Monday, May 30, 2011

Being a Washington Freebooter

Polaris A3 Missile launch

            Being a Washington Freebooter .  Getting sent to Washington for shore duty happened to most naval officers sooner or later.  I was ordered to a small cadre of freebooting souls in the Special Projects Office, a brand-new creation whose mission was to build, outfit and maintain the rapidly growing fleet of Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarines.
            The United States had land-based missiles which targeted our Cold War opponent, the Soviet Union, but the Russians doubtlessly had these silos targeted as well, so now we were developing these big nuclear powered submarines which could sail submerged for months, and always be ready to launch their missiles at enemy targets. That gave the United States a much more credible deterrent.
            Having just come from four patrols as a weapons officer in a ballistic missile submarine, I had lots of experience to pass along to weapon crews aboard  submarines who were completing construction, and loading their first Polaris missiles. 
            Our small staff was headed by Captain “Pappy” Sims, who had recently commanded an SSBN, and before that a diesel submarine and a submarine tender.  The staff was made up of some unique characters, all with submarine experience.  Our job was to head a team that would descend upon a submarine as it prepared to load missiles, and stay with each crew until they fired their test missile launch at Cape Canaveral, and then loaded their nuclear-tipped missiles and started on patrol.
            The civilian team we headed was a wild and wooly collection of the best and the brightest from Lockheed, the missile manufacturer; Sperry, the navigation system; Westinghouse, the launcher; Hughes Aircraft, the guidance system; G.E., the fire control system; the Shipyard, and so on.  All of these men were brilliant, but didn't often fit in to the buttoned-down military pattern.
            Since this was a brand new program, and had number one priority to get submarines to sea on schedule with reliable missiles on board, aimed at targets behind the Iron Curtain, we didn’t hear much about budgets.  If it was needed, we got it. If there was a person at one of the many companies that supported this operation who needed to be here, one of us would call him, and he came, right away.  While the rest of the Navy in these days before Viet Nam  was scrimping for funds, we weren’t.
            We traveled.  I was always on a plane, flying to Sunnyvale, CA to visit the missile plant, or to Seattle, WA or Charleston, SC to work with a submarine crew loading missiles; and we’d spend a month at a time with each submarine at Cape Canaveral, near Cocoa Beach, FL.  
            We’d also fly to Holy Loch, Scotland; Rota, Spain; or Pearl Harbor, HI to visit submarines as they returned from patrol.
            Our head navigation advisor was a commander named Bosquet Wev, nicknamed Biscuit.  His reputation went back to the Naval Academy, when he was allegedly the mastermind in the Class of 1952 that dismayed officials at the last full-dress parade for that class, when all the midshipmen in one company left their shoes in place on the parade ground.  Biscuit was the quintessential party man, and being in our small staff was just right for him. 
            When he wasn’t advising new navigators about the intricacies of the inertial navigation systems that guided our submarines and provided super accurate information to our missile navigation systems, he was cooking up a party. 
            We were all down at Cocoa Beach getting ready for a missile launch from a new submarine the next day.  Captain Sims and Rear Admiral Levering Smith, the Director of Special Projects, came down and there was another admiral visiting. We had a cocktail party for them all.  This was when Pappy wanted all of his officers on hand, to visit with the admiral and informally report on their view of the current submarine and its crew.  Biscuit was nowhere to be found.  Without our wives here, the party was not too fancy.
            After the admirals had gone to bed that night, Biscuit finally came in, beaming with a wide smile.


            He had been out to a party and had a wonderful time with a “Mrs. Parker”, and a whole group of Gemini astronauts.  “Mrs. Parker” was the married name for Actress Shirley MacLaine.  At that time, her mind was “out there” with extraterrestrial spirits, and she enjoyed hanging around the astronauts, although all of them were far more pragmatic about outer space.  Many years later she said she found a kindred spirit in a presidential candidate (Kusinich)  who wanted to move his campaign headquarters to Roswell, New Mexico. I think she is still interested in space aliens.
            Although Biscuit thought that hobnobbing with MacLaine and the astronauts was far better than visiting with the admiral, his boss was not impressed. 
            As for characters, Joe Kosek, Lockheed’s trouble shooter for missiles, was memorable.  He was a red-faced, round little man, and what he knew about missiles was legendary.  No matter what the problem any one detected aboard a Polaris missile, Joe would squeeze his ample body into the missile midsection, or scramble down beneath the nozzle assemblies, and figure out what was wrong, and usually fix it.
            Like Biscuit, Joe was also the man of the hour at party time, and there was always a party after a missile launch.
            Launch Day for a new submarine crew was the grand performance, when the admiral would board the boat, along with all of us, and we’d go out to the launch area and submerge.  Often there would be a Soviet intelligence trawler in the area, so the U.S. Coast Guard would have to handle that, to prevent any interference with the launch.  There’d also be a downrange support ship, fully connected to all the instrumentation on the submarine.
            The crew would go through the complete countdown, exactly as they would if they were launching in wartime, but with all of us extra personnel on board, checking on the telemetry from the instrumented missile.
            Then the large missile door would open, the whole boat would be silent with suspense, there’d be a whoosh!!, the boat would shudder a bit, and off the missile would go. 
Usually, in addition to the missile,  there’d be a simulated launch from other tubes--  17 tons of sea water and a sabot, (a large plug),  from each tube, and the test would really simulate the work of the missile launcher. 
USS Ethan Allen

The first actual missile firing, with a nuclear warhead, took place from my submarine, USS Ethan Allen, operating off Christmas Island in the Pacific Ocean in 1962, and it was into the Kwajalein Missile Test Range.  With the nuclear test treaties that were later signed, such a test was no longer possible. 
There were many missile tests without the nuclear warhead, of course.
It was fun being a “Washington freebooter”, but I was glad to go back to sea after two years.

Now, the Personal Navigator has books and papers to offer:

Gringo Builders [Signed by author]  by Allhands, James Lewellyn 1931 Joplin, MO: Privately Printed by J.L. Allhands.  Author, J.L. Allhands (1879-1978), of Joplin, MO and Dallas, TX, a railroad construction man, writes about the building of railways in South Texas at the start of the Twentieth Century. This book is a rich source for Texas history, focused upon building a transportation system conceived by Col. Uriah Lott, who interested B.F. Yoakum in the project. Tale of drunk Negro and author and Texas Rangers convert him to Teetotaler. King Ranch and the building of the Brownsville Railroad. History of Corpus Christi. Brownsville and Rio Grande Rwy. Co.  St. Louis, Brownsville & Mexico Railroad. Madonna of the Rails--women pioneers in railway construction. The first big water projects: irrigation, cultivation canals and the development of the Rio Grande Valley. Robstown to Bay City. Brazoria. Gulf Coast Lines East of Houston. Port Arthur and Sour Lake. With Index. 297 pp. 15 x 23 cm. Dark green  cloth on board, gilt printing. Author signature on front free endpaper. Title page has light horizontal stains. Very good. (2662) $119.00. History/Railroads/Texas

Gerit Smith's Speech to the Congress on The Nebraska Bill, April 6, 1854 by Smith, Gerrit 1854 Washington, DC: Buell & Blanchard, Printers. Gerrit Smith (1797-1874)  was a Congressman from New York when he made this speech,  a stirring call to abolish slavery, and fighting against slavery in Nebraska and the Nation. "This nation holds, in the iron and crushing grasp of slavery, between three and four millions, whose poor hearts writhe and agonize no less than would ours, were their fate our fate. And yet, she is not content even with these wide desolations of human rights and human happiness. On the contrary, she is continually seeking to extend the horrid realm of slavery.... there is imminent danger, that Nebraska and Kansas will be wrested from freedom, and added to the domain of slavery and sorrow."  Smith was a more vocal opponent than most of the abolitionists, including even Garrison. Shortly after this speech he became so impatient with Congress that he resigned, and began more aggressive and violent work in freeing slaves.  24 pp. 15 x 22 cm. Paper booklet, pages worn, first sheet loose, poor. (7626) $45.00. History/Slavery

Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition: Report of the Legislative Committee from the State of New York to the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, Albany, January 15, 1910. 1910 Albany, NY: State of New York. New York State was the only state east of the Rockies to vote to appropriate money to take part in this exposition, held in Seattle, Washington  in 1909. Book provides summary of entertainments sponsored by New York, text of major speeches, including one by N.Y. Gov. Charles Evans Hughes. Considerable text is devoted to celebration of Seward Day, Sep. 10, 1909, when a statue of the great Secretary of State William H. Seward was dedicated. His son, General William H. Seward, took an active part in the celebration. Interesting photos of interior of New York State Building, and of various New York participants. 197 pp. 20 x 28 cm. Red cloth on boards with gilt lettering and State seal of New York. Spine fabric faded and mottled, front and back hinges cracked, one illustration page loose. Poor. (1464) $39.00. History/Biography

 Self-knowledge: A Treatise

Self-knowledge: A Treatise, Shewing the Nature and Benefit of that Important Science, and the Way to Attain it. Intermixed with various Reflections and Observations on Human Nature. by Mason, John, A.M. 1778 London, England: James Buckland at the Buck in Paternoster Row. Famed Non-conformist's Treatise discusses aspects of self-knowledge; overcoming temptation; humility; abstinence; knowing our natural tempers; fervent and frequent prayer. 228 pp. 11 x 17 cm. Calf on board, top and bottom of spine, edges of cover rubbed and worn. Poem by Cowper penned in ffep in 18th c. hand. Pen marks in book mark key passages. Owner inscr. Good. (1311) $70.00. Religious/Educational/Philosophy.

Sermon Delivered at Leominster, On Leaving The Old Meeting House, October 12, 1823; Sermon delivered at the Dedication of the New Meeting-house, October 15, 1823 by Conant, Abel 1823 Worcester, MA: William Manning Abel Conant is an able speaker and preacher; traces history of Leominster in two sermons: One on leaving the old meeting house, and the other on dedication of a new meeting house. 35 pp. 15 x 24 cm. Paper pamphlet, worn, pages foxed, some unopened. Good. (1829) $29.00. Religious/History/Ephemera.


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