes. "Well, sir, I did hear a few. They saw action quite frequently. One time, a man was killed after getting hit by machine gun fire. He’d been manning one of the deck guns and later they buried him at sea."
The men became silent after that statement lost in their thoughts. Before more could be said, Riley, who’d been down in the control room, ran into the crew’s mess out of breath. "Skipper, Mr. O’Brien…" his voice was tense and he faltered, taking a deep breath he finally spat out, "Mr. O’Brien requests your presence, immediately, on the bridge."
Crane met Morton, (who’d come from their state room when he’d overheard the order given to Riley to find the captain,) at opposite ends of the control room and together, they headed over to the conning tower ladderwell. Crane waved Chip ahead of him to climb the ladder. Out of the corner of his eye, Lee noted Chief Sharkey at his diving station. "Everything all right?" he asked the stalwart chief, waiting for Chip to ascend the ladder. The diving officer was in charge of the control room. Normally, this was only customary during a dive or when they were at battle stations, but the Sea Myth had only half a crew and most of the men were doing double-duty. He heard a "Yes, sir," as he started up behind his exec, becoming impeded by the sling on his arm.
"Damn, this thing has got to go," he growled, pulling the hated device off. He cast it over to the chart table where it landed with a resounding slap. Free to use his arm, although stiff, he hurriedly climbed the rungs of the ladder up into the upper deck. Once in the conning tower, he found it rigged for night vision with Kowalski on sonar.
"Skipper, SJ radar-contact sixteen miles out. It profiles like a large convoy."
"Thanks, Ski," he grabbed his night goggles and binoculars, then headed for the bridge
They were on the surface ten miles off the coast, south of Manila, charging the batteries and drawing in badly needed fresh air. It was fully dark now, with the moon just making an appearance in the starry sky. Crane knew time would run out once the moon was high in the sky. So far, they had the advantage with the moon behind them, her weak rays not casting shadows on them yet.
"I don’t have my night vision yet, Bob. What do we have?" asked the Captain, lifting the binoculars to his eyes.
O’Brien pointed to the south in the direction of the moon. "Looks like a minelaying destroyer, approximately 700 tons, being accompanied by two Akikaze tincans and that’s not all." He grinned. "There’s a fuel tanker with two freighters," reported the OOD, leaning on the sill with his night goggles on, looking through a pair of binoculars, barely making out the outline of the ships against the moon’s slight, eerie glow.
"The freighter could be a decoy, Lee," reminded Chip, his nerves on edge. He had see the excitement in Lee’s eyes and wondered about it. "It’s light in the water, shallow drafted", added the XO, also peering through a pair of binoculars.
"That could be true," agreed Crane, studying the convoy. "The Japanese were known for using light weight supplies to waste an enemy’s sub’s torpedoes. I believe they called them Q-ships. Sometimes they were full of POW’s and innocent civilians that had been captured. Unfortunately, we had no way of knowing that and several of our men were lost when we sank their boats." He studied the scene for some time, took a deep breath and resolutely ordered, "Rig for dive."
Chip faltered a second then yelled into the squawk box, "Prepare to dive!" Chip hesitated at the hatch, "Lee, you aren’t seriously going after that convoy?"
"Well, Chip, like it or not we’re back in World War II and this is a fighting submarine. It’s our duty. Besides, our ghost sailors are turning brighter. They sense our reluctance. They’ll sink the ships with or without our help and personally, I don’t want to relinquish control any more than I have too." The XO glanced over to the apparition standing next to Lee. He was glimmering brighter than he’d ever seen it. Making no comment, he went down below to await his orders in the conning tower. Lee glanced over his shoulder at his personal apparition, who he surmised, must’ve been the captain at one time. The ghost sailor is fading. We’re on course.
"Getting into position is ninety percent of the job," coolly stated Capt. Crane, standing beside the twin periscopes. Alike on the outside, but different from within…aren’t we all? He was brought out of his private musings by an announcement from his third in command.
"Three minutes since the last look," reported O’Brien on the pickle, watching his stopwatch.
"Up scope," ordered Crane, squatting down and coming up with the radarscope. It was thirty-six feet long fully extended with wide-angle lenses. The Sea Myth was at fifty-nine feet with the periscope three feet out of the water. He could easily see the convoy under the full rise of the moon. "What’s the range Ski?"
"Roughly, fourteen thousand yards," responded Ski, staring at sonar.
"Sound battle stations," ordered Crane, giving O’Brien a nod to lower the scope. He could hear the TDC tubes humming behind him, as the XO entered the data they had so far.
O’Brien let go of the pickle and pushed in the button to his headset. All the chiefs from each department were plugged into the telephone intercom system, anticipating this moment. "It’s a go battle stations." The alarm chimed in low-pitched notes, echoing throughout the boat. Men came rushing through the control room, with determined, anxious looks on their faces, heading to their stations.
Sharkey ascended the ladder half way to the conning tower. "Control room all manned and ready sir."
"Very well," acknowledged O’Brien, as Riley came bounding up the ladder bypassing and nearly knocking Sharkey off the ladder to take his place at radar.
"Riley! Watch it," growled the chief, giving him the evil eye.
Riley, turning red, only shrugged his shoulders and murmured, "Sorry, Chief, it was the heat of the moment."
"Yeah, right," grumbled the chief, heading back to his diving station.
"Forward torpedo room, manned and ready," replied Patterson, as he checked the last torpedo hatch door.
"Maneuvering, manned and ready," reported Marsh, the electrician’s mate into the mic of his headphone.
"Aft torpedo room, manned and ready," responded Stewart, closing the brass door to the torpedo tube.
"Damage control, manned forward and aft," reported Cookie, holding a portable two-way radio that he’d brought with him from Seaview. Frank was forward with Patterson on the other end of the radio.
"Battle stations, all manned and ready, Captain," said O’Brien, adjusting his headset. It dug uncomfortably into his head.
"Very well," somberly stated Crane. He stepped over to the chart table directly next to the periscope cylinders and quickly scanned the log.
"What’s it say, Lee?" asked Chip, still at the TDC where he would remain until the call down from battle stations.
In a firm, but quiet voice, the captain read from the book, "All it says is, we’ve spotted a large convoy and at 21:35 they went after it." He glanced at his watch, as did the rest of the men. It’s 21:35, impossible...
Crane pulled a notebook from his pocket, entered the time and a brief description of the convoy. He’d been keeping his own diary from when they first came aboard the boat. He wanted to remember all the events and happenings of their adventure for later reference. "Riley, since you are on radar and we’re underwater, you can record the events as they unfold." He handed the book to the apprehensive young man.
Riley took the book and searched in vain for a pen on his person. The skipper, slightly amused, handed him the writing utensil. "Ah, thank you, sir," said Riley, feeling foolish, as he took the pen.
"No problem, Riley, just keep as accurate of notes as possible," replied his skipper.
Lee stepped over to the periscopes. "Time for another look," he stated and curtly nodded to O’Brien who pushed the button. Up came the scope with a crack, with Crane bending down to the base and following it up. It gave him a few seconds longer to peek at the convoy before it was lowered back into the well. This practice was regimentally done, so that the head of the periscope was only above the surface, a minimum amount of time. This would keep a good lookout on the enemy ship, from spotting their periscope above the waves and alerting his captain.
"They’re about twelve thousand five hundred yards," reported Crane, eyeing the convoy.
"Speed?" asked Chip.
"No estimate yet. They’re pretty good size ships. The freighters alone are double stackers. Start with thirteen knots. Down scope." Lee stretched and rubbed his lower back, trying to limber up. His injured shoulder ached and his calve muscles pulled each time he arose with the periscope.
Chip dialed in the approximated speed into the TDC.
"We need an exact range. Ski, get ready for a quick read. Bob, we’re going to use the attack-scope." Crane moved over to the other scope, which was four feet longer in height, but has a smaller head and a narrower viewing field. "It’ll come about seven feet above the surface fully extended. Here’s what we’re going to do. Run the periscope all the way to the top and immediately take her back down. I’ll go up with her. Ski, yell out the instant you see a pip. Okay, everyone ready? We’re going for the range." He nodded to O’Brien once again.
The scope climbed up with Crane squatting from the base as before. His hands on the base, he lifted it up and grabbed the handles down, lunging for the eyepiece. Ignoring the pain in his shoulder and the pull from his muscled calves, he intently studied the scene before him. The radar wave instrument hummed, as it engaged at the base of the scope when Ski kicked it in from his station.
"Range!" yelled Ski, marking the sonar screen with the range marker.
Chip, standing on the opposite side of the periscope, stared at the azimuth ring built into the bearing circle around the top of the conning tower where the scope disappeared. "Bearing one-zero-five relative."
"Range, twelve thousand two hundred, " shouted Kowalski.
O’Brien immediately lowered the periscope, which Crane followed back down into the base, snapping up the handles just in time before it settled into the well.
Knowing, a good captain always keeps his firing control party informed with the events topside, Crane spelled it out. "Angle on the bow is starboard ten. There’s definitely a minelayer and two freighters. The tanker is cruising between the freighters. There’s a tincan escort in front and one doing clean up work in back. That one could be a problem." He turned to Bob, "Order front and aft torpedo rooms to load and be ready to reload when those fish are fired. We’re going for a bow and stern shot. If the destroyer comes after us and you know it will, I want an extra set ready in the tubes set at shallow. No more than four feet."
"Aye, sir," replied O’Brien, keying his headset on the telephone system to the torpedo rooms. "The skipper wants you to load and reload immediately when those fish are off…"
"Aye, sir," came the reply from Patterson forward and Stewart aft.
"At least, we have mark eighteen torpedoes that won’t leave a wake for their lookouts to spot," interjected Chip, watching the indicators on the TDC.
"Hmm," murmured Crane, doing a mental check off list in his mind. "Chip, what’s the injection water temperature and how fresh are those torpedoes?"
"We did a freshening charge the morning they, ah…first appeared. Temperature is forty-nine degrees." He entered the temperature data into the TDC then, consulted a checklist posted beside it.
"Next step," said Crane, "prepare for silent running." He glanced around the conning tower. "Well, guys, it’s going to get hot in here."
Once the boat was totally rigged for silent running, the ventilation system would be shut down. The conning tower only had a small reserve ventilator and the return was through the control room hatch. Before they fired the torpedoes, the hatch would be closed between the control room and conning tower. That way, if any disaster happened above, the control room would be secure.
Chip carried the order out. They heard the men below, making last minute runs to the head and various other places. It was not permitted to go from one part of the ship to another once the final order came for the doors to be slammed shut and dogged.
"Four minutes since last look, Skipper," reminded O’Brien, keeping time.
"Okay, fast periscope technique again on the attack-scope," stated Crane, dreading the use of his sore shoulder. "Ready? Go!"
Up went the periscope again with Crane bending and following it up. Pain shot through his shoulder, but he kept it hidden, the heat of the moment superseding all else.
"Range," yelled Ski, marking the spot on sonar with a range marker. "Ten thousand yards."
"Bearing one-zero-six relative," stated O’Brien, looking at the azimuth ring. He quickly lowered the scope and a low moan slipped from Crane before he could stifle it, as the scope slipped into the well.
"Lee, you all right?" asked Chip concerned, while he added the new bearing into the TDC. He’d seen the strain on his friend’s face and knew he was hiding the pain. I bet his shoulder is killing him. Leave it to Lee to take off that sling…
"Fine, just muscle cramps," he grinned. "I guess, I’m not as young as I used to be," he joked, trying to head off his officer’s
over-protectiveness. "Let’s see, a two thousand yard difference," he glanced down at his watch, doing the math in his head. "The convoy is traveling at fifteen knots. She also zigged left. Our angle on the bow is now starboard twenty."
Chip added, "The distance to track is five thousand yards. Still too far away for our torpedoes. If the convoy zigzags again, we’ll be way out of position."
"I know, Chip," Crane thought fast and furiously, "They’re heading north and if they zig left towards Japan…" He called over to Cummings at the helm, "Right full rudder. All ahead full!"
The helmsman instantly clicked the annunciator to maneuvering and received a click back as the boat jumped ahead.
"Control," yelled the skipper, into the hatch at his feet, "take us to two hundred feet and watch the bottom. Our sonar heads are down."
"Aye, sir," replied Sharkey, checking the keel depth and making the dive adjustments. "Two degree down angle on the planes and be careful, you heard what the skipper said." The last was said more for his benefit then theirs.
"It’ll take us about eight minutes to reach our position. Better, we do it now before the tincan’s echo-ranging can pick up on our propellers," woodenly stated Crane.
While the Sea Myth raced to her new position, each man fell silent, delving deep into his own thoughts. Lee was especially affected by all the events taking place. He was in command and therefore, he estimated at least a thousand men alone on the minelayer were going to meet their end tonight. He figured five hundred each on the freighters and probably at least that many on the fuel tanker. War is hell. Stop the pity party, Crane. 52 of our submarines were sunk during this war. Twenty percent, one out of five subs was lost, the highest percentage of any branch of the service. Let’s not forget all the men who lost their lives on them and in Pearl Harbor. December 7th, 1941, Sunday morning, most of the men back from a night on the town… sleeping… unprepared to defend themselves…the Arizona…the California…the Oklahoma and the Utah…my father…
Extremely nervous now, Crane asked, "How long we’ve been running?"
"Three minutes," stated Chip, his own nerves at a peak.
"Five more minutes," repeated Crane. He read over the checklist posted on the TDC. "Chip, we need a bathythermograph reading."
Chip carried out the necessary order, knowing the importance of the water temperature. It was an indicator for thermocline layers useful for subs to hide in. Sonar pings have a tendency to be blocked out from the opaque fields.
Lee glanced at the open logbook again, left on the table. Still nothing. I was hoping they’d tell us what’s going to happen. He could feel the perspiration soaking his forehead, back and chest with rivulet’s running down his neck and into his eyes. Outwardly calm, he wiped his forehead with his sleeve. Inside, his heart raced and he could literally feel the pulse points, throbbing in his wrists. "How many more minutes?"
"Four more, Skipper," said O’Brien, still keeping time on the stopwatch.
"We’ll probably shoot six fish from the bow and four aft from the stern. The reload will have to be fast."
"The men are up to it, Skipper," reassured the XO.
"How many more minutes?" asked Crane again, wanting to pace the deck, but didn’t.
"Three minutes," replied O’Brien, trying not to grin. I’ve never seen the skipper so nervous, except for the time when, Heather and the men didn’t come back to the boat on time in Pearl Harbor. I still can’t believe they landed up in the brig.
Crane yelled down to the control room, "Where’s that BT card reading?"
Calling up from the bottom of the ladder, "It’s in the gadget, it’ll be up in a moment," assured Sharkey.
"One minute, Skipper," reminded O’Brien, watching his captain stiffen, take a deep breath and force himself to relax.
"Cummings, reduce speed to one-third!" Crane yelled, down the hatch. " Control! Bring us to fifty-five feet."
The helmsman clicked the annunciator back to maneuvering and they could feel the change in speed with the nose angling upward as the submarine slowed down.
Evans climbed up the ladder and shakily handed a smoke-smeared card to Mr. Morton. "Temperature is pretty constant. There is a small variance at 60 feet, sir," added the timid young man, before he jumped back down into the control room.
"We’ve got us some cover, but not much," grumbled Chip, handing it to Lee.
"Great," sighed Lee, not liking the situation at all.
"Skipper, it’s been eight minutes," expressed O’Brien, holding up his watch and reaching for the pickle.
"Okay, same as before, straight up and back down. This one is for an observation and bearing. He nodded his head and O’Brien started the periscope up the hoist. Crack sounded the scope as Lee squatted down on his haunches and rose with the lenses. He instantly felt the strain in his legs and lower back, along with his shoulder, as he pulled the handles down on the periscope. "They zinged left and are heading at us! Bearing. Mark!"
Chip, staring at the azimuth circle, rapidly read the bearing. "Two-four-five." Down went the scope almost catching Crane on the side of the head as he snapped the handles back in place. Chip redialed the latest bearing into the TDC.
"Cummings, change course to two-four-five."
"Tincan two-two-eight," called out Ski.
"Going for the range," said Lee, adjusting the range dial on the periscope. Once again, O’Brien pushed the button on the pickle and the periscope rose. Lee slowly unfolded with the scope, turning the range dial on the scope. "Range! Mark" he shouted.
"Four-four-double-oh, true," relayed Chip.
"Down scope," ordered the skipper. "Distance to track?"
Chip entered the latest information into the TDC. "Twenty-two hundred yards."
"Checks out to sixteen knots," verified Morton. This too, he entered in the plot. Crane stepped behind Chip and both men watched the TDC’s two main gauges, one the Sea Myth and the other the target, showing the two converging courses.
"Angle on the bow starboard thirty."
Crane not happy with the setup, "We’ve got to close the track more. We have to shoot within two thousand yards. Ski? Can you hear them?"
"Loud and clear, Skipper. Lead ship has twin screws. The others behind him, I’m having more trouble hearing, but I think they are single screws, except the fuel tanker you identified in the middle. The tincans both have double screws. The lead escort should pass us by, but the end one could pass astern or even right over us."
"Hmm, very well." We might have to take her deep in a hurry. He checked the depth gage, keel to bottom three hundred-fifty feet. Boy, do I miss Seaview.
"Right full rudder," ordered Crane. "Come to course two-three-five. Starboard sixty degrees."
"Rudder is right full on two-three-five," echoed across the conning tower from the helmsman, as he spun the brass wheel.
"Check list completed," stated Chip, watching the TDC board. "All we need is the order for final rig on silent running."
"Tincan bearing two-three-zero," called out Ski again. It was headed straight for them.
"Very well, keep your ears on the first tincan," ordered the captain.
"Aye, sir." Ski adjusted his sonar knob to the left.
"Observation," said Crane. "Easy now, just broach the surface." O’Brien pushed on the pickle again. The periscope rose only slightly over the waves and Lee looked carefully around. " Down scope. We’ll shoot six bow fish, two at the lead ship, two at the second ship and two at the lead tincan. Then turn and shoot two from the stern at the fuel tanker and leave two for the tincan, tagging along in back."
"Give me a course for a thirty gyro, bow tubes on the minelayer, one-thirty starboard track!"
"Escort bearing two-three-three, Skipper," sang out Ski, adjusting a sonar knob.
"O’Brien, finish the rig on silent running."
"Aye, sir," returned the lieutenant, calling into his headphone, "Rig for silent running."
Riley, who’d been standing by on radar, stepped over to the hatch and silently closed the cover. The blowers were shut off and a deadly quiet descended in the tower as the temperature increased.
Distance to track," asked Crane, looking at the TDC, wiping his forehead again with his shirtsleeve.
"Sixteen hundred yards," responded Morton, checking the TDC. They could hear the propellers turning from the destroyer, coming near, ever nearer. Thum, thum, thum…
"She’s passing in front of the bow, whispered Crane." They could hear the screws turning above the conning tower, louder now. Thum, thum, thum, thum. Slowly she passed by, almost broadside to them, five hundred yards from the starboard bow. They waited in silence. This was the most dangerous time for the Sea Myth. Only a few yards away, the destroyer, with lots of depth charges, could instantly cast a death sentence on the men below.
He passed on not detecting them. The sub rocked gently in the destroyer’s wake, fifty-five feet below. "Someone’s asleep at the wheel up there," kidded Lee, relieving stress. "His sonarman should have noticed a return echo or at least a change in his ping rate."
"He’s pinging long range," added Ski. "No change has been made in his rpm’s."
"Lucky for us," grinned Chip, as he double-checked the TDC readings, getting the course the skipper requested. "Got the course for thirty right gyros, one-thirty starboard track for bow tubes bearing, two-three-zero."
"Helm, make your new course, two-three-zero," ordered Crane. He listened for Cummings acknowledgement.
"Speed?" asked Crane.
"Four knots," replied Morton. "You going to sneak a peek again? The periscope feather could give us away."
"It’s dark topside with only the moon, I’ll have to risk it. We’re almost at the firing point. Get ready to fire. Open outer doors," ordered Crane, crouching down again at the base of the periscope. "Up scope." His muscles were screaming and his shoulder ached abominably as he came up with the scope.
Old torpedoes tended to flood, so the XO waited until the last moment to order the outer doors opened. He could imagine Patterson and Harker frantically turning the cranks to the doors, as well as Stewart and Clark in the after torpedo room, doing the same thing when the time came. "Outer doors opened."
Crane, hanging over the handles of the scope, his hands clenched with white knuckles showing, leaned into the one-eyed piece and quickly looking around. "Bearing, Mark!" he nearly shouted, "Down scope."
"Two-three-eight," said O’Brien.
"That was the target," he rubbed his sweaty palms on his pants. It didn’t seem to help. "This is it, shooting observation." The words sounded like a death knell to their ears and in their hearts. Duty called and with dread in his heart, Lee ordered up the scope again.
"Range sixteen hundred, gyros thirty right and torpedo run is eighteen with depth at ten feet, TDC," verified Chip.
Lee positioned the crosshair of the periscope directly between the stacks of the minelayer. One torpedo alone would probably do the trick, but he wasn’t of a mind to miss. Regret deep in his heart for the beautiful ship and the tremendous loss of life, that would follow, Crane strengthened his resolve. The enemy… they’ve killed thousands of sailors…remember the Houston, 1000 men were on her, 600 survived her sinking, but only 284 came back from the war. The Perth, 700 men were aboard her and only 218 survived the prison camps…
"Mark!" he yelled.
"Zero-two-three-eight," said O’Brien.
"Set," said Chip.
"Fire!" said Crane. "Down periscope!"
"One fired," said Chip, leaning into the firing button, on the panel, built into the conning tower. They all felt the recoil as the torpedo ejected from the tube. "Stand by two."
O’Brien counted off the next one, "Eight…nine…ten."
"Fire two!" yelled Crane.
"Two fired," verified Chip, again the recoil was felt. "Stand by three."
"Shift targets," ordered Crane, on the periscope again. He followed it up and laid the crosshair on the next ship, an old freighter. "Mark!" he yelled.
Again, the count to ten by O’Brien with the next torpedo fired, followed by the recoil as each of the mark eighteens left their tubes. The count was important to make sure they weren’t fired to close together. The third set of torpedoes was shifted to the lead destroyer, which continuously patrolled back and forth, beside the convoy. It had only been a minute since the first salvo was fired.
O’Brien, keeping careful time on his stop watch, "One more minute to go."
"All fish are running true!" announced Ski on sonar as the officers crowded in to watch, with the exception of Crane.
"Right full rudder," yelled the captain, "I need a course for the stern tubes, now! Helm, all ahead full!"
Chip quickly recalculated the course for the aft tubes. "Skipper, come to course three-four-eight with a right thirty degree gyro for the tubes aft."
Capt. Crane needed to increase the speed for the sub to turn under water. However, at the same time, he had to keep her from gaining speed through the water. It takes, so damn long to turn a sub around under water. She’s got so much weight, not only that, but the ballast tanks are full. She has to push her way through the water with very little power to turn with.
"Starboard stop! Starboard back two-thirds."
The boat slowly turned. "Skipper, the tanker is twenty-five degrees left of the freighter in front of her. I’d increase the range by four hundred yards," announced Chip, spinning the dials on the TDC.
"How long before the first salvo hits?"
"O’Brien answered, "Thirty seconds."
Crane watched the dial of the Sea Myth’s on the TDC. It turned faster now, nearing the correct heading. "Starboard stop," he ordered then, "All ahead one-third."
Cummings immediately clicked the rheostat back to maneuvering. The Sea Myth’s speed remained at three knots, but her swinging increased. Chief Sharkey is doing a hell of a job at depth control with the maneuvers, firing of torpedoes and speed changes.
"Steady on three-four-eight," ordered Crane. "Up periscope." The game began all over again. Change targets…Bearing, mark and fire.
"Four fish in the water heading aft towards their target," announced Chip, feeling proud of a job well done.
Crane looked through the periscope, keeping it trained on the first target. Any second now it should be a hit. I don’t even want to hear the countdown. I sent the death angel to all those men…Stop it Crane, think about all the lives you just saved on the Allied side. It’s a just cause, but war is hell…
The whole boat shook with the impact of the first salvo hitting the minelayer. Repercussions echoed with crescendos vibrating across and through the water. Looking through the scope, Lee saw massive amounts of bellowing smoke and fire, shooting up endlessly into the atmosphere, obliterating the stars. He let each of his men take a quick peek before lowering the scope. A moment later another gigantic explosion rent the air. The echoes of the first and second ships had barely died away in the Sea Myth’s conning tower when another spectacular explosion took its place.
"Three out of our first six aren’t bad odds," stated Chip, watching on sonar for the stern fish to hit the tanker.
Crane raised the periscope again, asking at the same time, "How’s the reload coming? You know we still got a tincan out there?" This is no time to get careless. He brought it up in time to see the trailing destroyer heading their way. Another tremendous explosion resounded, which was followed by smaller explosions rocking the night. Lee took a quick peek, seeing forever the destruction he had wrought. The minelayer was already heading under the surface, bow first with steam rising from her hot, gutted decks. No survivors there. The freighter next to her was, listing heavily on its side, burning furiously, turning over to port then, and slowly slipping into the sea.
The fuel tanker had blown, no doubt wiping out any survivors from the previous explosions. Crane held onto the periscope with white knuckled hands, sweat dripped down his whole body and he felt nothing but coldness in the pit of his stomach. A smaller explosion lacerated the night sky as the last freighter’s boilers exploded, tearing off a side of the ship. The force of the explosion caught the last destroyer in the starboard side, effectively wiping out the tincan.
Shaken at what he had just witnessed, Crane ordered, "Secure silent running. Prepare to surface." By the time the Sea Myth climbed to the surface and the hatch was cracked letting in badly needed fresh air, there was no other remnants of the other ships, just dust on the sea.
Lee Crane climbed down the ladderwell from the conning tower with less vigor than when he’d gone up it. His whole perspective on the war was forever changed. War is hell…I did what I had to do…His officers and crew were in a much more jovial mood. They’d actually sunk a convoy! They don’t understand the loneliness of command. The responsibilities, the decisions, it all boils down to the captain…me…
He brought his left wrist up to look at his watch and winced at the pain in his shoulder. "Twenty-two ten, that whole battle took place within thirty minutes," he tiredly stated to Chip, who walked beside him through the control room. They passed the plot table with the hated sling still on top and headed into the corridor aft.
"Here one moment and gone the next," stated Chip, oblivious to his commander’s thoughts and feelings.
"Yeah, something like that," mumbled Lee, falling behind his XO and stopping in the radio shack. Before he could say anything, Sparks blurted out, "Skipper, we’re transmitting a message!"
"The radio…it’s working by itself," exclaimed Sparks, looking incredulous at the ghost sailor, who was there and not there, keying out the message in code.
"Do you…do you have the old codebook from this …era?" asked Crane, still unnerved when the ghost sailors took over a duty or acted impromptu on their own. I’ll never get used to this.
"Yes, sir," he turned a shade red, "I was looking for it when we first got here…or wherever here is and it…just magically appeared on top of the typewriter." Seeing his captain’s frown, he mentioned, "I thought I told you about it, sir, when it first happened."
"You probably did, Sparks." Must have been after I fell in the periscope well, blast those drugs! Not wanting to upset his radioman further, he added, "Don’t worry about it, Sparks. Can you tell what they’re transmitting?"
SIX FOR ROOSEVELT XX SANK MINELAYER TWO FRIGATES FUEL TANKER TWO ESCORTS OFF MANILA COAST EVENING TWENTIETH X NO COUNTERMEASURES X SEA MYTH SEND X FOURTEEN TORPEDOES REMAIN
The dots and dashes had ended, leaving silence in the small room. "Radio Pearl will send back an ‘R’ for received, ‘I assume responsibility,’ in a few minutes," explained Sparks.
"Very well," nodded the skipper. He patted Sparks on the back and said, "When they acknowledge, join us in the wardroom for a break, have Parker take over."
"Aye, sir," gratefully responded Sparks. Crane could see the tension was getting to the men. They’re all worn out and who knows how long before we can go home…Heather, I miss you so…
Lee, smelling fresh coffee went down to the galley and helped himself to a cup from the big, brass urn.
"That’s going to be a bit strong, sir, it’s still brewing," reminded Cookie, preparing breakfast. He’d put a big pot of water on to boil and was in the midst of frying bacon. "Hot oatmeal will be up in a few minutes, sir"
"Thanks, Cookie, I’m hungry enough to eat the whole pot," replied a surprised Lee. He caught Cookie’s startled reaction out of the corner of his eye and gave a ghost of a grin, heading into the wardroom. Chip, you’re going to lose this bet, hands down. I can’t believe I’m hungry, but I am…starving. Now, if only my shoulder would quit hurting, my leg cramps would go away and my knees would stop shaking, I’d be in business.
Chip and Bob O’Brien were at the small table, sitting on the hardwood bench, talking about the sinking of the convoy. Lee entered the tiny room, sat down, placed the ship’s log on the table, along with his personal diary and dropped a pen on top of it. They each had a cup of coffee and were enjoying its strong flavor.
Taking a sip of coffee, Chip said, "Nothing like fresh coffee to keep you awake at night." O’Brien grinned and Lee half smiled while replying, "Cookie’s about done with our breakfast." He opened the war patrol book and reflectively tacked on, "I wonder if we’ll ever get used to eating breakfast at night?"
"Who knows?" expounded Chip, taking another sip of brew, "Others do it all the time, look at all the third shifters." He got no response from Lee, who seemed absorbed in the book, so he went on with, "Besides, we have no choice. We have to be submerged during the day, when the enemy planes can easily spot us and that’s also, the best time to sleep." He took another sip of coffee and finished with, "At night, we have to recharge the batteries, draw in fresh air…be extra alert and," rubbing his hands in anticipation added, "wreck havoc on the enemy."
Lee looked up and in a tight, gruff voice said, "You make it sound like all fun and games. That’s not the way it felt!"
Defensive from his tone of voice, Chip flatly asked, "What’s that supposed to mean?" He nearly choked when his skipper exploded.
"You’re acting like you…you are elated or something. Doesn’t it bother you that we just killed over three thousand men?" asked Crane, becoming more vocal by the moment, as he angrily flipped the pages of the log.
Chip hastily responded with, "Of course, it does! But they’re the enemy. It’s either sink them or be sunk!"
Crane sniped back, "You don’t have to like it!"
"I don’t, but that’s the way it is. Face the facts!"
"I am facing the facts and I don’t like what I’m seeing in my men! We’re not cold hearted killers!"
"Lee, calm down," pacified Chip. "No one is saying that we are." Not comprehending, why they were arguing, Chip briefly wondered at what was eating his skipper. He ran through the prior events in his mind, putting himself in as captain, and it suddenly dawned on him what was bothering his commander. Understanding now, Chip lowered his voice and carefully said, "Lee, we’re all reacting to the horrors of war differently. What’s that saying Heather often recites when she’s frustrated? ‘You might as well laugh as cry.’ How many times have you heard her say that?"
"Dozens, she’s frustrated a lot, " agreed Lee, putting down the log and giving his exec his full attention. "Mostly, because of me," he grinned, picturing his wife’s beautiful face, as the tension eased out of his body.
Cookie saved the day by yelling through the window from the galley, "Soup’s up, sirs." O’Brien, staying out of his commander’s argument, got up and brought back the steaming bowls of hot oatmeal complete with brown sugar. He returned to the window for the silverware and powdered milk Cookie had premixed. Lastly, he grabbed the bacon, orange juice and jelled toast then sat down at the table.
Sparks, followed by Frank, came into the room. They went to the window, where Cookie handed them a bowl of cereal, a cup of coffee and juice.
Lee took a sip of juice, resting an elbow on a blank page of the logbook. He opened his diary to the notes Riley had entered, so meticulously of the sinking of the convoy. The boy has missed his calling thought Lee, as he got ready to transcribe them into the log. He moved his elbow only to find the whole incident had been entered! "What the hell?"
"What’s the matter," asked Chip, mildly alarmed, as he wolfed down his breakfast. Every time he reads that log we get a surprise.
"I wish, they’d stop doing this," Lee loudly complained, dropping his pen and turning the page. "They give me heart failure every time it happens!"
"What? Are we going to be under attack, torpedoed? We can’t be sunk, so what’s wrong?" asked Chip, reaching for more bacon.
Lee stopped him by grabbing it first, "That’s my bacon, chowhound," he nonchalantly replied, picking it up and taking a bite. "You’re not going to win that bet."
Chip grinned, "I don’t know, Lee. We still have a long way to go and I know sooner or later, you’re going to quit eating."
"Not, if I can help it," retorted Lee, starting in on his oatmeal. Two oblong white pills appeared in front of him in the palm of a hand, as he continued to read the log.
Frank, who the palm belonged to, placed his food down beside him and pulled up a chair.
Looking up, the captain asked, "What are those for?"
"They’re ibuprofen, your shoulder must be killing you by now," remarked Frank, dropping them on the logbook. He knew he was taking a risk of getting his head bitten off, but if it made the skipper more comfortable, so be it. He got a grudgingly, "Thanks Frank," and discreetly watched out of the corner of his eye, as the captain scooted the pills to the side of the book. Blast, Doc would have my hide if he knew what was going on around here.
Sparks diverted the captain’s attention, handing him a piece of paper, while squeezing in at the only table.
Sparks had all the men’s attention as he explained, "A message from ComSubPac. I was waiting for the receive signal ( R ) when they sent this."
Lee opened the missive and gasped. He quickly looked down to the open log in front of him, set aside his oatmeal and flipped to the next blank page. "Not there, yet," he muttered and looked up into Chip’s amused eyes. He glanced back down and groaned. He compared the missive to the entry.
"Lee, you can’t beat them," stated Chip, catching onto the game. "History is rewriting itself and we’re not part of it. You won’t find your own handwriting in there until we get back to our own time, then and only then will the book accept it."
"Who made you an authority?" he grumpily asked, reading over the latest entries. He took a bite of cereal to spite his XO and found that he wasn’t so hungry anymore.
"I believe those are your words, Lee," smirked Chip, not missing the look of chagrin on his friend’s face. "We received new orders, didn’t we?"
Giving his exec the evil eye, Lee read them from the log, "We’ve been ordered to Formosa Strait, to join a wolf pack with two other subs, the Tang and the Trigger."
"The Tang and Trigger? Weren’t they both sunk?" asked O’Brien, putting his empty plate aside.
"Yes," said Lee regretfully. "The Tang was actually sunk by her own torpedo. Fate must have laughed in their faces when the torpedo gyro went haywire or lost its track and came back to slam into the surfaced sub. It hit in the after torpedo room destroying the ballast tanks, instantly filling three compartments. She sunk by the stern in 180 feet of water with the bow upended. The captain and eight of his men were swept off the bridge, as the Pacific poured into the main hatch. Another man was able to escape out of the conning tower by finding pockets of air." Lee paused and they all imagined the scene.
"Go on, Lee, finish the story," egged on Chip. He’d heard the story before, for Lee often told him the sub stories he’d read about.
Taking a deep breath, Lee continued. "Well, the captain, whose name was Dick O’Kane and his men spent, the night in the water until dawn when a Japanese patrol picked them up. They were subjected to merciless beatings as the destroyer dropped depth charges down on the doomed sub, discouraging any men from trying to escape. Of the ten men who were in the water only four, one being O’Kane himself, came back from the prison camps."
"What happened to the rest of the crew from the sunk Tang? Did they all die?" asked Sparks engrossed in the story.
"That is equally tragic as well. The men were able to seal off the hatch between the conning tower and the control room, but it leaked due to the damage the hull had sustained. The doors between compartments held and thirty men in the forward compartments were able to burn all the confidential and secret papers. In doing so, the control room and forward compartments were filled with smoke, fouling the air. Then, the depth charges came and halted escape operations for several hours. Finally, flooding in the control room and a fire in the forward battery forced the survivors to the forward torpedo room where they sealed the hatch. Time was running out and four parties were able to leave the ship using the Momsen lung through the forward hatch. Unfortunately, the men were weak from the fouled air and smoke. Thirteen men made an underwater escape from Tang, but only five survived and were picked up by the Japanese the next morning. Three suffered the bends and weren’t able to stay afloat. Five of the men never made it to the surface. Of the crew of eighty-eight men, only nine in all came back."
It was a sobering story and the men finished their meal in silence. O’Brien, Frank and Sparks soon excused themselves, leaving their senior staff to themselves.
"So, Lee, do you think the subs will show up as ghost ships?"
Lee dragged his eyes up from the war patrol log and shrugged his shoulder, "I don’t know, Chip."
His voice sounded weary to Chip’s ears. A deep sigh was heard throughout the room and Chip remorsefully said with longing in his voice for home, "Why do you think we’re here?" He played absently with his spoon, waiting for Lee’s answer.
"I don’t know that either…my guess is though, that it’s my fault. I always wanted to go on a war patrol." He carefully closed the book, rubbing his thumb along the gold edged trim. At Chip’s silent look of inquiry he went on. "You know the old saying, ‘Be careful what you wish for…’ well, I got mine. I never in my wildest dreams thought it’d be like this. Maybe the past is trying to teach us honor, appreciation, respect…respect for mankind and the like..." He picked up the pills Frank had given him, tossed them in his mouth and washed them down with his remaining coffee.
Chip stared at some unseen object lost in thought. Lee had a sneaking suspicion what was on his friend’s mind. "You’re thinking about your wife, aren’t you?"
Chip not really surprised at his skipper’s astuteness replied, "Yeah, I can’t imagine what the women are going through right now. We must be declared missing by now."
"Not only them, but the admiral as well. He must be going crazy with worry," added Crane, frowning. He picked up his now cold oatmeal and forced himself to eat.
"Lee, you don’t have to eat that in order to win the bet. I’ll forfeit."
Crane practically dropped the bowl in his haste to swallow the bite he took. "Damn it Chip, if I’m going to win I’ll do it fair and square! You and Melonie are going to buy Heather and I that meal and a Broadway play." He watched Chip perk up and continued on. "And further more, we’ll make it home come foot or horseback!"
Chip burst into laughter at that. "I’ll be happy to get home the way we came. You know, Melonie really does need me, ONI agent or not…you see, she’s ah, pregnant." He grinned when Lee almost dropped the bowl again.
The Sea Myth was stationed in the mouth of the Formosa Straits thirty-seven miles apart from the next submarine. They were in a wolf pack of five subs. The war patrol was proceeding right on schedule, according to the log, as if we wouldn’t be, thought Lee, leaning against the cigarette deck’s railing, staring out to sea. Pat, Ray and Cummings were with him aft, enjoying what the deck was named for. He, as well as the men, had become accustomed to the ghost sailors. They knew what to expect when the beings turned bright or dull, knew History was repeating herself and that the logbook was a diary in which to store the boat’s record. It told the story and they, no matter how unwilling, were part of it. We’re here, but not here. How unfair to be caught between two worlds, but then, when is life fair?
Cummings, seeing the captain’s pensiveness, leaned next to him on the rail and flicked his cigarette into the sea. "Skipper, you seem a bit down." The older seaman waited quietly, wondering if the younger man would open up. He seems like the private type, but then again, everyone needs someone to talk too. After a few moments, he turned to go back down the hatch when the captain heavily sighed.
"Cummings, you’re a old hand at this game. Does it ever get any easier?"
"The killing, the destruction, the senselessness of it all." He brought his sensitive hazel eyes down to meet the old seaman’s knowledgeable brown ones. "How do you deal with it?"
"Well, sir, every man has to find that answer for himself." He looked up into the night and studied the stars. The other men trooped down below having finished their smoke. Cummings shifted his weight against the rail and plucked at his nose. "You see, sir, some men find peace at the bottom of a bottle, others in the arms of a good woman, while others use drugs or bury it deep within themselves. We all have our vices we use to deal with our memories or problems."
Lee absently ran his fingertips up and down the smooth, worn rail, obviously troubled. In almost a whisper he asked, "So, Cummings, what vice did you use?"
The older man gave him a slight smile. "I found God…and in God came peace."
TWO FOR ROOSEVELT X SANK CARGO SHIP LOADED W RAW RUBBER ESCORT X MORNING TWENTY-FOUR X OFF WESTERN TAIPEI X NO COUNTERMEASURES X SEA MYTH SENDS X TEN TORPEDOES REMAINING
"The aircraft carrier is topping out at 20 knots. Our top speed is only 16 knots, we can’t hope to catch her what a lone pass her and get into position," exclaimed Chip at the TDC.
It was night and they’d been forced to dive when radar spotted a large ship east off Formosa Strait. They’d had a perfect position, but the convoy had zigzagged out of their range. The only thing to do now was get ahead of it, which was impossible with their boat’s capability.
"I know, I know," replied Lee impatiently. "We’ll have to radio Pearl and pass her on to the wolf pack." He picked up the phone and contacted Sparks. Afterwards, hanging up the phone, "I’m glad it’s out of our hands. There’s over three thousand men on that ship."
"You still bugged about those men on the minelayer, Lee?" Seeing his skipper’s sullen expression, Chip wished he hadn’t brought it up, but added, trying to lesson the guilt, "It was all in the line of duty."
"Yes, Chip, but I’ll never get used to it," murmured Crane, entering a notation in his personal diary.
COMSUBPAC FROM SEA MYTH X URGENT X SOUTHEAST FORMOSA STRAIT BY TAIPEI X LARGE AIRCRAFT CARRIER X TRAILING NORTH TOWARDS WOLF PACK
Later, it would be learned that Archerfish sunk the great Shinano with six torpedoes.
THREE FOR ROOSEVELT X INTERCEPTED TASK FORCE X SUNK FREIGHTER LADEN W TROOPS TWO DESTROYER X NO COUNTERMEASURES X NOV TENTH X SEA MYTH SENDS X SIX TORPEDOES REMAINING
"Thanks Sparks, I’m heading for my bunk. When you get done, hit the sack," ordered a weary Capt. Crane. He was sick of war. His shoulder ached and the pills Frank gave him weren’t helping this time. Tension, stress no doubt, what I wouldn’t give for one of Heather’s back rubs. Don’t go there, Crane… you’ll only get homesick like everyone else on board. We’ve been gone almost a month. I can see it now in the papers… Missing Without a Trace…Another Boat Disappears in Michigan’s Devil’s Triangle…Ah hell, who’s kidding whom? I’m homesick…
He made his stateroom and noticed Chip, already passed out in the upper bunk. He didn’t even cover up, too tired I guess. A cool breeze weaved its way through the corridors, making Crane involuntary shiver. We’re on the surface and a squall is moving in. It’ll be all right. O’Brien is OOD and he’ll leave her up as long as he can…
Crane grabbed the spare blanket at the end of the bunk and threw it over Chip, then climbed into the bunk below. He was asleep before his head hit the pillow.
Two weeks later on station in Formosa Straits
"First salvo running straight and true!" shouted Kowalski, watching the track on sonar. "Second set…" Ski stopped in mid-sentence, puzzled at one veering off its track. Before more could be said he heard…
"Direct hit right into their magazine! The ship is breaking up," excitedly yelled Chip, watching out the periscope. Smoke and flames are shooting up into the dawn’s early skies and repercussions from the exploding ship could be heard through the water. Thirty seconds later, the second cargo ship was minus her bow and mid-section. The stern was fast sinking into the sea with men jumping into the ocean to get away from the flames. A moment later another terrific explosion tore across the sky as the water reached the boilers.
The Sea Myth’s heavy steel frame shook from the tremendous explosion.
"Uh, oh," cried Chip, his heart skipping a beat. "Torpedo broached the surface!"
"What?" snapped Lee, taking over the periscope, crashing into his XO in his haste to see out the scope. "Damn! The tincan spotted their wake and is taking evasive action! Both fish missed and she’s turning our way! Down periscope! All ahead emergency! Move it!"
Cummings clicked the annunciator to the back of the boat, while O’Brien lowered the periscope. The boat leaped forward at full emergency power.
"He’s making his run. He’s switching to short-scale pinging," loudly warned Ski, turning the sound dial all the way up. Crane grabbed an extra pair of headphones and plugged into sonar. He could clearly hear the penetrating high-pitch, echo ranging signals as Ski adjusted the sound heads in the bow of the boat.
"Rig for depth charge. Chip make sure torpedoes room fore and aft are secured," commanded Crane. He shifted over to the lower hatch and yelled down. "Sharkey stay at periscope depth, with any luck that destroyer will think we went deep!" He heard a muffled, "Aye, sir." before he slammed the hatch cover down.
Chip reported, "Torpedo rooms secured. Aft has both fish loaded. Forward has one loaded and the other strapped down."
"Very well," murmured Crane, already thinking about his next move. He might not have seen our periscope. If we’re lucky and he goes past, we might be able to get off our stern torpedoes before he can turn for a second pass. Ski, true bearing?"
"Two-two-eight, steady on two-two-eight," repeated Ski. A connection with the sub’s gyro compass, together with the sonar dial, calibrated in relative bearing, made it possible for the sonarman to get a true bearing.
"Helm, bring her to two-two-eight. Keep your speed at full!" He didn’t wait for an answer. "Here’s what we are going to do." He took a deep breath, as the men waited agog in silence. "We’re going right under him. He’s sure to drop some depth charges and in the midst of the barrage, maybe he’ll lose contact with us due to the short range. It might give us the edge to sink him." Crane turned to Chip, "Have the aft torpedo room stand by. Set the stern tubes for four feet. What’s our speed?"
While Chip carried out the skipper’s orders, O’Brien read the speed dial on the TDC over Morton’s shoulder, "Four knots, holding steady on two-two-eight."
"Very well, there’s twenty feet of water separating our highest point from the surface. The destroyer sits about ten to fifteen feet deep, it’ll be close." They could hear the screws approaching. "Any minute now."
"Lee, what if they decide to depth charge shallow?" asked Chip, worried with sweat dripping down his face. They had rigged for silent running prior to sending off the torpedoes to the cargo ship. The blowers were off and it was over one hundred degrees in the conning tower. "This babe’s pig’s skin is not as thick as Seaview’s."
"Well, then I guess we take a swim," smirked Lee, seeing the horrified expression on his exec’s face, he grinned in spite of the dire circumstances. "Chip, in your own words, we’re from the future and the boat obviously made it."
"Yeah, but, we disappeared in Lake Michigan and that doesn’t mean this isn’t our future. I mean, we could get sunk and never get back to our time. How would anyone really know what happened to us anyways?"
"Hmm," muttered Lee. "I’ve never thought about it that way. I guess that means we’re not invincible after all. You’d better hope this works."
Ski was rapidly turning the dial, increasing the width of range on the sound heads. "Pings are coming in from all directions." He ran the dial all the way around. "He’s overhead," whispered Ski and the men held their breath.
Thum, thum, thum, thum went the propellers.
A click was heard through the phones. The first concussion wave... Ski quickly turned the sound all the way down to save their ears from instant pain when the depth charges exploded. "He’s dropped."
No more needed to be said and Lee took off his headphones prepared for the worst. The air inside the conning tower was dead, stifling, tension abounded, the temperature continued to rise and the men waited. Depth charges sink ten feet a second. How long since I heard that click? Five, ten? He looked at his watch, trying to estimate the distance. He quit breathing when he realized the ash cans were right beside them. Come on another ten seconds…
WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!
The shock was beyond all expectations. The boat shook to her very core. Cummings at the helm and the men on the planes, muscles bulged, as bloodless fingers gripped the wheels, suddenly alive with shivering vibrations that penetrated their bones.
The Sea Myth virtually ran underneath the Japanese destroyer, but the skipper is no slouch. He let loose a barrage of ash cans all at one time.
The air filled with particles of dust, chipped paint and insulation. Large pieces of cork gave way, popping off the ceilings and bulkheads to land everywhere. Deck plates were hurled about, as bulkheads with built-in fixtures hummed in a variety of tones and keys. The very frames of the boat twisted and rang, tossing the men to the deck. The Sea Myth seemed to buck convulsively, every part of her jumping, strangely, frighteningly around. In the maneuvering room, circuits arched and flashed in the heart of the electric- propulsion equipment. Marsh, the electrician’s mate and his men, using asbestos gloves, held the most crucial switches by hand. The lights danced on their pigtails, went out and were switched over to auxiliary, while the full powered batteries fed into the stressed propellers.
Capt. Crane, knocked off his feet, lying prone on top of Chip Morton, laboriously pulled himself up to the TDC board and grabbed the phone. "All compartments report. Damage control…" he was cut off with a fit of coughing. Damn dust! "All stop!" he choked out, coughing again.
Cummings clicked the rheostats back to maneuvering and received an answering click. The boat immediately came to a stop.
"All back two-thirds!" gasped the skipper. Again, he heard the helmsman click the annunciator.
Chip climbed up beside him and took the phone from Lee in time to hear Cookie report, "So far, so good, sir. We’re a bit shook up, but the old gal is holding together."
"Lee, everything’s okay down below. What’s next?" He wiped his stinging eyes, trying to clear them of the dirt.
"Speed?" gasped Crane, still trying to breath in deep.
Riley, who’d been standing watch at radar, was now sprawled on the deck, looked up, reading the TDC dial, "Four knots." He crawled to his feet, consulting the captain’s notebook once more maintaining records. "And nineteen depth charges!"
"Let me know when we reach three knots. O’Brien make sure seven and eight tubes are ready for firing." Lee started coughing again.
Chip whirled the dials and entered all information into the TDC. Having only two hands, he couldn’t seem to do it fast enough and Crane reached over and set a couple dials himself.
"Three knots, Skipper," chimed in Riley starting to cough, leaning against the radar console, as he kept watch on the speed dial.
Double-checking with the aft torpedo room, O’Brien cut in with, "Tubes seven and eight are in their tubes and ready for firing."
"All stop!" ordered Crane. "Bring up the radar scope. All ahead two-thirds." He bent down and grabbed the periscope handles as they came out of the base, turning the scope aft. "Destroyer, dead ahead. Bearing, mark."
"Oh-six-one," said O’Brien, reading the azimuth ring.
Morton keyed in the information on the TDC.
"Angle on the bow is zero-six-zero," stated Crane, turning the range dial, eyes never leaving the periscope. "Range, mark!"
Focusing on the range dial the skipper was turning, "Three hundred feet," responded O’Brien.
"Flood tubes seven and eight aft," ordered Crane. "Starboard angle on the bow is now zero-five-nine, speed nineteen, when he turns either way, we’ll shoot!"
Lee took in a quick picture around them, spinning the periscope about. "The first target has gone under and the second one …Believe it or not, the stern is perpendicular in the water, heading for the bottom." He swung back to the destroyer. "Tincan is turning right. "Stand by aft."
O’Brien repeated the order to the torpedo room.
"Range, mark!" yelled the skipper.
"Four-five-oh," answered Morton. "Bearing zero-six-zero."
"Angle on the bow, starboard fifty. He’s turning right. Chip, one-twenty starboard track " He could hear Morton whirling the TDC dials. "Got a firing solution yet?"
"Tubes ready aft," reminded O’Brien.
"Got it, set," stated Chip. A red ‘F’ lit the board. "Correct solution light aft!"
Crane put the cross-hair periscope directly on the bridge of the destroyer. He heard Ski sing-out that he was getting short-scale pinging. "Number seven…fire!"
A jolt of the boat was felt, as Morton pushed the button. "Number seven is away."
O’Brien counted ten seconds. Crane watched through the scope and Riley jotted down the facts, as Ski kept careful watch on sonar.
"Eight, nine, ten!" loudly exclaimed O’Brien, in his excitement.
"Fire eight!" ordered Crane, less exuberant.
Again, the jolt of the boat was felt, as torpedo number eight went its way. O’Brien kept track on the stopwatch, "Number seven should be hitting…"
Crane, still watching through the periscope. "I see a splash of water…it’s going to hit amidships…" Following that statement four hundred pounds of powder blew up under the once sleek keel of the destroyer.
Disgusted once again, he let his men have the pleasure of watching her sink. No matter though, each man described it in detail, as he looked through the scope.
"Split clean in half…"
"Stern’s gone, slid under slick as a whistle…"
"She never knew what hit her…"
THREE MORE FOR ROOSEVELT X TWO FREIGHTERS ONE TINCAN X S E FORMSOMA STRAIT X FOURTEENTH X SEA MYTH SENDS X TWO TORPEDOES REMAINING
An hour later, new orders were sent from Radio Pearl.
FOR SEA MYTH X CONGRATULATIONS X NEW ORDERS HOME X COMSUBPAC SENDS
Lee read over the message three times. Home, could it be? He hurriedly went to the conning tower and retrieved the war patrol log, opening it to today’s date, November 14th, 1944. With his officers and men looking on behind him, he read out loud, "New orders. We are to proceed home… Pearl Harbor." He slammed the book shut totally discouraged. "I guess History isn’t done with us, yet." Upset at the turn of events, he went up to the bridge and silently railed at the fates.
In the forward torpedo room the subdued men were trying to relax. "Boy, that was some depth charging we took," exclaimed Riley. "For a while there, I thought we’d had it." His hand was still trembling, trying to load a tape in his cassette player.
"I’ll have to admit, I was a little worried myself, but the skipper got us through it," put in Ski, as he flipped through his girlie magazines for the fourth time this cruise. He threw the magazine down. "Has anyone seen that book of Heather’s?"
"I thought you weren’t going to read it?" asked Pat, climbing into his bunk. "Blast, but it’s hot in here."
"There’s nothing else to do, except sleep and I’m not tired as crazy as that sounds. Who’s got the book?"
"I think Sharkey does," replied Riley. "I heard him asking Frank earlier, who he thought did it." He put on his earphones and closed his eyes.
"Was he done with it?"
Pat, yawning, "I, ahhh, don’t know." He too closed his eyes.
Ski lay in his bunk, thinking about home with his hands folded behind his head. Will we ever get home? Will I ever see Angie again? I wonder how everyone is taking our disappearance? The whole crew is a nervous wreck. We didn’t ask to be here and they sure didn’t ask for my vote, but we’re here. Why do we have to fight? Why can’t we just be an observer, after all, we’re from another time period? This is history for us. He looked over at the ghost sailors standing dully by the loading hatches. This is your time and place, not ours. The whole crew feels this way. We just want to go home. Why won’t you let us go home? Gradually, an uneasy sleep came for Ski, but it was fraught with destroyers and depth charges.
Breakfast seemed to be the main meal both morning and night. Crane suspected that was the food substance most on board and easiest to fix. The men didn’t grumble, too much for their own supplies would have been totally exhausted by now. Cookie says the food keeps mysteriously appearing and he keeps fixing it. At least, History isn’t letting us starve, thought Lee, coming out of the wardroom. They still hadn’t started for Pearl, even though the orders had come through over three hours ago. A Japanese Zero had circled above them and dropped a reminder that she was up there. Forcing them, more than once, to crash dive to the bottom. Watching and waiting no doubt. More than likely we’ll be hunted now, that we sunk that troop ship…
They had come to the surface again not by his own command. Damn, ghost sailors! I hate not having control of my own boat! He made the radio shack and noticed a small group of men inside. "What’s up Sparks?" asked the skipper.
"I intercepted a message on the submarine Fox radio. From the sounds of it, they’ve been trying to reach the Trigger for some time," explained the radioman.
Growing concerned, he sharply asked, "Well, what’s it say?" He still hadn’t been to bed yet, since the morning’s events. The zero had received precedence over sleep.
"Well, sir, the call has gone out all night long and well into the morning. The radio simply calls, ****Trigger from Tirante. Trigger from Tirante…S237 from S420…S237 from S420…Trigger from Tirante…I have a message for you...Come in please…
Crane instantly recognized both boats. One of his favorite authors, Edward L Beach, had been a plank owner and executive officer of Trigger until he was detached before her eleventh war patrol. Then, he went to the Tirante, where he performed his duties, again as executive officer before getting command of his own boat, the Piper. "This must have been when Trigger was sunk. Some of her old crew was on Tirante and they were supposed to meet them for a rendezvous. Sad to say, they were sunk." He left the room deep in thought. Ah yes, I can remember reading those pages so well and now I can truly visualize it.
He could just see the old crew members in Tirante’s radio shack, standing around waiting…waiting to hear from their old comrades in the Trigger. Waiting for three days. Night after night, they’d surface in some out of the way place and resend the message…hoping against hope…
Trigger from Tirante…Trigger from Tirante…I have a message for you…come in please…
The quietness of the men nothing needed to be said. Knowing deep inside that all was over for the Trigger…and not wanting to admit…she was lost…forever.
What could have happened to her? A torpedo? One lucky depth charge after 400 misses? How about a persistent Japanese Zero, a mine or heaven forbid, an eternal problem gone amuck?
Oh, how he could picture their last moments aboard the ill fated submarine. The shock on their faces, knowing Trigger’s stout hull had been breached with the collision alarm screeching, as the cold, ocean water, unrelentingly poured in. All eyes would turn to the depth gauges and watch as the needles slowly began their crazy spin. Then, faster and faster the needles would spin, becoming jammed against their stops in the red danger areas after the second time around. The men struggle to hold onto anything, as the boat upends and the air pressure increases, unbearably rupturing their eardrums. The pain would be tremendous and maybe, if some were lucky, they’d lose consciousness before the merciless water covered them. Nothing could be heard but the influx of rushing water and the pounding pulses of the doomed men.
The boat would sink like a rock, down, down to the bottom. The bulkheads would cave inward, as the ribs and steel hull collapsed around them, sending eight-nine brave souls into eternity...
Lee Crane truly felt sick. He barely made the officer’s head, before his stomach tossed his breakfast.
"It’s been three long weeks since we left the coast of Japan and according to the log, we should reach Pearl Harbor today, " assured Crane to his officers and men, whom were gathered around him in the crew’s mess room. They’d been grumbling amongst themselves, each feeling the pressure of the war patrol, each reacting in different ways. The mood of the boat was sour and Crane had had enough of their bellyaching.
"Look, I know you’re sick of rough seas, of zeros using us for target practice and destroyers bouncing ash cans on top of us, but this is war." He accented that statement by pounding his fist on the table.
A protest went up, "This isn’t our war," argued Harker, turning surly, angrily listening to the captain. He wasn’t happy, no one was happy. They wanted to go home…now!
"No?" questioned Crane, his temper flaring. "Then, whose war is it? I’ll tell you who’s war it is…our father’s and our grandfather’s. They fought for our freedom Harker, freedom and democracy." He clenched his fists at his side, his temper growing in leaps and bounds as the words tumbled from his mouth. He knew this speech was coming for morale had declined ever since the Trigger was sunk. "Now, you listen men and you listen good. We didn’t ask to be here, but we are here! We will do our duty, no matter what it takes. It’s the right thing and by George, we will do the right thing, whether in our own time period or not!" He cast his hand into the air for emphasis. "Have I made myself clear?!" the last was a shout.
The men, all twenty of them, that weren’t on duty, shook their heads in unison afraid to cross him further.
He gave his men his best command stare and unrelentingly added, "Now, if there are no more complaints, get back to work!"
"Yes, sir. Aye, sir," replied the men, stumbling over themselves in their hurry to get out from the skipper’s unrelenting glare.
Lee sunk down onto a bench, exhausted. He unconsciously rubbed his temples, trying to ease the tension headache he’d had for three days.
"Skipper," said Sharkey hesitantly, wringing his hands. "The men…they don’t mean it, sir. They’re…they’re just confused, homesick, worried and …lost."
Crane nodded his head in agreement, wishing he hadn’t when it made his stomach turn over. "I know Chief, I know," he commiserated, "but I have to hold this crew together. We’ll get out of here sooner or later…you’ll see." He kept his gaze averted, avoiding Sharkey’s search for an inkling of doubt.
Trying to lend support, Sharkey shook his own head. "What ever you say, Skipper. I believe you and have confidence in you…I’ll ah, go jerk a knot in the men’s tails. Don’t worry, sir. It’ll be all right." He left somewhat assured, but not totally convinced. Still, the skipper’s never let us down. He’ll find a way…I know he will. Feeling better, he barked at Clark to get the crankshaft oiled.
They sighted the Hawaiian Islands, by-passed Diamond Head, skimmed past the beach of Waikiki and approached the entrance to the channel of Pearl Harbor. Naval traffic consisted of a tanker heading out to sea, while destroyers combed the waters on anti-sub patrol. A battleship was standing by as it waited for a tug to connect its holding lines to it. Aircraft was seen flying overhead with jets landing at Hickman Field.
Sparks, officer of the deck, was standing beside his commanders, Crane and Morton. "Permission to station the maneuvering watch, Skipper?"
"Permission granted and you may enter the harbor," responded Capt. Crane, lowering his binoculars after checking out the surrounding area.
Sparks yelled down into the hatch of the conning tower, "Station the maneuvering watch! Line handlers standby!" He proceeded to lift his binoculars to scout the entrance and then yelled down, "Fifteen degrees right rudder! Ahead two-thirds!"
The ocean current was rough at the entrance. The unprotected channel was at a right angle to the shoreline, permitting the seas to sweep across it. The boat’s motion corkscrewed when the ocean waves caught her from beneath the keel, as Rodriquez, at the helm, fought to keep the boat on course. They passed by the black marker buoys and the channel became calm. They passed Hospital point, chugged around the bend to the left, then a right and the harbor came into view.
It was Pearl Harbor, but not the Pearl Harbor the Seaview men remembered. This was a devastated harbor, still torn asunder, three years after the Japanese had bombed her. The stench of fuel oil was strong in their nostrils. The water was still oily from the hundreds of thousands of barrels of Navy Fuel Oil, which had spilled into the harbor when the great battleship’s bottoms had been split open. It coated the shore, clung to the rocks, filled spaces beneath the pier and covered the entire harbor.
Sparks gave the order for the hatches to be opened and the line handlers came up on deck. The word spread of the devastation and the men, not on duty below, were allowed up on the cigarette deck to view the destruction.
Familiar sights greeted the men, such as the tall cranes leaning over the Navy yard, Ford Island located in the middle of the harbor and ten-ten dock, so named for it was one thousand and ten feet in length. But, the men noticed none of that. Their eyes were riveted on battleship row.
The California, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and the West Virginia were curiously absent and Crane realized they’d been repaired and no doubt sent out to sea. The Oklahoma had been righted, her hull patched from the holes drilled into her with the hopes of rescuing some of the men. She was tied to the USS Maryland, waiting to be towed to the scrap pile. The hull of an old minesweeper lay in the water. Crane recalled from his history books that the old ship just rolled over and died. The concussion of the bombs, being very great, had caused her to flip.
The Arizona was the biggest shock. Being only 1944, the boat hadn’t been turned into a memorial yet and the men could look down into the water and clearly see the destruction.
Speechless to say the least, the officers and men, standing on the cigarette and main deck could hardly comprehend it all. Chip put it aptly into words, "I feel like I’ve been violated." Crane could only concur. If this was three years later, what had it been like right after the attack?
A single tripod mast stood in the center of the sunken Arizona. A flag flew from the gaff, a symbol that the United States Navy would never give up. Water lapped at the now silent gun turrets, filling the muzzles of the huge deck guns. The boat sunk on an even keel with her entire bow gutted and now a mass of tangled metal from when the powder magazine had exploded.
Sparks was doing a good job conning the boat through the shattered harbor. The awed struck men were quickly getting an education from history. The old American fighting spirit was rising to the fore within their breasts and a cold anger took root within their hearts.
The Sea Myth rounded ten-ten dock and was directed to the space in front of submarine headquarters. This was a tradition for all returning submarines from patrol. This is where seamen received their second shock of the day. They were met by a band of ten apparitions eerily playing Anchors Aweigh. The ghost sailors on the dock waited for the speechless men to throw them the lines. The boat came to a rest and the ceremonial gangplank, wrapped in shellback white cord, was placed over the Sea Myth’s deck. A cart appeared with a five-gallon can of milk, fresh vegetables, fruits and ice cream on the main deck.
"Lee, do you suppose that food is for real, considering all I see are more ghost like beings?" asked Chip, his mouth watering at the sight of fresh food. He heard a few comments from the main deck to the same effect. "Why are we getting this stuff anyways?"
"It’s tradition to welcome the sailors home from the war and I would imagine the food is quite real," explained Crane. "After all, food’s been appearing out of thin air this entire patrol. Why don’t you have Sharkey check it out? He’s practically eating it with his eyes." Sharkey was on the main deck with the line handlers.
"Better yet, I’ll go check it out myself," chuckled Chip, climbing down the ladder to the main deck. Sparks followed after him.
Lee remained on the bridge, keeping a close eye on the ghost sailors. He noticed the captain ghost, who’d been his shadow for the past few weeks, greeting the stuff shirts from headquarters in silence. It was then, that he realized there were no real people, just beings that were there and not there. We’re here, but not here. The inanimate objects are real, but there are no live people. Weird…
Sharkey, dubiously eyeing the foodstuffs in question, itched to see if they were real. I can practically taste that red apple.
Chip, seeing where the chief and the other men’s eyes had strayed too, grinned and said, "Get to it chief, before it disappears."
Sharkey was completely astounded. He’d only heard Cookie talking about stuff appearing, but didn’t really believe it at all. Quickly, he grabbed the red apple he had his eye on, along with the five gallon can of milk, mumbling, "Aye, sir," in the process. The rest of the men, with the XO, soon followed his lead and headed back down below decks with their precious gifts.
Lee solemnly, continued to observe the beings scurrying about on shore. Their colors were dull, almost transparent. We must be following history. What’s going on in their minds, their silent conversations? Is this what it was really like back in 44? He stared reflectively over to Ford Island where the Utah was entombed. It reminded him of something he needed to do. Lost in thought, he belatedly realized the band had quit playing and had broken up. The crowd of beings dispersed and slipped out of sight. The boat moved and he was further startled, only to realize, the Sea Myth was being moved into a regular berth for her refit. This was accomplished without his aid or the aid of his crew. Damn, it’s so unnerving when they do that. In no time at all, she was snug in her new berth. Before long he heard strange noises coming from within the boat and around her structure.
Fresh paint appeared on her hull and Lee could see an apparition replacing the squawk box that broke when they’d first been depth charged. More than curious now, he climbed down the ladderwell into the conning tower, where he ran into Chip eating an apple on his way up.
An arrested look on his face, Chip said, "Lee, you would not believe what’s going on down there." Crunch! Went the apple, sounding crisp to Lee’s ears.
"Hmm, I can make a guess," slyly chuckled Crane. "The refit crew is hard at work. Right?" he asked, heading to the chart table where he opened the logbook.
Surprise showed on Chip’s face, as he leaned his elbows on the plot table next to Lee and finished his apple. "How’d you know?" he asked, reading the log over his shoulder.
Not taking his eyes off the log, Crane responded, "They, ah…they fixed the squawk box and we’re getting a new paint job…Blast! It’s not written yet."
"What are you looking for?" asked the XO curious, throwing the core in the slop bucket under the table. He picked up the protractor and absently fiddled with it, tapping it against his fingers.
"I was hoping it would say how long we’re here for…" his voice trailed off and Chip thought he seemed distracted. Throwing the protractor down on the table, Chip straightened to his full height and with a sinking feeling in his stomach asked, "Lee, what do you have up your sleeve?"
"Nothing. Why?" defensively retorted Crane, avoiding his exec’s knowing eyes. He shut the book and then peeked at the pages again. Still, nothing. He waited a few moments and repeated the process again. Becoming annoyed, he cast the book aside when it didn’t yield the answers he wanted.
His actions weren’t lost on Chip, only the reason behind them. Pinching his lips, he asked again more firmly, "Lee, I know that look. You’re up to something."
"I’m trying to find out how long we’re going to be here…there’s, ah, something I have to do." Again, he opened the book and slammed it shut when the page turned up blank. "Damn!" he swore, griping at the insensitive object.
"Swearing at the book is not going to get you any answers," quipped Chip, hiding his mirth. "What’s so dammed important anyways?"
Feeling foolish for his childish behavior, Lee snapped, "I’ve got to go over to Ford Island." Again, he avoided his XO’s eyes.
Instantly serious, Chip responded, "Lee, we agreed no one was to leave this boat for any reason and that I believe, included you." He folded his arms in front of him and gave him his best officer’s stare.
Lee ran a hand through his hair and scratched his neck. "Look Chip, I have to go…it’s important. I won’t be gone long. Most refits take a few days." He started for the ladderwell.
"Damn it, Lee, you can’t just take off like this! We’re not in normal times," he grabbed his friend’s arm, stopping his momentum up the ladder.
Lee wrenched his arm free and in exasperation, raised his voice, "Chip, I’m going and that’s final!" He turned and took another step up.
Not willing to give up and somewhat afraid for his friend, Chip grabbed him again. "Will you listen to reason? This boat could pull out at anytime. Things seem to accelerate around here at uncommon speeds. Who knows when the refit will be done? What are you going to do if you get left behind?" He saw that steely determined look cross his skipper’s face and knew he had lost. Concern showing deeply on his face, Chip desperately tried again, "Lee, what’s so important about Ford Island that you have to leave?"
In a soft voice full of sadness, Lee simply stated, "Chip, I’ll explain later…" He turned once again and climbed the ladder, this time unimpeded.
Lee Crane gravely walked across Ford Island to the west side, barely noticing his surroundings of old hangers, officer’s barracks and bombed out buildings. He knew the island was one and a quarters mile in length and that in 1930 it had been a major air facility. The runways were scorched in places and the entire west side of the island was riddled from Japanese bullets, reminders that would remain forever into the future. He’d traveled this same path many times in his own time of 1984. Now, he was hoping…for what he knew not…
He came to the end of his journey, stopping when his feet touched the water on the western shore. Gazing a few yards across the dirty water, Lee found what he’d come for. The rusting hulk of the USS Utah lay in the water with her keel up ended. In his own time she was known as the forgotten memorial. She was dedicated in 1972 and due to the fact that she was located on a Navy base, next to a working Navy pier, few people knew anything about her.
Lee knew all about the contribution she’d made to the Navy. The Utah was a target ship for submarines. Before that, she trained dive-bombers, for the sole purpose of shooting down enemy aircraft. Some of the most advanced technology had been available on the Utah. She was first commissioned in 1911 as a battleship, with a crew of 900, and recommissioned in 1932 as a target ship with a crew of 500. It all ended in 1941 when Japanese torpedoes tore into her killing, 58 men and entombing 54 of them forever.
"Father, I’m here…So, this is what it had been like? Mom and grandpa have often told me the stories of you and your great ship…You should see the light in their eyes, as they repeat them…Grandpa, as you know, is gone now, but mom…Mom still misses you…I miss you…that probably sounds strange, coming from a man who was only six months old at the time of your death, but mom has kept you alive in my heart…Oh, Father, does that sound strange?"
"No, son. Love never dies."
Lee, in shock, jumped back. A tall dark haired apparition stood before him, looking much like his father in the pictures he’d seen. Visibly shaken, he found himself stuttering, "Fa…Father?" Questioning, not believing what he was seeing. This is impossible…He started to argue with his own mind. Isn’t this what you hoped would come to pass? Isn’t this, why you disobeyed your own orders…to come here? He stared speechless at the ghost sailor, trying to absorb what his eyes and heart were telling him.
"Not so impossible, son. After all, you’re in the past and we’re all dead, with the exception of you and your men. I’m sorry your mother misses me. I wish things could’ve been different for us, but it wasn’t meant to be. She did a great job raising you, son and I’m very proud of you. You’re a fine officer and gentleman. Someday, when your time on earth has run its course, we will be together. Until then, know I love you." He started fading away.
Snapping out of his trance, Lee shouted, "No come back! I have so much to talk to you about, so much to ask…don’t leave me!" He raced out into the water, only to stop short, as if a hand were holding him back. He heard his father’s voice echo over the gently lapping waves. "Go back son. The future is where you belong, the past is done and the future is for the living."
Disquieted, he backed up to the shore and stood there, watching the waves break over the rusted hulk. Melodious notes came from the sea with her never ceasing movements, soothing his jumbled and warring emotions. A soft baby’s wail was heard from afar and the giggle of a young girl…
"Megan Ann Sharkey, get out of that dirty water!" yelled an apparition. She was the spitting image of his wife, Heather, short with red hair and hazel eyes.
Lee’s eyes widen in recognition, doubly shocked that he could hear without hearing, what they were saying. The ghosts were bright in color and so, life like. They paid him no attention. The little girl was about eleven with long blonde hair, holding a bouquet of orchids. She also reminded him of his wife and his interest piqued, when he heard her say, "But, Mama, I hear a baby crying."
"Yes, Love, that’s the infant daughter of Chief Yeoman, Albert T.D. Wagner, who’d taken her ashes with him to sea in the hopes of burying her in the ocean. He was waiting on a Navy Chaplin to perform the duty, unfortunately it never came to pass. He escaped the Utah, but her ashes were entombed with the men."
"You mean, they’re taking care of her?"
"Yes, Dear, the ghost giggled and Lee could plainly see the love between them. "All 54 of the men are guarding the child."
"Mama, when I grow up, I want to marry a captain and have a baby girl."
The mother ghost giggled again. "Oh, Megan, knowing you, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if you married a sailor, but he’ll probably turn out to be an admiral." She paused a moment as if amused, "And your daughter will marry some good looking captain."
"You really think so, Mama?"
"You never know, Honey what the future has in store for you. Now, your Dad is waiting for us and I’ve got to get ready for the dance tonight. Oh, that reminds me." Lee watched as she unpinned something brassy in color from her blouse. "Here Love, keep this pin for me while I replace it with my new one. See, it has two silver stars. I’m up to 1000 hours in volunteer time for the USO." She handed the old one to her daughter and attached the new one.
"There’s only one star," complained the little girl, examining the pin.
"Megan, this pin is very special, for it represents the first 500 hours I volunteered. The child frowned at that and the mother ghost went on. "Honey, I know, I’ve been away a lot, but we all have to make sacrifices for the war effort. Understand? You know, I love you.
The little girl nodded, then turned and threw the orchids into the water. Mommy, do you think the flowers will make the men feel better?"
"I’m sure they will. Now, come on, we’ve got to hurry." She grabbed her hand and they started off down the beach. Lee heard Megan exclaim, as they disappeared from sight, "I can’t wait to tell cousin Francis everything I’ve seen…"
Francis Sharkey…she must be talking about Chief Sharkey, mused Lee, following them up the path they’d taken. Something glittered in the sunlight on the sand. He bent over and picked up the silver, starred, brass pin. She must have dropped it when she threw the flowers in. Wait until I tell Heather this story. She won’t believe I saw her mother and grandmother on this cruise…that is, if we ever get back home.
He cast one last look back over to the Utah, feeling at peace, as he pocketed the pin. The ghosts were all long gone. He lingered on the beach, hands in his pockets, soaking in the quietness of the area and all that he’d learned. A cool breeze blew in from the ocean and with it he heard, "Hurry son, time is passing you by."
Suddenly, an urgency to be back on board the Sea Myth took over his solitude. Chip’s words flew through his mind. "What if the boat takes off without you? What will you do?" "I don’t know," he muttered and took off on a dead, all out run. He ran for all he was worth, past the burned out buildings that would one day become a prison, down the length of the cracked, broken runways littered with weeds. On and on he ran, angling off toward the place where he’d left the dingy tied to a beat up old pier. Reaching the gig, he grabbed her heaving line, jumping into the boat and noticed the Sea Myth, edging away from the dock.
NOOOO!!! His mind screamed, as he frantically pulled at the cord to the outboard motor. Purrrr…purrr…"Come on damn it, start!" He pulled it again, hoping he wasn’t flooding the motor, he could smell fresh gas fumes that weren’t from the harbor. Purrr…purrr…He quickly glanced out to sea, the submarine was moving! "Damn it, Chip don’t leave me…"
His heart pounded double-time as his pulse raced. Setting the choke, angry that’d he forgotten the first time, he pulled the cord again. Purrrrrrrr went the motor, sounding like a screaming cat, as he slammed the gear into forward and headed for the moving submarine. He crossed the short distance from Ford Island to ten-ten dock just as the sub got underway. Pulling up on the starboard side and heading in the same direction, he looked up to see Chip frantically yelling down from the bridge. Something’s wrong. The boat’s not slowing down! Damn History anyways! Okay, you’ve won. You’ve taught me enough lessons, now let me on board!
He held the boat steady as he negotiated his way, knowing any bump in the water could throw him into the sub. This was too dangerous. He was going to have to break it off, for if nothing else, his men’s lives could be at stake. If the boat breached the hull of the sub and it didn’t stop…he refused to think about it and was getting ready to turn to starboard, when a length of rope appeared over the side. He looked back up and saw Sharkey with Patterson and Cookie tying off the rope.
"Grab the rope, Skipper!" yelled Sharkey. "We’ll pull you up!"
The rope had slipknot at the end, so all he had to do was put it over his head and secure it under his arms. Easier said than done. He grabbed the rope with his left hand, pulling on it for slack. He waited a second, keeping the gig on a straight course. With the rope slacked, he was able to slide his left arm through it and drop it over his head, where is landed loose at his waist. Then, he slid the knot down to his chest so that it was snug against him, with the rope tight beneath his armpits.
Timing is going to be everything and I’m not calculating the odds for success. He nodded at the men, he was ready and carefully kept the boat even with the sub. It would be his call. Counting to three, he stood up at the same time turning the rudder left, so that the gig would turn towards starboard and away from the sub. At the same time, he lunged for the boat’s side, as the men pulled him up. With both hands on the rope, his feet caught the side of the boat. For a few moments, he was suspended in the air, swaying against the boat, while the men inched up the rope. Soon, there were hands grabbing at his arms and belt, as they hauled him over the side. Totally spent and his legs to weak too stand, he gratefully sank down to a sitting position as Chip came scurrying down from the bridge.
Furious now and totally irrational, he lit into his XO. "Damn it, Chip, why didn’t you slow the boat down?"
"I tried, but they wouldn’t let me," angrily replied Chip, defensive now. "You don’t actually think, I’d willingly leave you behind? That any of us would?" All the men were staring at him in disbelief.
"No, of course not." His fears had been groundless and feeling foolish at his outburst, he rubbed a weary, shaky hand over his face. "Forget what I just said."
Chip wasn’t done with him yet. He’d been worried half out of his mind the whole time Lee had been gone. He turned frantic when the boat started moving on it’s own accord. Nothing he or the men did could stop it from sailing. Then, Sharkey had shouted, from the main deck that the skipper was beside them and he thought for sure the boat would stop, but it didn’t. Not understanding any of it, he released his own built up steam.
"Blast it Lee, if you’d hadn’t broken your own orders and taken off, none of this would’ve happened. Don’t you know time stands still for no man!"
"All right, all right," crouched Lee, his nerves stretched thin. He took in his men’s faces and what he saw there surprised him. Worry? Concern? His eyes slowly roved around the boat. He noticed the lookouts sneaking anxious peeks in his direction. Lt. O’Brien, the OOD on the bridge, gave him a relieved smile. Ray poked his head out the forward torpedo room hatch, giving him a nod with Clarke. Harker was at the aft hatch, doing the same thing. Frank was standing on the cigarette deck, no doubt medically observing him. He brought his vision back down to the men in front of him. Sharkey, Cookie, Patterson with his XO and best friend, looking obviously relieved. They wouldn’t have left me…Crane you’ve been such a fool. It might be lonely at the top and you are responsible, alone, for all their lives, but they would not have left you. They care Crane, they’re your crew and they are loyal and true. Isn’t that what a certain redhead told you once?
Taken aback from all the hidden emotions the men were unknowingly expressing, Crane breathed a sigh of relief. "Chip," he fidgeted with his signet ring, unable to express what all he was feeling, but needing to say something. "Thanks." He then tried to get up, but his knees were too weak to support him.
"Easy, Lee," said a harried Chip. "Maybe you should have Frank take a look at you, after all, that was quite a stunt you just pulled off?"
Lee waved him off. "No, Chip. I’m fine. I just need to rest a minute, that’s all."
Not quite believing him, he knew how stubborn his friend could be, Chip gave him a visual once over while asking, "You’re sure?"
"Of course, I’m sure!" snapped Lee, with more bite than he intended. Damn, it’s been a long day!
Chip grinned, glad to hear the starch back in his captain’s voice. "All right, Lee. I’m going below. The rest of you men get back to work."
The small group broke up, each going about his duties. Sharkey was the last to get up. He’d used this time to make doubly sure his skipper was really all right. How am I going to explain all of this to Heather? He knew she would pump him for every drop of information he could give her.
"Yes, sir?" asked Sharkey, bending back down in front of his captain.
"Chief, your aunt and uncle…" Lee looked down at the deck not sure how to ask what he needed to know without intruding on the man’s private life. Finally, deciding there was no tactful way, he bluntly asked, "…they were stationed here in Pearl, during the war correct?"
"Yes, sir. My Uncle Shaun was an officer on the Arizona. He survived and the brass kept him here on shore duty. He was so depressed after the bombing and sinking of his ship that they sent for his wife and daughter. Megan often told me the stories, as I was growing up, of their time spent here until the end of the war." He sighed and Lee thought he was done, then he added. "Ya know, sir. Heather’s grandmother was a lot different then. Megan was the apple of her eye and when she died, giving birth to Heather, my aunt’s whole life changed." He shuddered at the memory. "She never got over it."
Lee knew what he meant. It was a shared secret between them of her crass treatment of her granddaughter. The admiral never knew and they weren’t about to tell him. Putting a hand on his chief’s shoulder, he softly said, "It’s all right, Chief. She just loved her so much. I can understand that, her heart was broken and she couldn’t accept the loss."
"But, Heather, sir, my aunt hurt her so bad…"
"I know that, Sharkey, but she has us and the admiral. Heather is fine now and once we get home…" he was cut off by Sharkey’s indrawn breath. He tightened his grip on the man’s shoulder, used it for leverage and stood up with the chief, following his lead. "Sharkey, we will get home. I have it on good authority." Didn’t he say, we belonged in the future? Yes, sooner or later, we’re going home. He smiled reassuringly at his bewildered chief and went below.
January 8, 1945
The trip back to the coast of Japan was much different than the cruise to Pearl Harbor. After seeing the destruction at Pacific fleet’s home harbor, the old American fighting spirit was much revived and rejuvenated. We are united now in spirit and cause. It was no longer their war, but our war, wrote Crane in his diary. United we stand, divided we fall or is it a house divided can not stand? Blast, I’m so tired I can’t think straight, privately thought Lee, finishing a cup of coffee in the officer’s ward room.
We’re now on station between Iwo Jima and the Marsh Islands. How ironic, it should be where we first made our appearance into the past. We joined a wolf pack with nine other subs, our orders: to sink and harass any incoming traffic by way of Iwo Jima. So far, we’ve sunk numerous rafts or small war patrols with various weapons aboard, (mostly used our surface guns for this). We also dodged anti-aircraft and crash-dived three times. We’ve sunk four freighters loaded with raw materials, two escorts, a mine-sweeper, a small task force and much to my disgust… we fell for a ‘Q-ship’ for which we received a five hour depth-charging. The men are still talking about that one; all in all we were lucky.
In other notes, the radio is acting up and Sparks is constantly repairing it. The hydraulic system ran out of fluid from a break in the line, creating a mess in the bilges. No sooner was that repaired, we decoyed a destroyer that had been hassling the Silverfish, sinking her. Unfortunately, her mate showed up and let us have it with 22 ash cans. This caused a casket in the internal risers of the forward ballast tank to act up and create a small leak. We settled into the mud until the escort left us, and then repaired the leak. We have four torpedoes remaining, two forward, two aft.
Lee read over everything he’d written, closed the notebook and shoved it into his shirt pocket. He picked up his cup of coffee, irritated when he found it empty. Getting up from the table, he went over to the big, brass urn located in the galley and helped himself to another cup. He could hear the men talking in the crew’s mess.
"You think that last depth charging was bad?" asked Stewart with his eyebrows raised. His foot propped on the bench of the table, as he sipped his own coffee. Rodriquez, Harker, Ray and Patterson were gathered around the table, eating their evening meal of canned stew with biscuits.
"Just suppose you tell us how bad it was," grinned Pat, taking a bite of his meal.
"We sat there in the mud at a depth of 125 feet for eight hours, not making a sound. It was the deepest we could go, the Gulf of Siam is shallow. The hatches are all sealed, the blowers are off and the humidity immediately rose. No air was moving through the boat at all. The air got so thick and filled with dirt particles, I could slice it with my finger." He made a motion with his hand, showing the men.
"Ah, come on. You could slice it clean in two? Right," kidded Harker, taking a sip of powdered milk.
"I tell you it’s true. We had flashlights, but it was like a dense fog. The lights had gone out and the ceiling started falling. They rocked us almost continuously and later the skipper said they counted over a hundred ash cans and get this…we were twenty-five feet lower into the mud, according to our depth gages. We had to do a lot of squirming and filling our tanks with precious air before we got loose."
"Why didn’t they sink you?" asked Ray, his spoon held in his hand, but not moving.
Stewart shrugged his shoulders, "I don’t know, man. I guess it wasn’t our time to go. It’s no wonder I lost twenty pounds on that patrol."
"How’d you do that?" asked Rodriquez. "Bad food?"
"Nope, good old sweat. During the barrage, I personally took off my shorts and wrung the sweat out of them several times. By that time, all the men had done the same thing in our compartment, it was deep enough on the deck to run into our shoes."
"Ugh…" cried Pat and stopped eating. He sniffed the air and wondered if Stewart’s story had come to life. The smell of rotten eggs filled the space.
Lee, who’d been silently listening in the corridor, smelled the odor and knew what it was. Cookie, being the damage control officer, came to the door to investigate the awful smell. Crane handed him his cup and Cookie set it on the counter, as both men headed down the corridor, stopping in the radio shack. There, in the midst of the smoky compartment, was Sparks, waving a hand over the radio. Looking up at his captain’s entrance, he said, "The silicone rectifier is shot."
A groan came from Crane and Cookie asked, "I’m not up on old radios, so what exactly is it?"
Coughing slightly, Sparks explained, "It’s a vacuum tube that converts alternating current into direct current and without one, we’re out of luck." He started going through the drawers in the compartment, trying to locate one. "Resistors, capacitors, coils and crystals…" he slammed the draw shut and opened a bigger one. The other two men looked over his shoulder as he listed the contents, "amplifier, voltmeter, oscillator and condensers…"
Crane rubbed his shoulder that still ached, much to his annoyance and resolutely said, "Sparks, I don’t have to tell you how important this is, so keep looking and let me know as soon as possible what you find." He turned to go, then stopped and said to Cookie, "Help him as much as you can. Our lives…" he left the thought unfinished and quit the room.
"We can triple our area coverage on the surface. Chip take her up," ordered the captain, sounding weary.
The XO descended partway down the control room ladder and jerked the handle to the klaxon alarm three times. Sharkey on the dive controls blew safety.
"Up scope," came the crisp order and O’Brien quickly did his captain’s bidding.
The whistle of high-pressured air was heard and the lifting of the bow could be felt. Crane circled around the periscope many times, checking out the surface. "Waves are cold and choppy. We’ll need our jackets. Bow’s up and stern is coming up."
The blowing of air stopped then came the noise of the negative tank taking in water. This would give the Sea Myth thirteen tons of negative buoyancy, when the ballast tanks were filled again. This would help the rate of descent if they had to do a crash dive. To compensate for the water taken into the negative tank, Sharkey blew high-pressured air into the forward ballast tanks.
"Sterns up, crack the hatch," added the captain, to his list of orders.
O’Brien climbed a couple of rungs and carefully cracked the hatch, letting the air blow in along with a few drops of seawater.
"Pressure one-half inch," stated Chip, looking at the barometer. This meant there was one-half inch more pressure inside the boat than previously when they dived.
"Open the hatch," continued Crane, donning his jacket and handing one to O’Brien who would accompany him topside. All other men were to remain at their duty stations. "Lookouts, stand by." The planesmen got into their jackets and slung their binoculars around their necks.
O’Brien released the safety latch. The hatch flung open with a great rush of air, falling back to the bridge deck with a clunk and bang. Crane ascended to the deck with binoculars in hand, ignoring the water still coming down the periscope shears, splashing them. O’Brien headed aft on the bridge for a quick look around, while Crane stayed forward.
"All clear here, skipper," called the lieutenant, as he did a visual sweep.
"Same here," replied Crane. "Lookouts to the bridge, open the main induction valve, charge batteries and start the low-pressure blow."
A clunk was heard from under the cigarette deck, as the exhaust valve opened. The engines sputtered to life, emitting a mist of black smoke mixed with water.
"Keep your eyes peeled men, we’re still in broad daylight!" Crane took another look around, satisfied for the moment then, went below.
In the conning tower, things weren’t going so well. "SJ radar contact, northeast, just appeared on the scope, Mr. Morton," stated Riley, intently watching the APR. They had the radarscopes perimeters set at its greatest distance, which was 2 hours away.
A groan came from Chip, who was standing over his shoulder. "Looks like we’re going to have another wonderful day," grumbled the XO. "And, now that the radio is out, how are we going to keep tabs on the other subs and enemies alike?"
"Look, Chip," pointed Crane to a map on the chart table. "The Silverfish’s last reported location was here, southeast of Iwo." He ran his finger over a distance to the north, "We’re here in the middle, some thirty-seven miles east and the Walleye is northwest of us. We’re seventy-five miles from the coast and we know the Silverfish has broken up one of the task forces heading to Iwo Jima."
"Gotcha, so far," stated Morton, his eyes following Lee’s fingers. By the war patrol log and his own history lessons, Chip knew the invasion for Iwo Jima was soon to begin.
"Now, before the radio was lost, the Silverfish said, a tanker with two escorts was heading our way and that she was going after the troop ship herself. We followed them on radar for as long as we could, before the Jap Zero, escorting them, forced us down."
His finger stopped in the middle of the area. He took a pencil and drew a line to each section. When he was done, a shudder ran through both men. He’d drawn a triangle.
Lee’s fingers trembled slightly and he gripped the pencil tighter. "Don’t even go there, Chip. We’ll come home, when History is ready to send us." He looked over at the ghost sailors silently, keeping watch. Their colors were dull and faded, almost transparent. There and not there, when’s it going to end?
"Soon, my son. It will happen when you least expect it."
Lee dropped the pencil and quickly looked around the conning tower, studying each of the ghost sailors. None looked like his father, but he realized a truth, his father would always be with him in spirit if not in the flesh.
Chip, observing his distraction asked, "What’s the matter?"
Shaken, but not letting on, Lee nonchalantly replied, "Nothing, why’d you ask?"
Chip, looking down at Lee’s trembling hand frowned. "You, ah…you had an odd expression on your face, that’s all." He brought his eyes up to Lee’s and noticed to his chagrin the captain avoided them.
Before anything else could be said, there was a shout from the bridge. O’Brien yelled down the hatch. The squawk box was out of commission from their last depth charging.
"Skipper, ships off the port bow!"
"Sorry, Skipper, they just showed up on radar. Bearing three-five-oh."
"Pay attention," snapped Crane, "your job is doubly important now that we don’t have a radio. Helm, change course to three-five-oh."
"Yes, sir," meekly stated Riley, feeling properly chastised. He couldn’t believe he’d gotten caught daydreaming. He could just feel Ski, smirking at him.
Crane grabbed his binoculars and headed for the bridge, leaving Chip in the conning tower. The sun was making her last appearance, as she sunk into the horizon, while O’Brien pointed to the west. "Small convoy, double stackers, one profiles like a fuel tanker. You think this is part of that group the Silverfish broke up?"
"Mmm, more than likely or they could be on a run. Let’s get into position. We’re going to do a surface shot from the bow tubes." He pushed the button on the squawk box, forgetting it was broke. "Damn," he cursed, realizing his mistake and backing up to the hatch. "Mr. Morton, sound battle stations!" The chimes, instantly started ringing as the men ran to their stations. Putting his glasses back up to his eyes, he said, "Let me know the instant they zig."
Lee yelled up to the lookouts. "Keep a sharp eye up there. Radar reports a bogy northeast of here."
"Skipper!" from below. Chip poked his head up through the hatch, "We’ve got pips all over sonar and radar. There must be an aircraft carrier to the northeast of us."
"How far away?"
About two hours, heading towards the Walleye. I hope they’re able to nail her."
"Convoy zigged, Skipper," smartly quipped O’Brien, not taking his glasses down. Crane immediately held his back up, still standing by the hatch at his feet. "Conn, bring our course to three-three-zero. Range roughly fifteen miles. How many minutes?" He heard Chip repeat the order to the helm
"Five from when we first spotted her." They felt the boat change course with her new heading.
"Five?" thought Lee. How many minutes before she shifts again? They’re normal pattern is every ten minutes. They usually turn in columns, but who the hell knows? They’re getting smarter, but their radar is still inferior. They should have picked us up by now…maybe we can use that to our advantage. "Shifting to target bearing transmitter," stated Crane, sliding his glasses in the binocular holder.
"This is going to have to be good, for we only have two bow torpedoes left and if we miss…" he left the statement unfinished. As it is, we’re going to take another beating. No use telling the men that yet.
"We’re going for the tanker, TBT bearing coming down. Stand by forward! What tubes are loaded?"
O’Brien, immediately relayed the skipper’s commands by shouting down to the conning personnel. He took over the skipper’s former position by the conning tower hatch.
Chip’s voice came up through the hatch. "Tubes one and two ready for firing!"
"Skipper, one and two ready for firing," repeated O’Brien, standing by.
"Bearing 3-2-0," barked Crane, still aiming the TBT at the offending target.
O’Brien yelled, "Three – two- oh!" down the hatch as Crane squeezed the bearing contact marker handle on the right side of the TBT.
"Angle on the bow starboard seventy."
"O’Brien shouted down at his feet, "Angle on the bow starboard seven – oh!" He decided to stay beside the hatch entrance. Crane’s raised voice was loud enough to hear the orders he was shouting.
"Open outer doors on tubes one and two! In salvo!" barked Crane then, "TBT to confirm 3-2-0," he again took a bearing from the TBT. "Confirmed 3-2-0." He squeezed the marker handle and the bearing went down into sonar, which in turned relayed it to the TDC board. All he had to do now was wait a few seconds. He ran through his mind the rest of the process, angle on the bow, checked by the plot, verified by the TDC.
Chip at the TDC, verified the information and got a correct solution light to fire, (the red F) then yelled up, "Set, all set below! Tubes one and two flooding!"
Crane nodded that he heard. "What’s the torpedo run?" Except for the pings from the tanker’s escorts, it was totally quiet in the conning tower.
"Two thousand yards," shouted Chip to O’Brien, who relayed the distance back to the skipper.
That’s cutting it close, we’re barely within range, but we’re out of time. The escorts are taking an interest in us now, turning our way. "Fire one and two!"
The recoil of the submarine answered his commands. "Two mark eighteen torpedoes electrically fired in salvo!" bellowed O’Brien, exhilarated. Pulling a stopwatch out of his shirt pocket, he started the timer.
Crane could only hope the tanker wouldn’t turn in time. He aimed the target between the stacks just below the water line. No time to root from the peanut gallery, those tincans are quickly heading our way.
Ski yelled out, "Short scale pinging. They’re starting their run!"
"Conn full right rudder! Lookouts below!" the men literally jumped down, barely grabbing onto the rim of the hatch, as they fell through it. "Clear the bridge! Dive! All ahead full!"
The deck guns from the destroyer were making their presence known, as great columns of water sprayed over the deck, while the Sea Myth turned and headed for the bottom. A horrible roar rent the air, as the torpedoes found their target.
Crane lifted the periscope in time to see the mast separate from the deck. A smoke stack toppled into the water, as a cloud mushroomed over-head. Brilliant flames shot high into the night as the sunset faded into oblivion. The bow was torn off in flames and the stern burned like a funeral pyre. Another explosion splint the night more catastrophic than the first, shooting flames hundreds of feet into the air. The night became day and Lee was surprised to see the fuel tanker was really an ammunition ship and it had taken one of the destroyers down with it in the explosion. It was then, Lee noticed how close the other destroyer was to them and his heart skipped a beat. "Down scope!"
The captain quickly grabbed a head set, plugging it into the system, finding the men, excitedly chattering up a storm. "Silence on the line!"
"Rig for depth charges, rig for silent running, down angle on the planes, get this tub to the bottom!" he shouted. On the sonar screen, he could plainly see the return echoes and hoped they’d get lost in the midst of the catastrophe, which was on the surface.
Lady Luck was not with them. Sonar conditions turned out to be excellent for the Japanese captains. The bottom was only three hundred feet. The submarines highest point being two hundred fifty-four feet didn’t leave much margin for error. The Japanese skipper seemed to enjoy tormenting them by only releasing enough depth charges to keep them shook up.
Wham! Wham! Wham! Wham! Wham!
Nothing Crane tried seemed to shake the persistent destroyer. He’d run through all sorts of maneuvers and depths. Everything was secured, except for the main engines, kept at one-third speed. The humidity rose one hundred percent, just like in Stewart’s story, thought Lee. Hours went by with the depth charges dropping periodically. The temperature rose, the decks became slippery from the mixture of condensation and sweat, together with the smell of perspiring bodies and fear. This time, fear played a major role with morale. Will we get out of this one? The skipper’s never let us down, yet. There’s a first time for everything…The men were tired, haggard in appearance, locked in their compartments with their only communication, the headset each key person wore…all waiting for the inevitable...
Wham! Wham! Wham!
"Isn’t he ever going to run out of those ash cans?" complained Riley out loud. "I can’t take much more of this."
"Get a grip, Riley. Don’t fall apart on me now!" encouraged the captain, in a loud whisper.
The sub shook and another round of dust flew into the air, choking the men. The stuff clung to their sweaty bodies. Each man had a towel draped over his neck or a handkerchief tied to his forehead, to help relieve the bothersome moisture.
Wham! Wham! Wham! Wham!
Equipment was slowly breaking down. The bilges in the engine room and the motor room slowly filled with liquid from small leaks. To pump the bilges would require running the drain pump. To pump the water from a trim tank to equalize the water would require the use of the trim pump. Both would make noise and Crane had forbid their use. Gradually, the boat began to lose trim and the lift angle on the planes increased until they’d reached their limits. This forced Crane to run the boat on an up angle at minimum speed.
The waiting was the hard part. When will it be a direct hit? Silently asked the men not daring to voice the question out loud.
Ski’s ears were sore from hours of having headphones plastered to his head and digging into his ears, as he tirelessly kept them informed, repeating almost in verse, "Shifting to long scale…"
"He doesn’t know where we are, we can make a run for it," stated O’Brien hopefully, only to be disappointed when Ski said, "Shifted to short-scale pinging."
Lee could practically hear the pings hitting the hull of the Sea Myth. Shoot, I can hear them bouncing back to the tin can!
"She’s starting her run!" The men would cringe each time, after hearing this statement and hold their breath, when another barrage of depth charges were dropped. "The pings are rapidly increasing. This is going to be a good run. She’s coming in on our starboard side," reported Ski in a shaky voice, belying his anxiety.
Lee’s own pulses beat a hard tune in his wrists, making them spasm and jump. Through his earphones, he could hear the thum, thum of propellers. "No bearing drift at all, she’s right over top of us"… the sonar conditions are the best I’ve ever experienced, despairingly thought Lee. He unplugged his headset from sonar and plugged into the phone system.
Click, Wham! Swish went the water. Click, the sound of depth charges dropping followed by the Wham! Then came a swishing of water over the superstructure.
Click, Wham! Swish. Click, Wham! Swish. Click, Wham! Swish.
A set of charges went off painfully close on either side of them. They actually heard one scrape down the sides of the sub.
The boat shook to its very core. A whole calliope of strangled sounds reverberated in the air. The tin can moved off at the end of the depth charging, trying to get a clear bearing on their position.
"Maybe we should play dead on the bottom?" suggested Chip, clinging to the steel ladder, as his bones and teeth shook. "You know, send up an oil slick or something."
"No way," emphatically responded Crane, holding onto the periscope cylinder. "If they ever get a clear fix on us in a stationary position, we’ve had it! We still have maneuverability and it’s our job to evade." Into the headset he ordered, "All compartments report."
The men started reporting in, as trained, from forward to aft. "Water coming in beneath the engine room."
"How bad is it?" It can’t be too serious or Sharkey would have felt the weight in his diving controls. However, there’s change of the sound within the sub. Odd? Rushing water? Is this the end? Sooner or later vital machinery is bound to wear out or break down from the intensity of the depth charges.
Wham! Wham! Wham!
Damn, will it ever stop? "I repeat, how bad is it?" questioned Crane calmly, though his heart was drumming in his ears.
"It looks like the sea-line to the freshwater cooler is ruptured at the hull valve. We managed to shut it off, but I don’t think it’s going to hold for long," reported Clarke in a tense, tired voice. The constant strain was showing up in the men. "We need to get the pressure off, the drain pump is lined up and the water is up to the lower generator flats. Sir, I know we can’t use the pump, but can we angle off?"
"Hang on Clarke, I’ll see what I can do." He turned to Ski, "Where’s that tin can?"
"Dead astern, in our baffles. I’m having a hard time hearing her with all the noise our screws are making."
"Very well, the destroyer is pinging in our wake." An idea was forming in Crane’s head from a tactic he’d once read in an old German submarine logbook. Knowledge from history is a wonderful thing. "Control?"
"Control here," responded Sharkey.
"Bring us to ninety feet. Cummings, full speed, that’ll give the engine room her angle."
Cummings clicked the rheostat back to maneuvering and received an immediate answering click. The boat virtually leaped ahead.
The men in maneuvering must have anticipated the order, thought Crane. He could just see them itching to pour on the coals. It made him feel pride in his crew. They’re not giving up and neither will I.
"Aye, sir, ninety feet," repeated Sharkey, into his headset. He slowly brought her up to the correct depth. She was tail heavy from the water in the engine room and was having a hard time maintaining trim. "Skipper, we’re at ninety feet, but I need to blow air into ballast tank number seven to balance the trim in the after engine room."
"Proceed with the air, but be careful. Don’t put to much air in the tank. Blow a bubble, if you have to counteract the weight of the water in the engine room."
"Aye, sir," a moment later they could hear high-pressure air blowing into the aft tank. The boat evened out and trim was regained.
Lee glanced down at his watch, reading the time of 05:45. Unable to remember, he asked, "Is it dawn yet?" Suddenly exhausted, and he knew all the men were too. They’d been on duty well over twelve hours with nonstop depth charges, raining down on their heads. He squeezed his eyes shut not able to think for a couple of seconds.
Chip took in his weary captain and knew there was nothing any of them could do. They had to ride or fight it out. The Japanese skipper must be thinking the same thing. We didn’t get to recharge our batteries to maximum power last night. We’ll only be able to run a short time at full speed. The air is stale even with the carbon dioxide containers spread around the decks to absorb the toxins. Moving around is slow and sluggish. I wonder what he’s up too?
Chip shook himself free of his lethargy and pointedly said, "No, Lee. We’re in winter solace and it won’t be dawn for at least another hour. He watched Crane straighten his back and force himself to alertness. A strong cup of coffee would be great right now, but alas, we have no way of getting it.
Crane shook his head, rubbed a hand through his hair and spoke into the mic in his headset. "Sharkey open all forward vents."
"The forward vents, sir?" questioned the chief, completely puzzled.
"Yes chief, just do it and when I tell you to, I want you to blow a big bubble through the forward tanks. Got it?"
A meek, "Aye, sir," was heard back. A second later with more gusto to his voice, "Forward vents are open and ready for blow."
Crane waited until Ski sang out with, "Tin can is starting her run!"
"All stop! Control! Full blow all forward vents. Thirty seconds!"
Chip burst out with, "I get it. You’re creating a large air bubble on the surface in hopes the tin can skipper will think he sunk us!"
They could hear the rush of millions of tiny sonar-stopping bubbles racing past the sub up to the surface. The Sea Myth coasted right through them. "I hope this works. If nothing else, he’ll have a hard time hearing us with his sonar for a few minutes. It’ll give us time for our next step."
"Thirty seconds," reminded O’Brien, also catching on to the plot.
Lee gratefully acknowledged, with a nod to his head and ordered. "All ahead full!" He knew with the depleted condition of their battery, they wouldn’t get far, but that wasn’t what he had in mind. Depth charges would be coming again and he wanted to put as much distance between them and the Sea Myth as he could.
A short time later, Lee’s theory proved itself when Ski said, "I can hear depth charges in the distance. The destroyer is depth charging the air bubble. Skipper, it worked!" practically yelled Ski, smiling for the first time that night. The whole conning tower crew joined him in that smile also.
"Well, we finally have the advantage," smoothly replied Crane, daring to breath again. "Control, bring us to fifty-eight feet. Helm, left full rudder and reduce speed to one-third."
"Aye, fifty-eight feet."
"Aye, sir, one-third speed." The annunciators clicked back and forth, then the boat slowed down. "Rudder, is left full, sir."
"Up periscope, quick observation," stated Crane. O’Brien pushed the button in on the pickle and the scope cracked, making everyone cringe in fear of being heard by the destroyer. Crane bent down on his haunches and followed the scope up pointed aft towards the destroyer. "Looks like we put quite a bit of distance between us. I can barely make them out in the dim light. We’ve got to get out of here before morning twilight. Down scope." He followed it all the way down into the base. Putting his hands to his lower back, he stretched and rotated the tense muscles. "Ski, keep your eyes and ears tuned for a little while more."
Lee’s gaze swept the exhausted conning tower crew. Pushing in the button on his headset, he instantly noticed none of the usual banner on the line from the crew down below. In fact, it was dead silent; everyone was heeding the silent running precautions. In a low voice, he cautioned, "This is the captain, for the next few minutes, no one is to make a sound." Standing behind Ski, he pulled the phone gear off his aching head.
Time seemed to stand still, as the seconds stretched into minutes and Kowalski finally announced, "He’s moving off." A sigh of relief went through the tiny room. Ski, still maintained a vigil on the sound gear, carefully watching the bearing pointer move aft.
"I don’t get it," dully stated Morton. "Why would he leave? The sonar conditions are perfect, he could’ve easily picked us back up."
"Maybe he ran out of depth charges," offered Riley. He shrugged his shoulders at the amused looks cast his way. "Well, they did drop eighty-six charges on us at last count." Grinning, he handed back the skipper’s notebook to him.
O’Brien came up with another theory. "Maybe like us, he got tired?"
Lee broke in with, "Maybe, he’s sick of war…"
An hour later on the surface, the morning air felt especially sweet, blowing in through all the opened hatches. Revitalizing wonderful air, combined with warm sunshine, renewed the spirits of the crew. They came alive and started clean up procedures. Repairs were done and the bilges emptied while a quick inspection was held over the entire boat. The radio was still out, for there were no replacement parts for the rectifier. The majority of the men slept for the remainder of the day, totally unaware of a Japanese Zero repeatedly chasing them under the sea during the afternoon. Sparks had been given the conn in the morning while in the afternoon, each of the commanders alternated their duty every two hours. It was now evening twilight, just before the moon rises and they were off the Coast of Marcus Island, shooting the stars.
Lee Crane woke up, surprised he had fallen asleep again with Heather’s who done it mystery still in his hand. He remembered finding it there on top of his bunk when Chip had relieved him of the conn. The book was well worn now that it had passed through thirty-eight pairs of hands. He openly grinned, reading the list of names on the inside back cover. Beside each name was the man’s choice of ‘who done it.’ I still think it was the butler…
Putting the book aside, he got up from the bunk and wandered through the boat, making sure everything was satisfactory. He talked to the men, asking about their concerns and in general, giving pep talks to bolster the sagging morale. The last depth charging had taken a lot of spunk and vigor out of the men. The end of the tour brought him to the conning tower where he checked the war patrol log. Nothing new. The last entry recorded by the ghost captain had been earlier in the day, when History had brought the submarine to Marcus Island. It had simply read, hunting for Japanese boats at anchorage. So now, they were hugging the island’s shoreline, slowly following its circumference in hopes of finding a hidden harbor.
"How’s it going, O’Brien? Anything yet?" asked the Captain.
Lt. Bob O’Brien was over by the TDC board, watching the fathometer. "No boats as of yet, sir. No evidence of radar. Of course, the shoreline can be interfering with that, along with the patchy fog. Depth is eight fathoms. We’re tacking along at one knot and just coming around to the western side of the island. SJ radar does show a squall heading our way and that’s about it."
"Very well, I’m heading topside." Lee climbed the ladderwell to the bridge where he found Chip deep in thought.
"A penny for your thoughts?" he asked his XO, making him jump. "Or, can I guess, you’re thinking of home and Melonie?"
Unwilling to admit, that was exactly what he was thinking of, Chip retorted with, "I was just thinking about which show you and Heather are going to buy us tickets to."
"Oh come on, I thought the bet was dead?" griped Lee, looking out to sea. The moon had risen, showing here and there through the scattered clouds. "How can you keep track of something like that considering all that we’ve been through?"
"The truth is Lee, I haven’t had too. You’ve been eating just fine. The…" he stopped short almost spilling the beans.
Not to be outdone and noticing his slip, Lee coached, "Out with it Chip. Who put you up to this?"
Chip slipped on his somber mask and Lee sighed in exasperation. "All right, be that way, but I know it had to be one of three people."
Chip gave him his deadpan look, lifting a brow in question. He then, lifted his binoculars to his face, hiding his telltale grin.
Lee was quiet for a few minutes as he returned his attention to the sea. The water had a slight chop to it, attesting to the fact of an approaching storm. While the air was cool, light fog formed in places. Cloud cover was in evidence, partially obscuring the rays of the moon. The coastline was dark and mysterious, giving off an elusion of being alone.
Suddenly, Lee said, "It’s got to be Doc, he’s the only one who would have guts enough to pull it off. Besides he’s always on me to eat." Getting no response from his XO, he finished his reasoning. "It couldn’t have been the admiral, after all, he wouldn’t stoop that low. I mean, he has better things to do than worry about my health. Then of course, there’s Cookie, but he wouldn’t pull it off without the aid of someone higher up." He stopped cold and pointedly looked at Chip, who was still studying the sea.
A quiet sigh came from his XO and Lee thought he saw his mouth quiver the slightest bit. "Blast it Chip, tell me it wasn’t my wife, for if it is…she’s going over my knee, for sure this time."
"That’s four people," commented Chip with a smirk, still watching the horizon.
Not listening to the remark, Lee went on with his tirade, "When I think of all the stuff, you’ve made me eat…" his voice trailed off when he saw his exec stiffen. "Did I hit it on the head or is something out there?" he boldly asked, a tinge of concern in his voice.
"I just saw a glint through the moon’s rays and it’s moving. It’s hard to tell with the shifting clouds."
Lee was instantly all business. "Evans?" he softly called up to the nearest lookout that was stationed towards the direction Chip was looking in. "You see anything?"
"I think so, sir, I just noticed it when Mr. Morton called attention to it," confirmed the lookout. "Yes, it’s definitely
moving…in towards shore."
"Shore?" queried Crane. He still didn’t have his night vision and hadn’t been on deck long enough for his eyes to adjust. "Chip, what do you see?"
"I see two of them and Evans is right, they’re patrolling the shore." He lowered his glasses and handed them to Lee, who immediately put them up to his face. "Lee, do you suppose it could be a harbor?"
"Mmm, well we are hugging the shoreline in less than 9 fathoms of water. If it is a harbor, I wonder what’s in it?"
Chip grinned, "Something tells me we are about to find out."
On the surface, hidden in the shadows, they silently cruised around the island. A patrol boat, unknowingly paralleled them at eight thousand yards. It was nerve wracking and annoying to say the least. The men had immediately gone to tracking stations and avoided the destroyer by staying close inshore, where the echo ranging became jumbled by the close proximity to the coast.
"Riley’s got the radar range set at one half mile over the island. The patrol boat is pinging quite loudly, " murmured Chip, to his commander. Did you get a visual yet?" Their nerves were taut with expectation in the starkness of the night. In the background, the engines idled with water streaming out of her four muffled exhaust pipes.
"No, we’re still too far away. What’s our sounding?" asked Lee, his eyes glued to the dark coastline.
Chip spoke into his headset, asking the question. After surfacing that morning, they’d found the squawk box missing, along with a large chunk of the railing and part of the overhang from the bridge. Consequently, they’d run a headset with a wire to the bridge for communication. "Seven fathoms, not deep enough to even cover the boat."
Another destroyer passed by their port beam, roughly twelve thousand yards out. The patrol was not wise to them, yet. Coming around a bend, land, suddenly appeared on either side of them. "This has got to be a harbor entrance," speculated Crane, studying the small body of water, partially encircled by rocks and vegetation. Both men had their night vision goggles on, along with the lookouts.
"It doesn’t look deep enough," hesitated Chip, "What’s our depth?" he inquired into the mic.
"Fourteen fathoms," came the reply, from O’Brien.
"14 fathoms," repeated Chip in awe. "The darkness is deceiving." A flash of light in the distance temporarily caught his attention. "Storm’s coming." Looking back skeptically at the darkness that loomed ahead, he swallowed hard and said, "Are you sure, you want to go in there?"
Crane simply stated, "If ships can go in here, so can we. The only rub is we can’t dive. Have the men and their gun crews standing by on the surface guns."
Shadows soon appeared coming out of the conning tower, forward and after hatches. Men, dressed in heavy clothes and night goggles, took their places at the five-inch deck gun and the two forty-millimeter guns. More men silently crept forward and aft with twin twenties and fifty caliber machine guns, mounting them in their brackets attached to the cigarette deck. Training for surface action had been part of the Captain’s drill routines which continued throughout the patrol. The men had been briefed and were all primed and ready for action.
They glided noiselessly into the main harbor, which widened considerably once inside. For the first time, they could see targets. The dark shape of ships emerged in front of them, neatly anchored in the harbor. The buildings surrounding the harbor along with the boats were dark.
"You snooze you lose," woodenly muttered Crane, preoccupied with what he was about to do. "Put radar on the largest ship for a range," directed Lee, his pulse beginning to race. "Helm, do a 180 degree turn. I’m switching to the aft TBT." Chip followed quickly, relaying the captain’s orders. Crane raced over and manned the transmitter at the other end of the bridge. Cleaning off the TBT binoculars with a piece of lens paper from his pocket, he inserted them into the transmitter and softly whispered, "Stand by for TBT bearing." He bent and looked through the pressure proof lenses, adjusting the magnification knob, aiming between the stacks. He squeezed the handle, stating, "Range is two thousand yards."
"Riley’s having trouble distinguishing the pips from the shore pips. Eight fathoms," reported Chip with information relayed from the conn. They heard O’Brien’s muffled voice from below echo, "All stop!" It had been a prearranged order to stop the boat when the first bearing was recorded on the TDC.
"We’ve only got two fish, we have to make this good," reminded Crane. The Sea Myth is dead in the water. A patrol boat passes within seven thousand yards from the bow. The enemy still doesn’t suspect anything. The moon is temporarily hidden from view by overcast skies, keeping them in relative darkness. The land around them is to their benefit, absorbing the pings.
"O’Brien set with the TDC? Range is two thousand yards with no speed on the TBT bearings." Lee aimed the crosshair of the glasses at the middle of the largest ship, which appeared to be a sub chaser. "This is for all the depth charges that were dumped on us last night." He squeezed the right handle. "Mark!"
They heard tubes seven and eight thump open. "Flooding tubes," stated Chip, unnecessarily out of habit. The tension was high, nerves were wired, hearts beat in unison, while adrenalin rushed through their veins…all waiting for the moment to hear one word…
"Fire!" from the conning tower. The boat ejected the last two mark eighteens from her stern tubes and the men could easily see the bubbles coming to the surface as they headed for the ship. Not waiting for them to hit, even though down below, Crane knew O’Brien would be clocking the seconds. Lee ordered, "Let’s get out of here!"
The Sea Myth started forward at one-third speed, so as not to attract the destroyer’s attention sooner than she had too. No matter what, once the torpedoes hit home, the tin cans would be on them in an instant. The first destroyer made another pass, then abruptly turned in their direction. She was less than four thousand yards away.
"Steady as she goes," cautioned Chip, into the mic, as Sparks came up on deck. Another preconceived plan was that Sparks would take the exec’s place, so Chip could man the conn below, if a surface battle broke out. Morton passed his headset to Sparks and headed below. Crane covered his ears with his two-way headset, talking to the gun captains, as he did so. Satisfied with the clarity, he strapped on the mouthpiece, as both men quickly went back to the forward TBT where Crane would shoot bearings down to the TDC board.
"Remember men, don’t fire until I give the word," reminded the captain, taking a bearing on the TBT. He squeezed the handle and the bearing went down to plot.
Sparks heard a second later, through his headset and relayed the information. "TDC shows speed of four knots, range twenty-five hundred yards and closing. Mr. Morton’s having Pat on the five-incher, set twenty-one for two thousand yards on his range dial."
Better to over shoot than be short, thought Crane. Patterson manned the five-inch gun with Cookie and Perez, as his gun crew, loaded the 97-pound shells alternately. He was instructed to fire at two thousand yards when Crane gave the order. The plan was to wait, as long as possible or until their presence was made known. Ammunition was laid out all over the deck. The forties had their clips of four rounds, the twenties had their canned ammunition and the fifty calibers had the belts in the capable hands of their gun crews.
Still observing through the TBT binoculars, Crane could see the unsuspecting enemy destroyer in the entrance of the harbor, unobtrusively heading their way. His port beam was at a ten-degree angle and would pass them on their port side…if he didn’t try and ram them, when his sister ships went up in flames. Lee took another bearing on the TBT. "Patterson, get ready to open fire. Clark, Ray," they were on the two forty guns, "stand by."
"Range two-one double oh, Skipper. Bearing checks with the radar periscope, sonar and the TDC," reported Sparks.
It all happened at once.
The torpedoes hit home in the after section of the aft smoke stack. The heat was intense and the echoes carried on for some time, leaving Lee to think they’d hit their target in the powder magazine section of the boat. The night temporarily turned to day, as the fire reached high into the sky, fully exposing the Sea Myth. The tin can, patrolling inside the harbor, immediately took offense and made a beeline directly towards them.
Crane took another bearing then shouted, "No angle on the bow!" Any second now, they’re going to start firing at us. The Japanese skipper knows we can’t dive, probably knows this harbor like the back of his hand. We have no torpedoes. We’ve got to take him out! Now!
"Two thousand yards, Skipper, speed is ten knots!" yelled Sparks with a hand on his earphones.
"Pat, commence firing!" ordered the captain. He knew they had the advantage for a few seconds. They’d had time to prepare, while the destroyer would be calling men to battle stations.
BAM! Reload, BAM! Reload, BAM! Reload. The expended shell casings were ejected as new ones slammed into the breeches. The five-incher was shooting flashes of yellow-orange flame from her gun. Her shells hit the water twice in front of the approaching boat. One hit at the bow’s water line. Pat had been instructed to aim for the waterline as much as possible. Plug him full of holes had been the official order. The hull of the tin can glinted darkly against the eerie glow from the carnage behind them. Acrid burning fuel oil was strong in the air, burning their nostrils and throats. Smaller explosions were still going off at different intervals, blending with the sounds of the guns, vibrating in their ears.
Number two destroyer patrolling ten miles out to sea, after hearing and seeing the explosions, was now heading full speed towards the harbor.
"TDC fifteen-hundred yards!" yelled Sparks over the guns.
"Forties, open up on the enemy’s bridge!" shouted Crane, into his headset. The enemy was now returning fire with its four-inch guns. Splashes were seen forward the bow, as they sped closer to the oncoming boat. The enemy would have a harder time sighting them over their high bow. "Pat, take out the four-incher!" barked Crane into his mic, taking another bearing on the TBT.
"I need a new range, Skipper!"
WHACK, WHACK, WHACK, went the forties, with Clarke and Ray sending the tracer shells arching in the sky, to hit anywhere on the bridge and hull. They exploded on contact, some in the air, while others pierced the dark hull. The gun crew was busy pulling the quadruple clips from their racks and slamming them into the loading slides.
The enemy started firing back. A machine gun opened up from the forecastle, widely missing them in the half-mile gap. The men could hear whistles coming at them; even feel streams of air, as the projectiles passed by. The enemy was overshooting, not having time to adjust her sights on the gun.
"One thousand yards," bellowed Sparks, into Crane’s ear over the gun’s noise.
Lee yelled to the gun crew on the bridge and cigarette deck who had the twenties and fifties to start firing. Ratatat tat, Ratatat tat, Ratatat tat…Ettttttttttt…Etttttttttt…Etttttttttt…Pings, splinters and tearing noises could be heard gouging the tin can’s hull, penetrating its smooth steel, destroying and maiming the enemy…Kill, kill, kill! Sink them or they’ll sink us!! Kill or be killed!!!
Another round of red fire roared from the forties, as the men in the forward and aft ends of the boat, also opened up on the hapless enemy. They were broad side now, raking the bridge, deck and hull of the boat. The machine gun on top of the enemy’s bridge created havoc with Lee’s comfort zone. The enemy’s orange tracer bullets glanced off the deck and heavy metal sheeting of the conning tower. Pings and twangs were constantly heard from bullets hitting the enemy and the Sea Myth. So, far the submarine hadn’t taken a major hit.
With the barrage of gunfire, it was almost impossible to communicate. Crane left the TBT and ran over to Harker, Evans and Stewart manning the twenties. Yelling in their ears, "Aim for those machine guns above the bridge!" A new line of red fire streamed upward, covering the men and weapons along the top of the destroyer’s bridge and forecastle.
They must have inflicted untold amounts of damage in the short barrage of gunfire. All told, it had only been three minutes since they started firing. The enemy ship soon veered to starboard, as she careened past the Sea Myth. Pat’s hits to the waterline must have been successful, for she was listing at a thirty-degree angle. They must be taking on water, thought Crane. Good, that’ll be one less destroyer to come calling, bearing gifts of ash cans.
"Sparks shouted again, "TDC reports enemy speed slowing down to two knots. We must have done some good damage."
"Cease fire!" ordered Crane, looking out to sea. His ears wouldn’t adjust to the quiet and he suspected they would ring for some time to come. He forced himself to listen to Sparks’ last relay. According to O’Brien on the periscope, the second destroyer was now within eight thousand yards. Roughly four miles. We’ve got to get out of the harbor where we can dive. I can’t go full speed with all these men on the low- lying deck, besides, the waves are picking up.
"Steady at one-third speed on the batteries." Sparks relayed and immediately, the induction exhaust valve closed beneath the cigarette deck. "Get set men, this tin can is going to be armed to the teeth."
Sparks reported, "TDC shows enemy ship bearing eighteen knots, Skipper. Fathoms are now twelve feet. We’re two thousand yards from the harbor’s entrance."
A flash of lightening followed by a crack of thunder was heard from the sky. The squall line, radar had warned about, was fast approaching. The wind picked up, heavily buffeting the boat, forcing the men to brace themselves against the rails, the back of the conning tower or the gun mounts themselves. Ammunition on the decks went rolling, in spite of his men’s best efforts to keep it corralled. Waves started slicing across the decks and Crane no longer had a choice.
"Secure the guns! Clear the decks!" Lee yanked his two-way headset off his head and exchanged it with the communication set Spark’s had on his head. "Conn, prepare to dive! Maneuvering are you on line?"
The men filed past him at a fast pace and dropped down the hatch of the conning tower. On the lower decks, the men quickly stowed the guns and ammunition in the gun access trunks, both forward and aft, then jumped down the hatch beside them. It was taking too much time, but they didn’t dare lose the guns. They would be the last resort with no torpedoes left on board.
Maneuvering instantly answered, "Here, Skipper!"
"Come to full speed. In thirty seconds switch to flank, pour it on, but watch your circuit breakers! Don’t blow them!"
Maneuvering switched over to full power and the Sea Myth charged ahead. It was less than a mile from the harbor entrance and once past the barrier, the water was fourteen fathoms deep. Crane knew they could safely dive shallowly at eight-four feet, leaving thirty-eight feet between their highest point (the top of the periscope) and the surface. Will it be enough? Will we be quick enough before the destroyer is on top of us? The Japanese skipper will probably open fire on us and at the same time try to ram. The tin cans are built like our destroyers with reinforced heavy steel plating in the bow.
Chip, observing through the periscope, yelled through his headset. "Approaching the harbor breakwater! Tin can is three thousand yards! Lee, get down here!" Chip turned the periscope aft, making sure no men were on deck and double-checking to see if any enemy boats had picked up the chase. Radar had shown all clear from that end, but sonar was picking up pings from the bay.
"Number two destroyer is starting a run!" yelled Ski, his eyes wide with fear.
Chip swept back to the bow and to his horror, Patterson was still on deck bent over the gun hatch locker. The diving alarm rang twice and he swore he saw him freeze.
"Lee, Pat’s still on deck!"
Capt. Crane was in the process of taking off his headgear when he caught Chip’s statement. Lee inadvertently dropped the headset down the hatch, as he raced over to the missing, broken rail to peer down at the deck. Damn, what’s he doing? Must be having trouble with the lock. Didn’t Stewart say it was always a problem? Hell…
His thoughts were cut off when maneuvering switched to flank speed at the same time the Sea Myth hit the breakwater. The surrounding land ended and they were suddenly out in the wide-open, as Mother Nature let loose her fury. Southwestern crosswinds combined with the speed increase hit the boat, causing it to leap over the waves. The sudden jerk forced Lee to lose his balance and tumble forward down to the lower deck.
The bow and stern planes were rigged out and just beginning to dig into the water with the bow angling down towards the sea. Lee hit the deck with a solid thump, landing on his left shoulder. Pain shot through it and he briefly wondered if he’d dislocated it again. No time to worry about that. Pat? Sprawled on the deck, Lee looked up and saw the crewman heading for him and he tried to get up. Finding the breath knocked out of him, everything was in slow motion and he was unable to function. Pat just reached him, latching onto his arm when a rouge wave crashed over the deck from the port side! The wave covered them, knocked them to the deck and swept them helter-skelter, one hundred feet towards the bow. When the water cleared, they found themselves with legs entwined, on either side of starboard railing. Lee was on his right side, facing downward into the raging sea. Pat was luckier. He’d become wedged against the supporting post of the rail, with his legs angled partway over the side. Bearing down on his legs to keep a grip on the captain, Pat hooked his left arm around the supporting post and laboriously grabbed his skipper by his shirt collar, pulling upwards for all that he was worth.
The wind and ice-cold water worked against them. Rain started falling heavily upon them, stinging their bodies and making their fingers numb. The captain was dead weight and Pat began losing his hold on his shirt. He dug his nails in further, adjusting his position and using his leg muscles to gain more support on the slippery deck.
Lee felt the freezing water hitting his face and the rain pelting his body. He dared not even draw in air, as he frantically sought the rail and side of the boat with his hands, trying to get leverage to pull himself up. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew Pat had miraculously kept his hold on him. Lee, futilely tried with his left hand to reach the elusive rail above him, but his shoulder refused to cooperate. He could feel Pat slowly easing him upward, as the wind tore at them and the waves covered them once more. Turning his body at the waist just enough, he managed to grab a hold of the edge of the deck with his right hand, using it for leverage. Pat kept pulling on his collar, nearly strangling him in the process. After what seemed like forever, he was finally inched onto the deck of the boat.
Meanwhile, in the conning tower, Chip watched in horror through the periscope, as a wave claimed his captain and crewman. In the background of the dark, stormy night, the steel hulled bow of the enemy was steadily bearing down upon them. Chip figured, if they didn’t immediately get fired upon, the boat would ram them. Time had run out, his first priority was the boat and a plan of action had to be put into effect or the whole submarine would be lost.
"Twenty-five hundred yards, Mr. Morton!" reminded Ski, not taking his eyes off sonar.
Regret evident in his voice, Chip ordered, "O’Brien, secure the hatch!" With nausea churning in the pit of his stomach and pain in his heart, Chip snapped out his next order. "Sharkey dive the boat, five-degree angle on the bow. Keep her as level as possible. We still have a shallow bottom."
Flipping up the handles to the periscope and lowering it into the base, the XO knew they wouldn’t get down in time before the submarine-eating destroyer would ram them. If they were going to be rammed, better it be in the periscope’s shears and conning tower than risk rupture of the lower hull.
"Cummings, get below. I’ll take the wheel." He grabbed the big brass wheel and the helmsman headed below. Guiding the wheel, Morton spoke into his headset. "Marsh, shift steering and annunciators from conning tower to the control room!" Unable to keep his stern visage in place, he kept his back to the men, while issuing the next order. "The rest of you men get below! Ski, plug in down in control." The men’s shoes scoffed the deck in their rapid descent of the ladderwell. Sonar’s pings rang loud in his ears by the time the brass wheel locked under his trembling hands. Turning, he went aft and noiselessly grabbed the war patrol logbook off the chart table, then scrambled down the ladder into the control room, securing the hatch, as he did so.
Sharkey anxiously looked up from his diving station, oblivious to the happenings on deck or in the conning tower. He’d followed the battle topside the best he could through his headset, like all the men left below had done. He also knew they were in great peril. There was no time to test the pressure in the boat for unforeseen holes, which might have been inflicted from the rounds of ammunition topside. They were at battle stations and the boat was essentially locked down.
"Why haven’t you dived the boat?" sharply asked Morton, instantly noticing diving procedures weren’t being carried out.
Ski, plugged into the extra sonar station in the control room, immediately yelled out, "Two thousand yards!"
"We’ve got a red light, sir. The forward hatch isn’t secure," responded Sharkey, somewhat puzzled and more than alarmed by all that was going on. Where’s the skipper? Why isn’t he down here? Why’s everyone looking so sad? Surely, he’s not still in the conning tower?
Damn! "Forward torpedo room, secure the hatch!" barked the XO into his mic on the phone system.
No answer and a moment later the red light on the Christmas tree went out. Not waiting for an answer, the exec shouted, "Dive! All dive!"
Sharkey pulled the levers with the XO helping him and the boat started down. They could plainly hear the twin screws of the approaching destroyer, as she came abreast of them.
Thum, thum, thum, Thum, Thum, THUM, THUM, THUM, turned the propellers, bearing down upon them.
The question in every man’s mind, "Will she hit us?"
In complete silence, they waited…
In the forward torpedo room, Cookie and Frank were having troubles of their own. The dive order had been given and both men knew Pat was still topside, securing the gun trunk. The lock was stubborn. Being hard to open, they suspected it would be equally hard to close, for salt and sea crud had found its way into the mechanism.
With water rushing in the from the open hatch, Cookie shouted up the ladderwell, "Pat, we’re going to dive, get down here!" He didn’t want to climb the ladder. If Pat was on his way down, precious seconds could be lost if he was in the way of his descent. Time was definitely running short. He knew the destroyer would be breathing down their necks at any moment. Then, with a sinking heart he heard Mr. Morton yell through the phone system, "Secure the hatch!"
With misery evident on his face, Cookie started to climb the ladder when a dark form appeared in the entrance. A moment later, a soaking wet Captain Crane came sliding down headfirst! Cookie barely had enough time to lift his hands up to catch him before he was knocked backward to the deck with the skipper in his arms. Immediately behind him was Pat, slamming home the hatch and securing the wheel.
Patterson had finally managed to pull the captain to the deck. Wasting no time, he’d gotten to his feet and yanked his skipper over to the hatch where he dumped him head first down the ladderwell.
Lee, not caring how Patterson manhandled him and only knowing he was glad to be on deck at all, soon found himself in a headlong flight into his cook’s arms. His body numb from the cold water and fear practically paralyzing his mind, Lee gratefully embraced the darkness that claimed him.
Back in the control room, the men were sweating it out with Ski naming off the yards. "Fifty yards, Mr. Morton…forty-five…forty…"
The men were still at battle stations. The order had already been given to rig for collision and depth charges. They’re only hope was to dive deep enough in the shallow water and evade.
"Depth Chief?" asked Chip. He could have looked himself, but the moisture in his eyes, blurred his vision. Convincing himself it was from the sweat dripping down his forehead, he wiped them unobtrusively on his shirtsleeve. Keeping his wooden face intact was torture, all the while his heart screamed, he’d killed his best friend. His mind overcame his heart berating him, Later Morton, later…there’s time for that later! You got a boat to take care of. You’re the…his mind shied away from the word…you’re in charge, the responsibility is now yours...the men’s lives… He forced the turmoil aside and pulled himself together.
"Thirty-five yards and closing, sir," reminded Ski.
THUM, THUM, THUM, THUM.
"Sharkey! Our depth?"
The men looked at the XO with pity and fear in their eyes. Chip saw O’Brien raise his hand to offer him comfort, only to put it down at his side when the exec narrowed his eyes and set his jaw. "For the last time! Depth? How far have we dived?"
"Thirty yards!" call out Ski, with an edge to his voice.
THUM, THUM, THUM, THUM, THUM!
Sharkey, looking puzzled, reached up and tapped the gauge. "Ah, sir it was forty-feet only a second ago, but the gauge, well…the gauge now reads two hundred feet…I don’t get it, sir, unless the gauge just went haywire."
Ski stood up with an astounded look on his face. "Mr. Morton, the pinging stopped," He adjusted every knob, then more quietly, for silence reined in the control room, he repeated. "It just stopped…"
Chip’s voice barely whispering, "They must be on top of us."
"Begging, your pardon, sir, but they still had thirty yards to go." Ski, irritated and scared tried every knob again. "Nothing!" He furiously whispered.
The XO, frustrated beyond words, reached over and grabbed the spare headset, plugging into the system. He could hear nothing. I wish we were up in the conning tower, I could at least see what is going on…on second thought, that wouldn’t work either. The periscope would give our position away. "Riley, what do you hear on the hydrophone?"
"Swishing water…probably from the storm topside," earnestly answered Riley, in a low voice.
Focusing on the fathometer, the exec almost dropped his teeth. "The depth keel to bottom is…is six hundred feet. That’s impossible, we just took readings on the depths before we went into the harbor. It was only eighty-four feet outside the breakwater." He ran a hand down his face and shook his head to clear it.
"Maybe a shell hit us somewhere in the circuits, creating a short and we don’t know it," offered O’Brien, intently studying all the gauges.
Chip and Sharkey immediately looked at the barometer. "No," countered Chip. "We have steady pressure in the boat." That was true, they could feel it in their ears. The inboard vent hadn’t been opened yet. "Besides, the gauges are mostly magnetic."
Sharkey, more confused than ever, "Ah, sir, what do you want me to level off too?" It was really his call, as diving officer, to set the depth and trim on the first dive, but they were at battle stations and he didn’t know if he dared trust the gauges or not.
Chip’s thoughts were warring against themselves, he was thinking much the same thing. What a pickle? If we dive to 84 feet, we wouldn’t hit bottom, but that destroyer overhead would surely pick us off. On the other hand, if the gauges are correct we’re already at two hundred feet and could dive to 350 feet, thus making it possible to get away, especially with the storm topside. There’s bound to be some thermal layers. He unplugged from sonar and plugged into the phone system.
"Maneuvering, reduce speed to one-third. Sharkey, take her deep, 350 feet." The men regarded him like he was crazy, but they obeyed his orders.
Chip mentally crossed his fingers that he’d made the right call, as the sub dived deeper into the water. He inwardly winced, when they passed the imaginary 84-foot mark, which in reality read 244-feet. They were at 40-feet when the gauge malfunctioned. He intently scrutinized every gauge. How can all these instruments be wrong? Unless…they’re not…
In the forward torpedo room Frank and Cookie lifted an unconscious Crane to Kowalski’s bunk. "We’ve got to get him out of these wet clothes now," stated Frank, unbuttoning the captain’s shirt. Over his shoulder, he assessed a shivering Patterson. "Pat, get out of those clothes and wrap up in a blanket."
As Pat changed into one of his own jumpsuits, Cookie took the captain’s shoes and socks off. By this time, the medic had the skipper’s good arm out of his shirt and was just pulling the shirt off his left shoulder, when he noticed the dislocation. "Not again," he groaned, as the dark haired man moaned beneath his probing fingers.
Cookie, hearing the moans and groans followed the pharmacist’s mate’s line of vision. "He pulled it out again?"
"Looks, that way. I’m going to reduce it now, before he wakes up. Cookie, hold his legs. Even unconscious, he’ll probably buck. Pat, put your weight on his good shoulder."
The men did as bid and Frank easily rotated his shoulder back into place. The captain thrashed on the bunk, unconsciously yelling out in protest to the pain. "Easy skipper," soothed Frank, relieved the worst was over. "Hand me a pillowcase, I need to make a temporary sling."
Everything was locked in the pharmacist’s medical locker. The orders the XO had given were in effect and they couldn’t leave the compartment. They could hear the thum, thum of the enemy’s boat, as it approached. The men all looked upwards, as if they could see through the sub’s hull.
"Close," flatly, stated Cookie, as Frank worked the skipper’s trousers off his long legs. He then covered the shivering man with two blankets from the other bunks. The corpsman took the pillowcase Pat proffered off Sharkey’s pillow and ripped it open. He gently wrapped it around the captain’s left elbow, supporting the injured shoulder and tied it to his neck. Taking his ophthalmoscope out of his shirt pocket, Frank checked the skipper’s eyes, finding them equal in size. He finished up with a quick respiration count and pulse check, berating himself, for leaving his stethoscope on his own bunk.
"That’ll have to hold him for now." Observing his handy-work, he solicitously added, "At least, he doesn’t seem to be in a lot of pain. I wonder if I dare get my medical kit?" He was about to say more when he did a double take on what his eyes just witnessed.
Pat was the first to break the silence in the ensuing moments of dead silence. "Fr…Frank…would you check me out? I think I must have hit…my head on the deck…topside."
"Only if…if you check…me out first," stammered Frank, still not believing what he just saw. "Maybe, I should put myself on report…medical report…that is…"
"Then…you two…did see, what I saw?" asked Cookie, not really relieved. "Those two…torped…torpedoes just appeared there? Right?"
Frank snapped out of his stupor with Cookie’s last comment. "I don’t know why you’re so surprised, hasn’t food been appearing out of thin air for the last three months?"
"Yeah, that may be true enough," then sarcastically, "I’m just not used to two torpedoes, dropping out of mid air that’s all! We were out of torpedoes, right?" Cookie asked, looking for reassurance. They heard a moan from the bunk behind them.
The men turned as one to the stricken man lying on the bed. His face was ashen in color with his lips compressed in a tight line of pain. Lee’s good hand reached for his injured shoulder and Frank diverted it by tenderly pulling his wrist away while evenly saying, "Easy, skipper, you reinjured your shoulder. You’ll be all right. I know it hurts and as soon as possible, I’ll get you something to kill the pain."
Lee’s thick lashed, hazel eyes opened briefly for a moment, then closed against his wishes. Scarcely recalling what had happened to him, he still nonetheless, urgently countered, forcing his eyes open, "No…no drugs Frank…I’m fine…" He closed his eyes and fell into an uneasy sleep.
"You don’t believe him, do you Frank?" inquired Patterson, unhappy with his captain’s condition.
"Of course not, Pat, but I’ll honor his request for now." At both men’s questioning expressions, he elaborated, "If we get depth charged and sunk, I want him as alert as possible, in case we have to get out this hatch."
That reminded Cookie, that he needed to report the two appearing torpedoes to Mr. Morton…
Lee Crane drifted slowly upward out of a warm, fuzzy sleep. He could smell …rum cake? He inhaled deeply, yup, that’s Cookie’s rum cake. He must’ve finally opened the envelope with the answer to the ‘who done it’ mystery. I wonder who won? I still say the butler did it, even if he was stiff as a board and cold as a stone. No matter, we’ll all get a piece of that cake, it’s part of the celebration for the last day on board this old tub. He smiled at that then, was surprised to find he was going to miss the old gal. I’ll come back and visit you at the museum, I’ll even bring Heather. You’d like her. The submarine bucked a wave, as if in agreement.
He smiled again, letting the cool air of the open forward hatch cool off his heated body. The air conditioner was broke again, totally out of coolant for sure, said Sharkey. He could hear music playing from a local radio station over the address system Sparks had rigged up. Propping himself upon his good elbow, he caught the beginning of the next song, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald? Talk about timing? Of, all the tunes to be listening too, while we’re in the middle of Lake Michigan, at least it isn’t Lake Superior… He belatedly realized November was approaching and it was the anniversary month for the famous wreck. History is at work again…He settled back down and listened to the haunting melody along with the conversation forward…
"Ski, what’s the first thing you’re going to do when we get back to New London?" asked Riley, humming along to the song on the radio. It’d been on nonstop, once Sparks had discovered it worked again.
A sly smile crossed Ski’s face as he put down his girlie magazine. "Call my mom and tell her I love her and then find Shelli and play a little baseball."
"Baseball? With a girl?" asked Riley, a lost look on his face.
Sharkey half a sleep in his bunk, cut in with, "He’s not talking baseball, kid as in the game of, so to speak. More likely, ah, how far did you get last time Ski?"
"Third base," smirked the sonarman. "I hope to make a homerun this time round."
Riley instantly understood, grinned and went back to listening to the haunting melody of the song.
"Girl in every port, huh Ski?" chimed in Patterson. "How do you keep them all straight?"
"I have my ways," bragged Ski, turning a page. "You think I should leave Jennifer taped to the bulkhead?
"Might as well," yawned Sharkey, "She aged in the transfer of time."
Chuckling to himself, Lee rolled over to his right side careful not to bump his sore arm. Frank had finally let him take the sling off for sleeping. I’ll never forget waking up in Ski’s bunk to utter chaos…
The boat had surfaced of it’s own accord. The radio had come blasting back to life in the middle of the dead silence of the boat, literally startling every man on board. The depth charges they’d been expecting couldn’t have made them jump more. Evidently, Sparks had left the volume up full when he’d tried to fix it from when the radio had quit working. The sudden announcement of the call letters of a local radio station in Mackinaw city, complete with the date of Oct. 15th, 1984 and the time of 09:10. GOOD MORNING! had screamed in the men’s shocked ears.
"09:10?" sputtered Cookie. "You mean it’s only been three hours since…since we left? Three hours for three months worth of time in the past?"
Pat had replied, equally bewildered, "It was 23:00 in Japan a few minutes ago, see? Look at my watch." He held his arm out for the other two men to see. "Now…now, we’re back fourteen hours behind them?"
Once the shockwave had worn off, a whoop and holler had gone up that was probably heard clear back to Japan. At the jubilant smiles on the men’s faces, with dancing literally in the corridor, Lee could imagine what it had been like when the war had ended. Much to Frank’s protests, he’d gotten up during the melee and headed for the control room not even bothering to don fresh clothes. Barefoot and still wrapped in a blanket, he’d entered the nerve center of the boat, nearly giving Chip a heart attack.
"Lee?" he said speechless. A few moments of utter silence then "LEE?! You’re…you’re a…alive!" He had the pleasure of assuring his exec and best friend that he was indeed a live breathing person in the flesh. A back pounding welcome had been his answer to the question he’d innocently asked, "Why, did you think I’d gone to a watery grave in the deep blue sea?"
Things started happening fast after that. They soon found themselves on the surface in Lake Michigan, during the storm that they’d left earlier. The air conditioner was broke, the radio was fixed, the squawk box worked, the rail was back on the bridge, the food Cookie had stored so carefully in the galley was back and not eaten, along with the four torpedoes (forward and aft) minus their firing caps and powder. Ski’s pinup girl picture was the most peculiar. It was yellow with age as was the notebook Lee had kept in his pocket. Each time he opened it, he thought the pages of words, he and Riley had so meticulously recorded would disappear, but so far, they were still there, intact...
"Lee? You awake, yet?" inquired Chip, with a snicker in his tone, moving the curtain aside and coming into the small room. "It’s almost time. We’ll be in port at Manitowoc within the hour." It was a rare occasion, that Chip had seen his skipper take a nap in the middle of the afternoon. He’d taken the logbook to their stateroom earlier and Chip suspected he’d fallen asleep reading it again.
"I’m on my feet," sighed Lee, rolling out of bed. He grabbed the hated sling from the bunk where’d he thrown it and Chip helped him put it on his stiff shoulder. Grabbing the war patrol logbook, they headed down to the men’s mess with Sharkey and the ratings, bringing up the rear.
Three rum cakes with coffee were laid out on the table, so that each man could have a hefty piece. Gaining the attention of the men upon entering, Crane grinned at his men’s eager faces. "Well, men, this has been a long time coming…"
The men chuckled and snickered at his pun. Harker didn’t get it. "What do you mean, sir? Coming to the end of the cruise or this story?"
A few more flippant comments and Clarke batted him playfully on the arm with his fist as Crane said in all seriousness, "Why the story, of course." He cast his gaze over to Cookie. "You do have who did it, I assume?"
To Lee’s surprise, Cookie hadn’t opened the envelope that Heather had given him before she’d been whisked off to his mother’s. Sharkey started cutting the cake as Ski served the pieces. The men waited in anticipation, while Cookie tore open the envelope he held in his hand. The idea at the time was that one man would win the cake, but in view of all that had happened to them, the men decided to share and make it a celebration. After all, they did have a successful war patrol. Right?
Clearing his throat, Cookie began to read…
"Halt, you’re under arrest!" yelled Police detective, Lt. Bekrod to the fleeing suspect.
He would have made good his escape, except for the officer’s partner cut him off at the front entrance. Now, the squirming man was loudly protesting his innocence in the main foyer, as Sgt. Gunnery clamped on the handcuffs.
The group of former suspects spilled out of the parlor and Mrs. Savage cried, "He can’t be the one, my word! He’s…he’s dead! I saw him on the ground, stone cold and purple as a plum!"
At this point, the men all groaned and Lee gave Chip a knowing smirk. "Continue on, Cookie."
Gaining the attention of the men once more, Cookie continued…
"My dear madam," said the detective, rolling his eyes, "This I assure you is indeed the man. He killed his twin, to make it look like he was dead. Thus, making it easier to kill off the rest of the heirs. You, my dear woman was next on his list."
Appalled, she exclaimed, "Me? But…but I don’t understand," stammered the distraught woman. "If he was dead how would he claim the money?"
"You see, madam, he had an accomplice." The officer looked straight at the maid, Cindy Lou. "You too, are under arrest."
The maid started bawling hysterically, "I told you it wouldn’t work, Johnny! I knew he’d figure it out!" Great wails were heard and Johnny yelled, "Shut up woman. Officer, take me away! I’ve had enough of this woman’s harping. I confess, I did it!"
When the uniformed officers lead them away, Mrs. Savage implored one more time, putting a hand on the detective’s arm. "Why Lt. Why?"
"That is simple madam, after you died, they were next in line to inherit everything from your, ahem, late husband." At her indrawn breath, he finished, "Besides, the butler always does it."
The men all guffawed at that. Wallets appeared, money exchanged hands, along with good-hearted ribbing and bad jokes. After a while, the noise level came down and the men finished their cake. Sharkey, spying the war log under his captain’s elbow, pointedly asked, "Skipper, you never did tell us what happened to the Sea Myth when that destroyer was breathing down her neck."
"I have the story right here," solemnly replied Crane, putting his coffee cup aside and opening the book. He instantly had all the men’s attention. "I’ll read it from the log..."
23:10, the tin can made physical contact with us. Tearing noises were heard from the conning tower. Luckily, we were rammed instead of depth charged. The seas were rough and we headed to the bottom as quickly as possible. Reducing to one-third speed, rigged for silent running, we crept along evading.
Crane flipped a page.
23:18, still no depth charges. Can’t take a fathom sounding for fear of giving away our position. Continued to move and evade at one-third speed, heading deeper into the Pacific. Leveling off at 350-feet. Casualties from surface battle. Eight wounded, two critical, one dead. Gunner 3rd class, Risty Rudzinski. Age 19.
Lee benignly glimpsed his men’s respectful expressions, all lost in thought, remembering…
Jan. 16, 1945 00:19 screws diminished. He’s moving off. We were lucky.
00:43, stand down battle stations. We’re now able to freely move about and patch up the wounded.
Harker dropped a cup to the deck, shattering the silence and got several dirty looks from his crewmates in the process.
06:34, morning twilight, surface for the first time. Opening the conning tower hatch we find it intact with attack scope out of commission. Climbing topside we find attack scope bent over in a 50-degree angle over the forecastle.
07:00, buried Risty Rudzinski at sea wrapped in an American Flag.
07:25, set a new course for Midway and feel lucky…lucky to be alive.
The Sea Myth, soon after made a course correction and followed the USS Badger, a car ferry, running four times daily between Ludington MI and Manitowoc WI, into port. She broke off there and came in to dock behind the USS Cobia (SS 245) at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum. Within an hour’s time, she was officially turned over to the museum owners and the men had all disembarked, except Capt. Crane.
Lee took his time walking through the old silver lady, reverently touching her bulkheads, caressing the periscope shears, patting the conning tower’s hull, remembering what it felt like during the heat of battle. Ghosts, memories and lessons learned, he now understood what History had so eloquently taught him. He and the men had found a new respect for the Veterans of Former Wars. The sacrifices they had made, in the name of Freedom, had been selfless acts of love and loyalty. He walked one last time down her hollow decks, coming to the brow where he turned and smartly saluted the ensign. A cool breeze gently floated over him and for a fraction of a second, a ghost sailor appeared behind the flag on the cigarette deck and Lee heard him whisper, "Well done, son, that was a job well done."
Hours later, the men arrived back in New London on a specially chartered flight. Adm. Nelson met them at the airport and Lee soon found himself in the FS1 headed to his mother’s beach house for a couple days of rest and relaxation. With Nelson expertly piloting the flying sub, Lee described all the events of their remarkable journey.
"Well, Lee, for a few hours there, we had lost contact with you on the homing device board." Nelson paused a moment, then said, "In fact, it was between the exact times you stated you were, ah back in time. Turns out," he banked into a long curve, heading southeast, "there was a solar storm, covering the atmosphere where the satellite is located."
"You think that had something to do with our disappearance?" asked Crane, taking out the notebook from his shirt pocket. He thumbed through the yellowed pages, reassuring himself the words were still there. Yes, they’re here. It wasn’t a dream.
The admiral shrugged his shoulders. "Who knows, Lee, we’ve seen stranger things happen." He completed the banked turn, leveling out and watching the altimeter, then softly added with a knowing smile, "It wasn’t as easy as you thought it would be, was it?"
Lee flushed at the admiral’s insight, "No, sir. It wasn’t. It was just as hard, commanding the old sub, as it is the Seaview. In fact," he grinned, recalling a few fond memories, "I found the Sea Myth to be in a class of her own with a totally different personality. They each have their own set of problems to contend with."
"Humph, like most women," smiled the admiral, remembering when he was a young sailor on the diesel subs.
They sat in companionable silence for a while with Lee fidgeting with the strap to his shoulder sling.
"Shoulder bothering you?"
"No, not really, the strap keeps digging into my neck," he readjusted it by settling it more comfortably on his good shoulder. "Frank threatened me with dire consequences if I took it off. Doc sure taught him well," he grimaced.
"Humph," groaned the admiral, "That is what we pay them for…"
"I suppose," mumbled the captain. He idly watched the scenery below for a few minutes, hoping the admiral would bring up his wife and mother. He was dying to know how they’d gotten along. If your mother doesn’t like me, will you still love me? Finally, his curiosity getting the better of him, Lee asked, "How are things on the home front?" he saw the admiral check his watch and wondered why he always seemed to do that when he mentioned anything about his wife.
Nelson privately mused, thirty minutes, looks like Chip owes me a steak this time. Hmm, we’re even, then again, I guess we aren’t. Lee’s gained some weight, that’ll make Doc happy. He smiled that secret smile of his. Looks like Chip and Cookie carried out our little plan perfectly. I’ll have to get Doc to cough up his share of the reward money for those tickets to the Broadway play and the dinner I promised them. Humph, Chip told me Lee still hasn’t figured out who was behind the original plot to get him to eat, nor will he ever. None of us are ever going to reveal our part in this conspiracy, not unless we want to get keelhauled, yours truly included.
With a twinkle in his eye, Nelson leisurely apprised him of the past few weeks. "Seaview’s refit has gone wonderfully…" he bit his lip to keep from grinning, knowing full well what Lee wanted to hear. He went on in great detail describing all her new features and equipment. Lee showed an avid interest in the boat, for she was his lady, his mistress of the sea. He asked all the appropriate questions and they talked shop for quite a while, covering everything the admiral needed to discuss. Finally, Nelson said, "Heather’s had quite a time of it at your mother’s."
"Oh? She didn’t try lighting another fire, did she?" inquired Lee, worrying. He heard the admiral laugh and his stomach flipped.
"No, your mother lit into her pretty good for that stunt, raked her over the goals real well. Of course, it was an accident and later she apologized. Seems, you have her temperament." Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Lee’s smirk of chagrin. "Lee, relax, she didn’t cause too many problems. Ron’s hand has healed from the fire and his broken ankle is on the mend."
"Ron broke his ankle?" asked Lee, perplexed and half afraid to hear the answer.
Nelson slowly started the approach to land the FS1 in the water in front of Lee’s mother’s house. The turbines whined as they descended, hitting some turbulence, causing the craft to shake. He sighed, "I guess, I have a story to tell you…"
When he got done, Lee was more apprehensive than ever. "Let me get this straight Admiral. Heather let in the neighbor’s 20lb tomcat, which instantly lunged for the cockatiel my mother had just let out of the cage. The bird flew to the top of the drapes with the cat in hot pursuit, climbing the curtains?"
"Hmm, yes, the cat ripped the drapes when they couldn’t support his weight and he landed on an antique glass table, leaving a nice crack I might add."
"So, what’s this got to do with Ron and his broken ankle?" asked Lee, nervously twisting his ring. I should of known there’d be trouble.
"Well, there’s more, of course," there always more with Heather, "Your mother started chasing after the cat with a broom and Heather opened the door to shoo the cat out, when inadvertently, she let the bird outside instead. Heather was mortified, of course and chased after the bird. Your mother, not knowing about the bird yet, caught the cat and bodily threw him out of the house."
Nelson paused a moment to catch his breath and brought the FS1 down in the water a mile from shore. "Now, the cat spied his dinner, flying around with Heather chasing after it. By then, your mother realized her mistake and started squawking about her poor baby." Nelson started laughing, picturing all of it in his mind. Ron had relayed it too him earlier, as had Heather. "Now, Lee, you have to understand. Heather was naturally upset for she couldn’t catch the cockatoo and your mother was ready to draw and quarter her."
"Admiral, I thought it was a cockatiel?"
"Hmm, it was…" he got an alarmed look from Lee who, cut in horrified, "The cat didn’t kill it, did he?" His heart went out to his wife, for he knew what his mom could be like, especially over that dumb bird. Again, the question Heather had asked the last night aboard Seaview floated through his mind. I can still see the fear in her eyes, not that I wouldn’t love her, but that my mom would reject her. Never knowing the gentleness of a mother’s love, she’s no doubt working double time to make my mom like her. Only it’s backfiring.
Nelson shook his head to clear his thoughts and started the story, again. "…I mean, it is…damn!" He cleared his throat, as he maneuvered the sub closer to the beach. "Let me finish! The damn cockatiel flew up into a tree with the tomcat climbing up after it. Heather, of course, knowing how displeased your mom was with her, went up after the bird. Now, poor Ron, standing on the sidelines was caught in the middle of two strong willed women. Your mom was having kittens and Heather was in a complete quandary over the whole sorry mess. So, doing his duty, he…"
"Let me guess," interrupted Lee. "Ron went up after Heather."
Silence reined and Lee didn’t know if he should be alarmed, happy or sad. Finally, it was the picture of his wife, climbing up the tree, following a hungry tomcat. A tomcat who only had lunch on his mind, in the way of a tasty snack with his exasperated crewman, trying to keep up with all of them that decided his fate. A large bubble of laughter welled up from deep inside him and hysteria won out.
The admiral joined him and afterward explained the rest. "It seems, Heather made it to the top of the tree and almost reached the cat who was taking careful aim at the bird. She grabbed the cat, which dug his claws into her shoulder, startling the bird, which flew back to the house to land on your mother’s head. Heather let go of the branch and down she went right on top of Ron who was behind her. The branch he was leaning on snapped and they all slid down the tree, landing in a heap on the ground. Unfortunately, his ankle was underneath them and it snapped clean in two."
Nelson lifted a hand up to his neck and scratched, "I ah, got there just after it happened. Your mom was alternately berating Heather, cooing to her cockatoo, er cockatiel, who kept repeating, "Oh, the poor putty cat, Oh, the poor putty cat." He took another breath, "At the same time she was trying to see how badly hurt Ron was, who was rolling on the ground in obvious pain, with Heather in tears comforting him, still holding the damn cat, which was howling up a storm."
"Wh…what happened then?"
A few yards from the shore, Nelson swung the FS1 around and beached the craft. "Well, I got Rose’s car out of the garage, while your mother put her bird back in it’s cage and we all took Ron to the emergency room where they fixed him up." He shut the power off to the turbines, unfastened his safety belt and throat mic, hanging it on a hook that was askew. "Lee, you got a dime?"
"A dime?" inquired Lee, reaching into his pocket with his good hand, pulling out the loose change. He opened the palm of his hand and let the admiral pick for his other hand was still awkwardly in the sling.
Nelson fingered his way through the change, noticing the brass colored pin with a tarnished star. Picking it up and examining it, he marveled, "This is an USO pin, I haven’t seen one of these in years. Megan had one with two stars just like it in her jewelry box." He gave Lee the pin back and picked up the dime, asking as he inserted it into a screw and tightened the bracket mount. "Those pins are quite the collector’s item, that one looks to be in good shape. How did you acquire it?"
"I found it on Ford Island in the sand." He was about to explain about the ghosts, when Nelson handed back his dime and gave him an odd look.
"So, you were really there, back in time?" Lee nodded affirmatively and Nelson went on, "How are you and the men going to explain it?"
Releasing his own safety belt and pocketing the change, Lee replied, "We decided to keep quiet. Just like all the other fantastic events we’ve witnessed through the years. It boils down to one question. Who would believe it?"
Nelson laughed, "Good point, so mum’s the word," agreed Nelson as both men got up from their seats and headed to the aft hatch. Nelson swung it opened and stepped down onto the beach. He looked up towards the deck, seeing Ron, his ankle in a walking cast standing next to Rose Crane, as they waited by the rail observing them. "I wonder where the devil my daughter is?"
"Probably creating mischief somewhere," grumbled Lee, as he tried to comb his unruly hair. The sling was hampering his progress and he angrily worked at taking the hated thing off. "Admiral, go on ahead, I’ll be right there."
Nelson, not giving it another thought, started up the long wooden stairway, which lead to the back of the beach house. A redheaded woman, carrying an oversize cat, came into view at the head of the stairs. Upon seeing the FS1 and her father, she dropped the cat and hurried down the stairs almost falling in the process.
"Father," she gushed, wrapping her arms tightly around his back and laying her head on his chest. "Oh, Father, I’ve missed you so!"
Nelson laughed full and hearty, "Heather, I was only here a few days ago. What’s the matter?" A shadow crossed her lovely face and her eyes refused to meet his. Oh boy, what did she do now?
Picking inanely at a button on his shirt and turning a bit red, she blurted out. "Nothing against Mrs. Crane, but I want to go home, father. I miss you and my husband and the guys and Seaview and…and…haven’t you heard anything more from Lee? It’s been ages since I heard from him and I know communication is sparse, and I know I’d promised to be patient, but damn it, it’s been forever and I want to go home!" She brought her head up, her eye’s full of unshed tears and Nelson could plainly see that she was homesick.
"Your wish is my command, my lady," teased Nelson, with a grin. At her wistful look of hope, he bowed and pointed with a wave of his hand towards the flying sub. No more words were needed, for she saw the profile of her husband as he came through the hatch and with a squeal of delight she was off again.
Lee had taken the hated shoulder sling off and tossed it on the bunk. Frank and Doc aren’t here and if I’m careful…that plan ended as soon as he stepped down from the flying sub and heard his wife shout his name. He’d seen her come flying down the stairs into her father’s welcome arms, with the gigantic tomcat following in her wake, meowing up a squall at being so rudely dropped. Now, the redheaded, fireball of energy was headed in his direction at full steam. Smiling broadly, he met her half way, snatching her up into a tight embrace when they came together on the sand. He let her down easy, giving her a long kiss as he did so.
"Oh, Lee, there’s no place I’d rather be. I always feel so safe in your arms," she murmured, giving him another hug and burying her face in the midst of his chest. She inhaled the scent that was only her husband’s, the smell of the sea combined with his cologne and body fragrance.
"I would hope no one took my place," he teased, taking her hand and heading to the stairs. Looking up he saw three faces watching them. Mom looks happy to see me…and Ron…? Ron looks relieved…
"Humph, as if anyone ever could," she countered back in all seriousness, walking with him. "Lee?" she hesitated a moment, wanting to ask him what all he’d heard about her time here, but was nervous about bringing it up. She felt him tense and her heart sunk. He knows! Well, hell… she took a deep breath, better to get it over with and find out where you stand. It can’t be to bad, he did kiss me…
"Lee, I did everything wrong from the moment I got here and I know…" he cut her off with another kiss. She melted in his arms not totally understanding his motives, but accepted the fact that now was not the time to bring up her misbehavior.
The point might have been lost on Heather, but it wasn’t lost on the people, standing on the deck, observing them. Rose Crane turned to Admiral Nelson and simply stated, "They really do love each other, don’t they? It wasn’t just out of honor and duty, that he’d married her?"
"Is that what you thought?" he calmly asked, not taking his eyes off the two people he cared most about in the world.
"I didn’t know what to think, Admiral. Oh, Lee told me about her life, so to speak, but he didn’t say much about why he married her. But, the love is there, plain as day, and I can forgive her anything, knowing that."
Nelson noticed the softening of her eyes. Putting a comforting arm around her shoulders, he gently sighed, "Later, let me tell you a story…"
Lee came through the back door and stepped onto the deck with a warm piece of homemade apple pie. He sat down in one of the deckchairs, cocked his feet up on the rail and looked out towards the sea, relaxing for the first time in weeks. In the distance a convoy, consisting of a couple of cruisers, a frigate, an aircraft carrier, two destroyers and a nuclear submarine, were leisurely making their way out to the ocean. Maneuvers more than likely. In the background, through the screened sliding door, he could hear the timbre of the admiral’s sonorous voice, as he told the women a story about a whale. "This wasn’t just an ordinary whale, it was huge…"
Things can’t get more American than this, mom, baseball, hotdogs and apple pie. He grinned to himself as he watched the fleet of ships come closer. I’m at my mom’s, we had hotdogs for lunch, Yankee pot roast for dinner, a wonderful dessert of delicious apple pie and…I even got to play a little baseball with Heather. Yes, life doesn’t get better than this…
The convoy was almost in front of the beach house and they turned to starboard as one, speeding up in the process. The nuclear sub, which had been trailing them, dived, leaving behind a lone, old Gato class submarine. Not noticing her at first, he took an immediate interest in her. She glided along, fighting the waves as they swept over her bull nose and crashed on the deck, spraying the bridge with salt water. In reflection, Lee could still feel the vibrations of the Sea Myth’s planks beneath his feet, the smell of diesel fuel mixed with black smoke from her straining engines and the strength of her heart, as she carried them into battle. History had done well by her, for she fought with all the spirit she possessed in the name of Freedom. The boat was abreast of the beach house now, her ensign, Old Glory, proudly waving. He stood up and saluted her with pride in his heart and thankful, so very thankful, for all the privileges he had today.
I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free.
And I won’t forget the men who died who gave that right to me.
And I gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today.
Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land…
God Bless the USA…
Credits:*US Navy Photo: Silversides (SS 236), a Gato class submarine, in 'full dress', in Muskegon, Mich, now a national landmark and museum.
Proud to be an American sung by Lee Greenwood. Songs of PolyGram International, Inc (BMI) Music Corporation of America inc. (BMI)
Anchors Aweigh Composed by Captain Charles A Zimmerman 1906
The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, sung by Gordon Lightfoot, published by Moose Music CAPAC
The Blind Fight, by C.M. Stewart
*** Direct quote from the book Submarine, by Capt. Edward L Beach. Capt. Beach was a plank owner on Trigger. He was detached from her after the 10th war patrol. Trigger was sunk in March of 1945 on her 13th war patrol.
Other books by Edward L. Beach taught me much about the inter workings of old diesel submarines, especially the TDC and TBT. I heavily referenced them for accuracy. No one tells a story like Captain Beach.
Run Silent, Run Deep
Dust on the Sea
Salt & Steel, Reflections of a Submariner
A special thanks to Harry (yes, a real submariner, who served aboard an old diesel sub) for his patience with all the endless questions I asked him, (and boy were they a lot)
The U.S. Submarine Service was credited with sinking fifty-five percent of all Japanese ships sunk during World War II.
USS Cobia can be toured all year round at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum.
The USS Utah is a little known memorial west of Ford Island in Pearl Harbor. The ashes were of a twin baby girl named Nancy Lynne Wagner, who died 3 days after she was born. The story was true, as written above. The article was originally printed by the Associated Press and written by Janis L Magin.
The stories of the Sea Wolf and Tang are also true, but greatly simplified in this story.
The battleships California, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Tennessee were all present in Pearl Harbor when she was bombed Dec 7, 1941. They were repaired and sent back out to sea.
The Arizona became a memorial and can be viewed in Pearl Harbor year around.
The Okalahoma was stricken on Sept 23, 1944 and sold for scrap on Dec. 5, 1946. Point of interest. After the bombing at Pearl Harbor, holes were bored into her hull to get the trapped men out. The men had survived by finding pockets of air. When they drilled into the hull to pull a man out, he would survive, but the air pockets would diminish and others were drowned.
The Archerfish submarine did sink the mighty Japanese aircraft carrier Shinano. The ship could have survived, but the Japanese crew was improperly trained and unable to handle the crisis.
Quoted in part out of The Terrible Hours, by Peter Maas. (Please see below)
A faulty valve in the intake sank the Squalus on May 23,1939. Special note of interest. The submarine Sculpin (a sister ship) was the first sub on the scene when the Squalus went down and she stood by the stricken submarine throughout her ordeal. Later, during the war on November 18,1943, the Sculpin was lead into a trap where she was forced to a surface battle with a Japanese destroyer. A shell exploded on her bridge and conning tower killing the captain and four officers. Having no choice, the diving officer, (he was the last officer on board) gave orders to abandon and scuttle the sub. The remaining men were taken prisoner aboard the destroyer and later transferred to an aircraft carrier.
Now, here’s the twist of fate. The Squalus had be salvaged and recommissioned on May 15, 1940 as the Sailfish. The last former crew member from her previous sinking in 1939 had transferred off to another submarine before she left Pearl Harbor. December of 1943, the Squalus / Sailfish was lying in wait north of Truk, the main Japanese naval base in the Pacific, to intercept any enemy traffic. They had surfaced at 17:45 hours and their log read, "Surfaced in typhoon weather. Tremendous seas, 40-50 knot winds, driving rain and visibility, after twilight, varying from zero to 500 yards." The Squalus / Sailfish picked up a convoy and tracked it for ten hours, firing torpedo after torpedo. In the morning, they found the aircraft carrier sitting motionless in the water, where they finished her off with three more torpedoes.
What they didn’t know was that imprisoned on board the carrier were twenty-one survivors from the Sculpin. Only one of them survived, a sailor named George Rocek, who escaped when the carrier sank.
The Scorpion was lost on May 27, 1968 by what they believe was an internal explosion caused by an active torpedo or as submariners call it a "hot run." (This is what Sharkey had referred to when he’d climbed into his bunk) They executed a 180-degree turn. This was supposed to trigger a fail-safe device on a torpedo, shutting it down. Unfortunately, this time it didn’t work and 99 men went down with the submarine.
Tokyo Rose, was born Ikuko Toguri (nicknamed Iva) in Los Angeles on July 4, 1916. She graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles with a degree in zoology in January of 1940. She sailed to Japan (without a passport) on July 5, 1941 where she became trapped there during the war. Waiting out the end of the war, she took a job as a typist for Radio Tokyo that was to bring her notoriety and eventually result in her conviction for treason in the United States. Her program, known as the Zero Hour, became part of a Japanese psychological warfare designed to lower the morale of the United States Armed Forces. Ironically, it was the United States troops that had given her the name Tokyo Rose, for on the radio program she was known as Orphan Ann, Orphan Annie, Your favorite enemy, Ann or Your favorite playmate and enemy, Ann.
On October 6, 1949 she was convicted of treason, fined $10,000.00 and given a 10-year prison sentence. She served 6 years, 2 months of the 10 years, for her propaganda radio shows. President Ford pardoned her on January 19, 1977 before he left office.
The SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank on November 10, 1975 in Lake Superior.
* In regards to Restitution, 3rd in a series, Darla M Poulos
** In regards to Payback, 2nd in a series, Darla M Poulos.
*** In regards to Consequences, 1st in a series, Darla M Poulos
Very special THANKS for my beta reader who prefers to remain anonymous. She spent hours working with me on this story. She said, "It was all in fun." I said, "It’s a job well done!"