Life in a Steel Pipe

Life in a Steel Pipe

by Bob ‘Dex’ Armstrong

My daughter said, “Dad, it looks like all you did was have fun…” I guess it looks that way to folks who never did what we did for a living. Most people have no idea what life was like inside one of those steel monsters. People always ask… “When you were underwater, could you see out?” They have the idea that submarine duty is like riding a glass bottom boat in Tarpon Springs, Florida… We just enjoyed life and watched fish go scooting by.

Walt Disney caused folks to think like that. In his rendition of the Jules Verne version of submarine service, his boat had a big glass window… Folks sat in big, overstuffed red velvet chairs, smoked imported tobacco, drank sherry, and watched the crew go out some magic hatch and play grab-ass all over the ocean floor. That boys and girls, is pure, unadulterated bullshit… Strictly 20,000 Leagues of Grade A horse manure.

You can’t see out… It’s hot… It stinks… You’re cooped up in less moving around room than you have in your garage. You share your living space with very active, one-inch long, multi-legged wildlife and 80 two-legged critters.

Without stupid activity, life could become unacceptably boring. There were times when life was so uneventful, you could actually hear your toenails growing.

So we did nutty stuff. We spent hours thinking up stupid stuff to do. It was either that, or a trip to the loony bin. When you lived in the North Atlantic, the only circus that came to town was the one you created in your head. We had to manufacture any fun we had.

For example… Only boat sailors will think this is funny… Why? Because they did it. If any submariner tells you he never pulled this one… He’s lying.

When you got some JG or fresh ‘out of the cabbage patch’ lieutenant standing the diving watch… You waited. You waited until he had trimmed the boat. Then by twos and threes, you made your way to the forward room… You waited some more. Then all of you moved by ones… Twos… Until all of you were in the after room. The boat would take on weird angles… The diving officer compensated… The trim manifold operator laughed as he responded to instructions…

“Pump 500 lbs. aft… No, forward… Wait… Make that after trim… Forward trim… Belay my last… Make that zero bubble! More dive on the stern planes… What the hell’s going on? What’s happening??? Boat’s really acting weird…”

It never took long for the COB to get a handle on what was going on.

There was another outbreak of crew lunacy on Requin… Most possibly the best… At the very least, the most memorable.

If you visit the Requin in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she’s sitting out in the river in front of Three Rivers Stadium. If you go through the boat, you will find a little aluminum fish dangling over the control room chart table… Hanging down on a bead chain with the legend ‘ODIN’ die-stamped in the aluminum.

They’ve got tour guides… Non-qual wanna-be fellows who make up answers for John Q. Public to cover what they have not the slightest clue about. There are as many stories about that little fish as there are tour guides.

Here is the straight dope. I was there… I was one of the idiots involved in it and had a front row seat in the “I will shoot the next Viking” major ass chewing.

Stuart was the primary instigator… A major player and father of that aluminum fish. I am not ratting on a fellow shipmate… Far from it. At reunions, Stuart is a celebrity… He starred in a video, signs autographs and I am told, will contract to father children for anyone wishing to have a certified diesel boat maniac in their family tree. Knowing Stu, it would probably fall out of the tree and land on its head. Stuart deserves the credit line on this one.

It was winter… Up north, cold as a witches’ tit… We had rigged in all the brass monkeys. Before we singled up and took in the brow, we got this film, The Vikings. Great flick. Some other boat in SUBRON SIX gave it up, as I recall, because we got orders that didn’t allow time for a movie run.

We showed it the first time, the second day out… Good movie. We then saw it six or seven times in a row. Weird story… If you haven’t seen it, rent the video. Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Ernest Borgnine, and I think Curtis’ wife at the time… Some good lookin’ blonde.

The Vikings were a ratty-ass looking bunch. They did a lot of drinking… Fondled a lot of blonde, blue-eyed women and went to sea on a regular basis. It sounded familiar…

One night, someone announced that we, the crew of the Requin, had to be the spiritual descendents of the Vikings. WHAM!! In that instant, we all became Vikings. Everyone spoke in Scandinavian, Minnesotan, Inger Stevens dialect.

“Ja Sven, you see da cheef? He’s da beeg fella wit da beeg moudt!”

Everybody got into it. The skipper became Ragnar… The exec, Einar… We turned our foul weather jackets inside-out so the brown, hairy looking fake fur stuff was on the outside. We made cardboard horns and stapled them to both sides of our watch caps. When we passed each other going fore and aft, we banged our chests and yelled, “O-O-O-DIN!” (Taken from what they did to greet each other in the film).

In the movie, this old crone, old wrinkled wise woman, gives Tony Curtis this fish made from a ‘falling star’ i.e. meteorite… It was magnetic and was considered to be major magic because it always returned to point north. With this fish always pointing north, the film had Viking ships cutting through pea soup fog and running back and forth between Norway and England like a cross-town bus. Stu went down in the pump room and built us an aluminum fish and die stamped “ODIN” on it.

He hung it from the MC box over the control room chart table… It dangled and swung back and forth. Every time some clown from the after battery would pass through the control room, he would give it a little ‘start swinging’ tap. This eventually drove the Chief of the Boat stark raving nuts! He would foam at the mouth… Get red… Veins would pop out of his neck… Words like, “God save us from these unruly children” and “In the Old Navy, the old man would rake your useless butts over the coals.”

Why did ODIN stay where he was? Simple… The skipper liked it.

As time passed and we became more and more ‘Viking’, the exec put on his “Enough is enough” voice and announced over the 21MC that the crew of Requin had just gotten out of the Viking business… All stop… Don’t answer anymore Viking bells… Over… El stoppo.

Ten minutes later, some idiot tapped into the 21MC and whispered,


The exec lit us up like a Christmas tree. From then on, we looked around for officers before giving each other the silent Odin salute.

When we came in and the exec opened his vertical uniform locker and removed his ‘hit the beach’ hat, it had grown a pair of cardboard horns. It had to be a miracle because the COB used everything but truth serum to get the rats to rat on whoever did it. I think the Chief finally recognized that the leadership of Requin may have pissed Odin off.

All the exec said was,

“You sonuvabitches never comprehend when the game’s over and it’s time to pick up your toys and put them away!”

He was a deep thinker… We had no idea what in the hell the man was trying to communicate… We knew if he was really serious, he wouldn’t be standing topside talking to the OD of the USS Grampus wearing a hat with cardboard horns attached to it.

Life was uneventful so we fought boredom any way we could. Most of the time submarine sailors won.

Forty years later, a group of late middle age bastards stood in the control room and watched Stu, the originator, replace ‘ODIN’… And we yelled, “O-O-O-DIN…” and banged our chests. We were young again and someone in the crew’s mess yelled,

“Jeezus, the idiots are at it again!!”





I found this somewhere on Facebook. Like all writers, I am fascinated by what one can do with words.

Paraprosdokians, are figures of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected and frequently humorous. Winston Churchill loved them by the way. Here are a few…………..

1. Where there’s a will, I want to be in it.

2. The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it’s still on my list.

3. Since light travels faster than sound, some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

4. If I agreed with you, we’d both be wrong.

5. We never really grow up; we only learn how to act in public.

6. War does not determine who is right – only who is left..

7. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

8. They begin the evening news with ‘Good Evening,’ then proceed to tell you why it isn’t.

9. To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.

10. Buses stop in bus stations. Trains stop in train stations. On my desk is a workstation.

11. I thought I wanted a career. Turns out I just wanted paychecks.

12. I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn’t work that way. So I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness.

13. I didn’t say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.

14. Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street with a bald head and a beer gut, and still think they are sexy.

15. Behind every successful man is his woman. Behind the fall of a successful man is usually another woman.

16. A clear conscience is the sign of a fuzzy memory.

17. You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.

18. Money can’t buy happiness, but it sure makes misery easier to live with.

19. I used to be indecisive. Now I’m not so sure.

20. To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.

21. Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

22. Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.

23. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.

24. I am neither for nor against apathy.

25. Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.

26. I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather, not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car.

27. How is it one careless match can start a forest fire, but it takes a whole box to start a campfire?

28. Dolphins are so smart that within a few weeks of captivity, they can train people to stand on the very edge of the pool and throw them fish.

29. The voices in my head may not be real, but they have some good ideas!

30. Always borrow money from a pessimist. They won’t expect it back.

31. Hospitality: making your guests feel like they’re at home, even if you wish they were.

32. A bus is a vehicle that runs twice as fast when you are after it as when you are in it.

33. When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the Fire Department usually uses water.

34. Some cause happiness wherever they go. Others whenever they go.


The Fireship

The Fireship

As I walked out one evening upon a night’s career,

I spied a lofty clipper ship and to her I did steer.

She hoisted up her sig-a-nals which I so quickly knew,

And when she saw me bunting up she immediately hove to.

She had a dark and a roving eye, and her hair hung downs in ring-a-lets.

She was a nice girl, a decent girl, but one of the rakish kind.


“Oh sir, won’t you excuse me for staying out so late,

And if my parents heard of this, then sad would be my fate.

My father, he’s a minister, a good and righteous man,

My mother she’s a Methodist; I do the best I can.”

She had a dark and a roving eye, etc.


I eyed that girl both up and down for I’d heard such talk before,

And when she moored herself to me I knew she was a whore.

But still she was a pretty girl; she shyly hung her head.

“I’ll go along with you, my lad,” was what to me she said.


I took her to a tav-er-in and treated her with wine.

Little did I think that she was one of the rakish kind.

I handled her, I dandled her, and much to my surprise,

Turns out she was a fireship rigged up in a disguise.


So up the stairs and into bed I took that maiden fair.

I fired off my carronade into her thatch of hair.

I fired off a broadside until my shot was spent,

Then rammed that fireship’s waterline until my ram was bent.


Then in the morning she was gone, my money was gone too.

My clothes she’d hocked, my watch she stole, my seabag bid adieu.

But she’d left behind a souvenir, I’d have you all to know.

And in nine days, to my surprise, there was fire down below.


So come all you good whaler boys that sail the wintry seas,

And come all you good sailor boys, a warning take by me:

Beware of lofty clipper ships, they’ll be the ruin of you,

For she not only made me walk the plank, she set fire to me mainmast, too.


Are naval vessels safer at sea or in port during a hurricane or tsunami?

Are naval vessels safer at sea or in port during a hurricane or tsunami?


Brion Boyles QMC (SW) (Ret)

Custom model builder, owner (1997-present)

Tsunami or hurricane, a ship will certainly be susceptible to damage while pier-side or anchored in a harbor. Not only is her own maneuverability restricted to pick her way or or avoid beating up against a quay or pier, but she may be damaged by OTHER vessels breaking their moorings and mucking about. A tsunami could pitch her onto the beach or against obstructions, not to mention the drastic run of water retreating OUT to sea (often exposing the floor ) BEFORE a tsunami waves strikes. Such a quick grounding, potentially breaking her back, and then sudden re-floating without time to repair could easily be deadly for any ship. A harbor emergency may stretch available tug boats to the limit, and a vessel might easily be blown aground in a hurricane. One such vessel I served aboard was blown aground in Apra harbor, Guam during a typhoon, had her propellor shaft bent and was eventually scrapped.

Smart mariners know how to safely navigate typhoons at sea. I myself encountered nine typhoons at sea in one season, on a U.S. Navy LST in the 1980’s. There are “dangerous” and “less dangerous” areas to try and ride one out a storm. Additionally, smart seamanship can reduce the effects of the storm on the vessel’s ride. A vessel has little or no chance to move once caught in port. Therefore, most would put to sea to avoid being banged about in the tight confines of a harbor.

There is one exception: Sasebo, Japan is the world’s safest “typhoon haven”. Reached by a series of zig-zags thru several high, cliff-sided approaches and surrounded by high hills, I have often ridden out such weather there. The sum total of the storm was a bit of high wind, 3– 4-foot waves and a lot of rain.


Donald K. Ross

Donald K. Ross


Donald Kirby Ross (December 8, 1910 – May 27, 1992) was an officer of the United States Navy who received the first Medal of Honor of World War II. This award was made for his actions during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Ross was born on December 8, 1910, in Beverly, Kansas. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in Denver, Colorado, on June 3, 1929, and graduated as company honorman from basic training at Naval Station San Diego. He completed Machinist Mate School at Norfolk, Virginia, first in his class and was assigned to the transport ship USS Henderson (AP-1) on a China service run.

While serving aboard the hospital ship USS Relief (AH-1), Ross saw his first action (with the U.S. Marines) in Nicaragua in 1931. Advancing through the ranks on the minesweeper USS Brant (AM-24), destroyer USS Simpson (DD-221) and cruiser USS Minneapolis (CA-36), he attained the rank of Warrant Officer Machinist in October 1940 and was assigned to the battleship USS Nevada (BB-36).

During December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Nevada was badly damaged by bombs and torpedoes. Ross distinguished himself by assuming responsibility to furnish power to get the ship underway — the only battleship to do so during the Japanese attack. When the forward dynamo room where he was stationed filled with smoke and steam, he ordered his men to leave and continued servicing the dynamo himself until being blinded and falling unconscious. Upon being rescued and resuscitated, he went back to secure the forward dynamo, then worked in the aft dynamo room until losing consciousness a second time due to exhaustion. After waking, he again returned to his duties until Nevada was beached. His actions kept the ship under power, preventing it from sinking in the channel and blocking other ships in the harbor.

Despite his impaired eyesight, Ross refused hospitalization and instead helped with rescue efforts. He entered a hospital three days after the attack, and his vision returned to normal after three weeks. He returned to Nevada, December 17, 1941, remaining in the ship’s company for the duration of the war. For these actions, he was presented with the Medal of Honor by Admiral Chester Nimitz on April 18, 1942, becoming the first person to receive the medal in World War II.

Ross was promoted to chief warrant machinist in March 1942 and was commissioned an Ensign in June 1942. Later in the war, he also served on Nevada during the landings at Normandy and Southern France. He rose steadily in temporary rank to Lieutenant Commander by the end of the war, reverting to Lieutenant at its conclusion. He again received a promotion to Lieutenant Commander in 1949 and to Commander in November 1954. Upon his retirement from active duty in July 1956, after twenty-seven years’ of service aboard every type of surface ship then afloat, he was promoted to Captain on the basis of his combat awards.

After leaving the Navy, Ross settled in Port Orchard, Washington, and ran a dairy farm. He and his wife, Helen, had four children: Fred, Robert, Penny, and Donna.

He wrote a book about his fellow Medal of Honor recipients with ties to Washington State — Men of Valor — published in 1980. Ross attended 50th Anniversary ceremonies at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1991, during which, Ross was given the honor of introducing President George H. W. Bush. Ross also participated in the dedication of a memorial to his old ship, the USS Nevada]

Ross died of a heart attack in Bremerton, Washington, on May 27, 1992, at age 81. His ashes were scattered at sea over the USS Nevada.

In 1997, the guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG-71) was named in his honor.

Medal of Honor citation

Ross’ official Medal of Honor citation reads:

For distinguished conduct in the line of his profession, extraordinary courage and disregard of his own life during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. When his station in the forward dynamo room of the U.S.S. Nevada became almost untenable due to smoke, steam, and heat, Machinist Ross forced his men to leave that station and performed all the duties himself until blinded and unconscious. Upon being rescued and resuscitated, he returned and secured the forward dynamo room and proceeded to the after dynamo room where he was later again rendered unconscious by exhaustion. Again recovering consciousness he returned to his station where he remained until directed to abandon it.