Legionnaire of the Month
The vet we are featuring is someone who did not think “he deserved a write up” because, unlike some earlier individuals, he said he did not ‘dodge any bullets’ or experience “face to face direct combat”. But I think you will find his military experience most interesting and certainly very unique. After hearing some of his stories (not all told here) I’m convinced that he was in “harm’s way” and has a story that is worth recording.
The first unique thing about Dale’s story is that he literally “did not know where he was” during half of his military career--his best clue was the water temperature (more on that later). Although Dale was able to share some details, he still after 50 years, could not talk about many things because it continues to be “classified” information. He suggested that anyone who wants a better feel for what it was like to spend 3 months at a time submerged as they ‘punched a hole in the ocean’ should read the book “Blind Man’s Bluff”. This alone was enough to peak my interest and I’m going to check it out. But let’s back up a bit before we let Dale tell what he can about his many years of service aboard Navy Nuclear Submarines.
Dale D. Myers was born September 1953 in Rapid City, South Dakota. In 1971, at the age of 17, he graduated from Rapid City Central High School. A few days after his 18th birthday, Dale enlisted in the US Navy. His father was a navy enlistee during the Korean Conflict and participated at the landing on Inchon North Korea in September 1952. As his father was proud of his military service, Dale wanted to and did follow in his footsteps.
“I was sent by bus on 30 December 1971 from Rapid City to the enlistment center in Denver, Colorado. Once there, I was given a physical and the Armed Services Aptitude Vocational Battery (ASVAB) test. My score was high enough that I was enrolled in a pilot program to teach a select group the math skills necessary to be enrolled in Nuclear Power. At this time, I also volunteered for Submarine duty—something that fascinated me since I was a young boy.
Boot camp was 13 weeks in San Diego, California followed by Machinist Mate “A” school in Great lakes, Ill. This was followed by 7 weeks of math training including algebra, trigonometry, chemistry and physics. I was then transferred back to Mare Island, California for Nuclear Power school. However, my test scores were not high enough to complete Nuclear Power. Instead I was assigned to the “Auxillary Division” in my first submarine, the USS Abraham Lincoln. A Ganger was the slang term given to auxiliary personnel working on the wide range of support services required (high pressure air & water, sanitary system, heating, AC and Refrigeration.) As a jack of all trades, I even had to know how to do welding and machinist work. (Editor Note: When I thought of this it made sense as they had to be very self- sufficient in all repairs and maintenance--they could not pull their nuclear sub into a shop or any doc for maintenance or repairs). The Lincoln was in dry dock at Mare Island Naval Shipyard for overhaul and refueling the reactor. When the ship left the overhaul, it transited to Florida for weapons certification. At Cape Canaveral, the Lincoln fired an inert ballistic missile at a target in the Atlantic. After all testing and certification was completed we headed south. Transiting through the Panama Canal was a unique experience I will never forget. As a nuclear sub, we had the place to ourselves and the crew was able to take turns coming up on top. We even had a celebration with BBQ on deck and went swimming. But the poisonous sea snakes we spotted in the water put an end to our swim party. After passing through the canal we move on and were positioned at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii but operated from Guam. There were very few ports that would allow a nuclear sub to enter. So basically we rotated with another crew. We were 3 months out and came back for 3 months participating in training exercises while the other crew went out.
For most submarine sailors, Vietnam was a world away. Due to the rules of war, submarines were never a direct participant in any part of the Vietnam battles. There were a few subs that would support and escort Carrier groups off the coast. My sub escorted a carrier for a short time as part of a training exercise for anti submarine warfare. They knew we were very close by, but we were not found until we fired a flare and it hit the Carrier. Very little information concerning Vietnam was passed on to the submarine community in our daily news communications. I remember reading a single line about the tet offensive. Why they chose to shield us from world events is unknown. We had very little communication from home. For a patrol of 2 to 3 months, we were given 8 family grams. Each family gram was allowed to be 8 words long. You were so excited to receive these 8 words. It told you in unspoken terms that your loved one was still around and still thought of you. I know some sailors that did not get their family grams and the worry and unknown could drive a man to the brink. Most of the time, it indicated a divorce in the making.
My world was influenced by the “Cold War” circumstances. There are basically two types of submarines, Fast Attack or Fleet Ballistic Missile (FBM). The type of sub you were stationed on would determine your mission. Fast Attacks were the aggressors and front line defense against the cold war naval forces. FBM's had a load of 16 ballistic missiles, carrying more fire power on a single sub than all the bombs and bullets expended in World War II. The FBM mission was to operate in an assigned area of the ocean, remaining undetected.
Most of our deployments were 3 months. A food load out was one of the most interesting aspects of preparations to leave port. Most of the food supplies were canned goods, and for the most part, the cans held 5 gallons each. Every inch of decks and passageways were lined with cans that we walked on. We slowly ate our way down to the point where we could walk upright. Submariners ate better than other ships because more money per crew member was allotted. We loaded out prime rib, lobster, crab, shrimp and powdered milk. There wasn’t enough room in the cooler for regular milk. Upon arrival back in port, the first thing passed over was the mail and milk. You were told to take it easy as your system was not used to whole milk, but there were always a handful of sick sailors because they indulged in too much milk.
There are still many things I am not allowed to talk about. Because of the cold war much information was classified and we were not even allowed to know where we were. One clue we had was the water temperature. If it was warmer, we know we must be near the equator and if it was really cold we were likely under the ice. We did get the distinction of being called a “Blue Hose” every time we crossed the Arctic Circle.
There was one incident when many sailors “got religion” that I will share. We very seldom are on the surface and most of the time we are working at what is called “operating depth”. We were having problems with our hovering system--a valve lets water in and out that controls our depth. At this same time we had a reactor power problem. We lost control and started to sink fast. Minutes seemed like hours as we plunged to what was considered “crush depth”. In a last minute effort of desperation we did what was called an “emergency blow”. With this we were able to reverse our decent and also restore reactor power. We were able to continue to move toward the surface but had to abandon our patrol. This was the only time we ever had to return to port before completing our assignment. The entire sub had to be “recertified and re-tested” before it could go out again.
Much of the technology on submarines was on the cutting edge. For example, making our own oxygen was a technology later used with Apollo II. GPS was in its infancy stage and only used by military. We were on the 1st sub that started to map the bottom of the ocean. Our sub was fitted with a special antenna which we later learned was part of an early GPS system. This was one deployment when we surfaced frequently and did what was called a “skid”. This allowed the GPS to locate us before we would dive back to the bottom and using sonar, map the ocean floor. Before the ocean floor was mapped, it was much more dangerous. Unlike flying a plane, you did not know when a mountain was ahead in your path. Now the entire ocean floors are mapped
I get asked quite a bit, “Didn’t you get claustrophobic?” Only a little bit one time. Not because of the close spaces on the submarine, but because we were operating under ice. At that time, you knew if something drastic were to happen, there was no chance of making it back to the surface.
Prior to being assigned to a submarine, each crew member is subject to screening both physiologically and for claustrophobia. You can't afford to have someone that cannot play well with others when you are cooped up together in a thermos bottle for 3 months. New crew members were “initiated” when they first came aboard. Our subs were 33 ft wide made of 1 ½” thick HY 80 iron we called “soft metal”. Before we descended, we would place a string from side to side and pull it taught. As we descended the pressure increased and the sides of the sub would push inward until the string actually touched the floor when we were at operating depth. That always left a lasting impression on new crew members.
I must give the Navy a lot of credit. They helped you zero in on your strengths and did a good job of helping build confidence. They offered many training opportunities and I took advantage of all I could. My career spanned 22 years. I was stationed at the Submarine Support Facility in New London, Connecticut, then aboard a sub stationed in New London, Ct. This was followed by a submarine in Holy Loch, Scotland, a submarine tender (floating repair ship) and finally, on Recruiting Duty in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. With 5 children, my wife and I chose to live in Garretson and retire from the Navy here. I am blessed to have a wonderful family. My family is proud to have served their country. This includes my wife whom was a Torpedoman's Mate in the navy, two children that served in the navy and a son that is presently serving in the Air Force. I have 6 grandchildren that complete my life.”
Dale has quite a demanding job working for USIC (a cable locating company). This does not allow for much extra free time. Although retirement is not far down the road Dale says he will always keep busy. I sense he may find some time to get back to archery hunting and be able to spend more time with family, friends and giving back to our community. Dale we want to thank you for sharing your story. On behalf of Post 23 we want to thank you for your service to our Community, State and Nation.