by Don Ennis ETCS(ss) USN(ret), USS Stonewall Jackson SSBN-634
Our last patrol in the pacific was a long one. I remember it as 89 days. Stan Locke remembers 86. It doesn’t matter; each day passed 70 takes a month. The length of that patrol included the transit from our patrol area to Hawaii on our way to the east coast via the Panama Canal. If you deduct the two weeks we spent in Hawaii and the short stops in Charleston, New London, and Annapolis to name a few, for the Blue Crew that Patrol lasted from December 69 until November 70. When we pulled in to Pearl Harbor one of our NAV ET’S (Navigation Electronics Technicians got the surprise of his young life and learned a lesson in just how far submariners will go in pulling off a practical joke.
I don’t remember the young man’s name although I’m certain that I will someday receive a letter or an e-mail supplying the given name of a sailor I remember only as the Turtle. Now there are two reasons why someone on a submarine would be nicknamed “Turtle”. Number one would indicate an accurate description of his movements. We called John Simmons “Speed Simmons” because he was said to have only two speeds: slow and stop. This kid we called the Turtle because it was apparent from the beginning that he was going to qualify in submarines in one patrol. The length of this particular patrol only facilitated this lightning feat. There was however another compelling reason we called him the Turtle: He could somehow shorten his neck down into his coveralls or shirt and on command stretch it out like a turtle’s. I don’t know if he had an extra long neck or what, but he could mimic a turtle like no one else I have ever known. The name stuck. The problem is like many who are given nicknames and it is an unwritten rule on submarines that you don’t get to pick your own, he hated the nickname he was given.
Unwritten rule number two is if you hate your nickname, don’t let anybody know. In fact, if you can be gotten to in any way for almost anything, don’t let any one know. Floating around in the sub sea story locker is the one about the young seaman with a bad case of acne that everyone called Zit or Zit Face on formal occasions. The name got to him and he sought resolution by telling his problem to the Squadron Chaplain. The chaplain came on board and delivered a rousing “Do unto others” sermon to the crew wherein he explained that to continue calling this unfortunate young man Zit might drive him crazy.
From then on the crew called Zit “Crazy” often explaining “We can’t call you Zit anymore because we heard it was driving you crazy.” From my benign position as a retired school teacher decades removed from patrol depth at four knots that’s a horrid story, but then locked up inside of eight thousand tons of three inch HY-80 it didn’t seem so bad. In fact it was a positive thing. And the turtle was trapped in a black hollow tube with 150 super intelligent furtive minds seeking diversion with a mandate to find cracks in armor or turtle shells in this case.
As his chief, I explained to Turtle the honor in receiving a nickname from shipmates and I told him about Ron Wardlow whom his fiancée Ginny knew only as Harv (short for Harvey High School). I told him: “Turtle, even your new young wife will be calling you Turtle!” Now I don’t remember his exact response, but it was vehement denial. It may even have suggested a wager: something a submarine qualified chief petty officer in the U S Navy would never engage in with a subordinate. It did however precipitate a plan in one almost intelligent mind seeking diversion with a mandate to find cracks in turtle shells and an added responsibility to teach the lessons of submarine life. We did three coin olies in the NavCenter, mostly to see who would make the coke run for the duty section. Does anyone remember when MT2 Leuke lost a ship wide olie and had to shine 52 pairs of shoes? Any way, at the next NAVET coke run olie, minus the Turtle, I submitted another prize. We had some business with the squadron, which would necessitate some one going in with the tug transfer when we got to Hawaii. The winner of this olie would make the tug transfer with one catch. Whoever won would have to get to the Turtles new wife and get her to go along with the gag. Carl Rehling won. It was a great show tying up at Ford Island. The Stonewall Jackson hadn’t made a call there in at least 5 years. We pulled up to the pier and open our missile tubes revealing to the anxious crowd the pool ball carefully painted on the underside of the hatches. The crew in liberty white uniforms was lined up on the other row of hatches. The brow was brought on board and liberty was granted. The Turtle was strategically stationed where he would be the first across the brow. When he bolted, the rest of us stood fast. He was met mid brow by Mrs. Turtle who upon throwing her arms around his extended neck screamed “Welcome Home Turtle” for all to here before they kissed.
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