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“Compelling and visionary. DiMercurio’s characters run as deep as his submarines themselves!”
--Joe Buff, author of Crush Depth and Thunder in the Deep

"DiMercurio really knows his subs...his characters step right off the sub deck and onto his pages."
--Larry Bond

"A Master Rivaling Tom Clancy."
--Publishers Weekly

"Terrific."
--San Francisco Examiner

"Thrilling."
--Associated Press

"Superb storytelling."
--Virginia-Pilot/Ledger Star

To the Med - And Beyond

[IMAGE] In mid-Atlantic on the way to the Mediterranean, depth 546 feet, speed 20 knots. This shot was taken in the wardroom after watch. Lieutenant Kevin Parker is showing off his night vision goggles, which allow him to keep his night vision so he can take the periscope at night without having to adapt his eyes. Mine are cooler.

It was during this time - before being awarded dolphins - that my struggles to get qualified, learn the ship, and deal with my girlfriend Rose competed for my time. That year I wrote these entries in my journal, or "the book written by DiMercurio's favorite author" as my friends called it. This is from Volume 27:

6 May 1983 Friday

I've chosen not to write for quite some time. The first half year of my duty on Hammerhead has been intense, exhausting, and often disappointing. And almost inevitably unpleasant. Late in January, when I left off, we began the availability in the drydock. The hull was sandblasted, then painted green. It stayed green for days. Meanwhile the firecontrol system was in pieces, the entire sonar suite disassembled, the shaft pulled, the air-conditioners torn apart, and the pressurizer refurbished. The boat was in pieces and it was a sad feeling to go through a hatch into the engineroom and find the place littered with ripped out equipment. Qualification was an impossible goal. And hours a day were preempted by training, a useless silliness.

It was a dismal world of getting up before 4 am every day and working from 5 am to 7 pm. Finally, in early February, the boat was ready to move to the wetslip. The drydock was cleaned up, and as we stood topside, the dock was flooded down. Hours later, only the sail and convex topside were visible, giving no hint the immensity below. Hammerhead was towed from the dock and parked next to a pier, where work would continue.

* * *

March 6 [1983]. We took Hammerhead to sea in the Virginia Capes Oparea (VaCapes). I barely participated, being more heavily involved in engineering officer of the watch quals (EOOW). A lot of tests, a dive to test depth (I slept through it). In mid-March [1983] we went to sea for a workup for the Operational Reactor Safeguards Exam (ORSE). I worked steadily on quals. I noticed, underway, that I really missed Rose [my girlfriend]. I spent a lot of time in the radio shack. Being communicator was a blessing during this engineering exam. We drilled and trained constantly. A leak in our reactor plant freshwater cooling system brought us in for a couple of days, then back out. On 1 April [1983] we took the exam with the examining team. Hammerhead got an "above average."

* * *

On 11 April [1983] we put to sea to do an op with the Baton Rouge, another submarine. We played the Russians. I was junior officer of the deck (JOOD) for one of the three watch sections. I was involved in coordinating the firecontrol solution, finding exactly where the enemy sub was. The op was a success.

* * *

I had qualified EOOW on the run to Florida, and found myself on watch, six hours on, six off. We left for a southern run to the AUTEC [Atlantic Undersea Testing and Evaluation Center] acoustic range to do an op, then back to Florida. I ran on the beach, loving the feeling of running again. I lay out. I went on a yacht cruise with Mike Loman and Kevin Parker. We ate at two yacht clubs in whites, representing Hammerhead. We went dancing and drinking. The fun ended all too soon on the way back to Norfolk. A priority message came saying we were to have a surprise NTPI, a nuclear weapons inspection.

So we drilled our asses off and did records reviews twenty hours a day. I was involved in secret material control, top secret material control, use and admin of the Sealed Authentication System, and the emergency messages. Some of the emergency messages on the weps emergency drill I screwed up and the captain gave to me right between the eyes. But in any case, the boat got a grade of outstanding. And, in the past year only 14% of surprise exams passed their examinees.

* * *

It was 9 May [1983] that the purge happened. All the junior officers were individually brought before the captain for qual review boards. It was like a court martial, where we were yelled at and restricted to the boat for our quals not being up to snuff. It was miserable. My first fitness report was none too good, either. It was beginning to look like I didn't have the "Right stuff" after all. My dissatisfaction with the Navy and the submarine peaked. I was tired of all work and no play. Yet deep down I loved the Navy.

* * *

It is the eve of our big underway. On 26 May [1983] we will depart for a six week long NATO run, a NATO exercise involving surface fleets and allied submarines. We should be home, hopefully, by July 4. By then I should be on the way to surfaced OOD quals.

I haven't seen Rose since February. We had a lot of planned dates four our time inport in May, but I cancelled two due to the work and the "wardroom purge." This last weekend Rose had to work, thus missing a wardroom party last night. On the phone she was apologetic. Do you think we can hold together in spite of this, she asked. I said I didn't know. I was annoyed. It is tough enough to have a relationship when involved with an attack submarine, but impossible to sustain one with a career on the woman's side in addition. At the end of the NATO run I'll either buy an engagement ring (anticipating marriage) or a motorcycle (anticipating a single life). Right now I'd much rather be single. I'm actually looking forward to getting going on the NATO run. Being inport sucks. Everything is a crisis. Soon we'll be making torpedo attacks on task force convoys. Much more to my liking.

* * *

6 July 1983 Wednesday

It was a tough run. We got underway on time, but then we steamed in circles in the Virginia Capes Oparea. Mostly we just provided target service for skimmers [submariner's slang for surface warships]. Finally it came time to form up with the carrier task force for the trans-Atlantic crossing. Our primary mission in this phase was to search for Blue Force submarines and "Red No-Plays" (Russian subs). We spent hours at periscope depth talking to the lead vessel, the British carrier Hermes. We communicated with my UHF system, and one of our messages taunted, "The steak and lobster are excellent tonight. Wish you were here." Hermes, with typical British wit, hit back with, "Yes, but don't you wish you could have a nice cold beer with your movie?"

But of course Murphy's Law soon struck. On a NATO exercise designed to test comms ability in antisubmarine warfare, our main transmitter failed. The radioman chief insisted it wasn't our gear. "We did the BITE checks, and the gear passed." I finally earned my wings. "Listen, Chief," I said, sounding furious. "Hermes can talk to the task group, the task group can talk to Hermes, Hermes can talk to us, but they never hear us when we talk to them. It's our gear!" The chief did the BITE check again. The equipment failed.

I wanted a helotransfer to get the new part. Everyone thought I was nuts. I convinced the Ops Officer, Tim Mulcare, to request it. The cap'n bought in. Two days later we surfaced. Mike Loman crawled up to the bridge and grabbed the parcel in a basket lowered from a hovering helicopter. He handed it down and shut the hatch behind him. We dived immediately. Next time at periscope depth the radio worked.

I spent the first half of the cruise standing six hours of watch as EOOW with twelve hours off. This meant an eighteen hour day. Very disorienting. My second triumph came on my final qual checkout for diving officer. Smith and Jones [names changed to protect the innocent], two fellow junior officers, had been failed by the XO in disgust. I immediately asked for my chance. XO looked at me skeptically. The next night, after a three hour session of question after question, XO smiled. "You did reasonably well, Mr. DiMercurio. In fact, I'm having Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones come around to you before they see me again. See that they know their stuff."

A few weeks later I qualified as contact coordinator. By this time the convoy was a few hundred miles off Spain. We detached from the convoy and became one of the lone bad guys attempting to seek out and destroy shipping in the "defended lane" set up by the warship escorts. It was seemingly like a fox in the chickencoop till the aircraft and helos blew us away with PDCs, practice depth charges. Wargames are silly - on Tuesday you'll sink a destroyer, and on Wednesday he'll depth charge you to oblivion.

A good thing happened. A new officer aboard, Commander Dennis Napior relieved Lcdr. Dave Anderson [not his real name] (navigator and weapons officer) as senior watch officer, SWO. Napior is a slim, gray haired, competent officer, soft spoken and full of common sense. He makes up for so many bad and idiotic things about Hammerhead. For once, the junior officers had a role model.

We found ourselves in Napior's four-section watch bill. At last, 24-hour days. Everyone began to feel human again. The exercise was over. The transit back began. I was taken out of the sweaty hole, back aft in the engineroom, and placed as Junior Officer of the Deck. Unfortunately, my OOD was Anderson.

I'll not soon forget the first time I brought the submarine to periscope depth. I'd just ordered the diving officer to come up to 150 feet.

"One five zero feet, sir."

"Very well, Dive. Helm, right twenty degrees rudder."

"Right twenty degrees rudder, aye, sir. My rudder is right twenty degrees, sir."

"Very well, Helm," I replied. "Helm, all ahead standard."

"All ahead standard, aye, sir."

"Chief of the Watch, to Maneuvering: make turns for ten knots."

"Make turns for ten knots, aye, sir," the COW replied.

"Answers ahead standard, sir," the helmsman said.

"Very well, Helm." The flow of orders was tedious and repetitive, but the repeat-back process insured no misunderstandings occurred.

"Passing zero nine zero to the right, sir."

"Very well, Helm, shift your rudder."

"Shift my rudder, aye, sir, my rudder is left twenty degrees."

"Very well, Helm, steady course three three zero."

"Steady course three three zero, aye, sir."

"Sonar, Conn," I said into a microphone, "Clearing baffles to the left prior to coming to periscope depth. Report all contacts."

"Report all contacts, Conn, Sonar, aye," the metallic reply intoned.

"Sir, passing three four zero to the left, ten degrees from ordered course."

"Very well, Helm, all ahead two thirds."

"Ahead two thirds, aye sir. Engineroom answers ahead two thirds, steady on course three three zero."

"Conn, Sonar. A search was made in the previously baffled area, hold no sonar contacts."

Sonar had to "look" behind us for contacts since they cannot hear astern due to the hull, the screw noise, etc. The large turns I'd executed, called a baffle-clear, ensured no one was hugging our tail (such as a Soviet sub) and that we hadn't missed a close surface contact. A sub coming to periscope depth is particularly vulnerable. A deep draft merchant could send us to the bottom, and no one would ever know why. I picked up the 2JX phone and buzzed the captain. I always felt a metal taste in my mouth when Sherwood's [not his real name] Georgia accent would call back, "Cap'n!" Sherwood is an authoritarian, and is not at all pleasant to work for.

"Captain, Junior Officer of the Deck, sir. I'm at one five zero feet, ahead two thirds, course three three zero. I hold no contacts, sir. Request permission to come periscope depth, conduct TDU ops - " (the TDU is the trash disposal unit, a vertical torpedo tube to dump garbage) " - copy the news and sports, then QSL for our traffic before the 1437 NavSat."

"Aye, come to periscope depth and conduct your evolutions."

"Aye aye, sir, come to periscope depth and conduct those evolutions."

I breathed out. I had rehearsed that speech twice so I wouldn't screw it up.

"Dive!" I called. "Make your depth six six feet!"

"Make my depth six six feet, aye, sir."

"Lookaround number two scope."

"One four five feet, seven knots," the diving officer reported.

"Up scope." I rotated the hydraulic control ring. The smooth stainless steel pole began to move. As the eyepiece came out of the well I snapped the training handles down and trained the optics straight up (to look for shapes or shadows, sure signs of impending collision). I was amazed at the beautiful cool blue all around me. From seventy feet below the surface I could make out the waves and sun - it was breathtaking. I rotated the scope around rapidly, looking for hull shapes over my head.

"One hundred feet, sir!"

"Very well, Dive."

"Ninety feet."

"Aye."

"Eight zero feet."

"Very well. No shapes or shadows."

"Seven eight. Seven six. Seven four. Seven two. Seven zero."

"Scope's breaking!" I called as I rotated the optics to a flatter angle. The waves met my eye until all I saw was white foam. This was the scope "breaking."

"Six eight feet, sir!"

"Scope's clear."

"Six six feet, sir."

"Very well, Dive." I was making rapid revolutions, searching 360 degrees three times over in some ten seconds, looking frantically for a close ship - risk of collision once again - but nothing but ocean.

"No close contacts!"

"Let me see," Anderson said.

"Low power, on the horizon," I said as I relinquished the scope to Anderson. I exhaled. My pulse was 190 at least. Now this was more like it. John Wayne might well spend his life doing this. I smiled to myself.

* * *

I donned my foul weather jacket and walked to the forward bulkhead of the control room.

"Request permission for the oncoming junior officer of the deck to lay to the bridge."

The chief of the watch looked at me a moment, then picked up a microphone to relay my request.

"Send him up," the reply came. I climbed the long ladder to the top of the sail. The engineer was the OOD. I looked off in the distance. Nova Scotia, Canada. I was to conn the ship in and land her next to the Canadian Forces Station at Shearwater. I'd spent the morning studying the charts. I knew the bay, the port of Halifax, but this was my first time driving the submarine into a port. That metallic taste came back to my throat. As it turned out, it was easy driving her in. There were ranges set up for each leg. [Ranges in navigation terms are when a short tower is constructed about a hundred feet from a tall tower near the bay or ocean channel, and when the two towers exactly line up visually, the ship is in the center of the channel, and the OOD follows the range till the next "leg."] I winged it through the turns between legs, but the captain let me do it while he shot the breeze with the pilot. As we tied up I noticed a slim figure in an American Navy uniform, khaki, with scrambled eggs on the visor. It soon dawned on me that this was Commander Howard "Tim" Halliday, our new captain, who was to take command on 23 July.

I was way behind on sleep. I was disgruntled - as I said to Napior, "sometimes I think we pull into liberty ports just so we can deny liberty to the men until they do a million petty tasks." The commander was astonished at my cynicism. With that I hit the rack, still in uniform. Hours later Harry Sun was shaking me awake.

"Demo! Wake up! We're all going out to dinner in town!"

"How many contacts do you have?" I reportedly asked. I must have been miles away and submerged.

"Demo! We're tied up at the pier. Now wake up."

It was Friday 24 June [1983]. I found myself in a restaurant called the Spaghetti Factory with the JOs and the captain and the PCO, prospective commanding officer. I ate and drank myself insensate. At a bar called the Jury Room. Doing shots. Pat Castleman steers me to a girl and asks if I want to get lucky. I slur out, sure. I introduce myself to this girl.

Darkness. A loud growling. I open my eyes. A strange bedroom. The growling was the girl's snoring. She's naked. I'm naked. I looked at my watch. 3:30. I shake my head, grab my clothes, dress in the hall and leave the girl's apartment. I walked toward Halifax for two hours, caught a cab for the rest of the way. Of course, the wardroom had a field day with this story. I just muttered, I never touched that girl.

* * *

Liberty in Halifax expired all too soon. We had all loved the massive Citadel at the city's hilltop, the restaurants, the nightspots. I climbed to the bridge, carrying my binoculars. I drove Hammerhead out. No time to be sad. To busy conning the black pig out of the harbor. Once out we sped up. I went below. Soon I heard "Dive! Dive!" and the double klaxon. We were far beneath the waves at flank speed.

Blindingly busy the next few days. We pulled in June 30 [1983]. The reactor was shut down. I drove my friends home. At Harry Sun's house, I caught up on my mail. From Rose:

"6/10/83 My dearest Michael,
Another sleepless night spent thinking of you ... Babe, I really miss you, everything, your voice, lips, manly touch and smell. It's no wonder I can't sleep peacefully at night I hope you realize that I miss you and can hardly wait until you finally get home. I hope this latest mission was not too horrible. Remember, I love you and cherish our days (if seldom) together in each others arms. Also always keep in mind that I understand your passionate, driven love for the sea and adventure and as long as you want me, I will wait at the dock for your return.
Love, Rose"

Understandably, my first action upon reaching home was to call Rose. Her voice was absolutely dead.

"I have the whole weekend off. What will we do?" I asked.

"I have commitments for this weekend," she said.

"Wait, I thought I told you when I left not to make any plans for that weekend."

"Well, after the last two times you cancelled on me, I figured you'd cancel this one too. So I made plans."

"Cancel them. Do whatever you have to do. Let me know tomorrow. I'll call at noon."

Friday. I stepped into XO's stateroom. "Sir, would you mind if I made a long distance credit card call?"

"Go ahead."

I gave the operator my credit card number. I heard the phone ring. "Hello?" she said.

"Well, what is it, yes or no?"

She hesitated. Finally she uttered: "I can't see you this weekend."

"Fine. Talk to you later." I didn't wait for her reply. I replaced the handset in the cradle.

"Thank you, XO."

I walked out. It was over. That night I walked on the beach until I could no longer keep my eyes open.

terminalrun.com
Michael DiMercurio
Princeton, New Jersey
E-mail:
readermail@terminalrun.com

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