Saturday, April 16, 2016

Down the Hatch of the USS Razorback

Stories abound of the submarine's role during war time, and mystery surrounds its use in Cold War surveillance. As a kid, Doug had a certain fascination and "awe" of them. In fact, he had even considered pursuing a career in a nuclear submarine training program after college graduation. So what better to celebrate my "nerdy" husband's birthday than to tour a submarine! 

Now, just where do we find a submarine when we are currently quite a distance from an ocean? The problem was solved as we noticed the USS Razorback when we walked across Little Rock's Junction Bridge. What was a submarine doing hundreds of miles from an ocean?  We decided to find out as we toured the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum in North Little Rock.

We met our guide, Bob, when we were checking into the Riverside RV Park. He promised Doug a fantastic birthday tour, and boy, did he deliver! Bob, about 75 years young, served on the USS Razorback from 1959-63. During our personal two hour tour, Bob revealed first-hand technical and personal stories about life on the Naval submarine during the Cold War years. The USS Razorback is named for the whale not the Arkansas' sports team. It's biggest claim to fame was being in Tokyo Bay when Japan surrendered ending WWII.

With our first steps into the submarine's stern, we were amazed that some people were able to live in space even smaller than the Wildebeest! The back torpedo room housed 12 of the 24 torpedoes
on board as well as provided sleeping quarters for some of the 66+ crewmen.

Not sure I could sleep comfortably lying next to, or in some cases, under a fully loaded torpedo!

As Doug entered Bob's former "office", the D/C Electrical Room, I knew he was in "nerd heaven"! He and Bob got into an intense conversation about generators, bus bars, and amp meters. Bob and his comrades would work 4 hour shifts in this small space where temps could reach 130 degrees and noise levels could be deafening. They had to know the purpose and positions of all the instruments so well that they could operate them even if blindfolded. In the case of power failure or worse, it could become necessary to have to work in complete darkness.  Doug listened intently. I just smiled and posed for pictures.

Further down the narrow walkway, we came to my area of expertise ... the galley kitchen. There we met Mike, the main cook, who is standing next to his picture at age 19 when he was responsible for cooking four meals a day for the 66+ crew members. While steak, bacon, chicken, and more steak was the normal meal plan, thousand of cans of SPAM were on hand just in case!

While touring the sub, Bob's stories reflected the passion he has for his beloved Razorback and fellow crew members. Some interesting stories shared:

  • The water purifier produced 1000 gallons of fresh water per day ... not enough for luxuries such as daily, weekly or even monthly showers. Thus, Bob recalls that the close quarters became quite "aromatic" after a three to six month tour at sea.
  • There was no doctor on board, but they did have a couple nurses/medics to handle health issues that could arise. They normally handled minor cuts and illnesses, but had to perform emergency appendectomies on occasion. In those instances, the galley's tables were transformed into an operating room.
  • In 1961, while patrolling the seas near Russia, they were "discovered" by the enemy and trapped for over three days. As their oxygen supply was running low, they decided to shoot off heat and noise making torpedos to throw the enemy off their track. They were then able to make their escape. Years later, they found out that it was actually President Kennedy's threat of retaliation that actually made Russia back off.
  • Although he never had to make an emergency deep water escape from the sub, they regularly prepared for the event in special simulation stations on the east and west coasts. I am positive that I could not stay calm while being shot out of the escape hatch and using special underwater breathing techniques to prevent the deadly "bends" while rising up 300 feet or more to the surface.
  • Because of the classified nature of their work, they were unable to send and receive information from home during their long tours of duty. They also got used to having secretive guests called "spooks" (CIA agents, etc) join them on some of their missions. During one such tour, a crew member's wife was due to have a baby. Thanks to one of the "spook's" information-gathering skills, he was able to get word that a healthy baby girl arrived!

As a crew working close together for months on end, they formed lifelong friendships. Their dedication to each other and their beloved submarine is evident by their returning yearly to give personal tours and to strengthen the local submarine community. When they successfully brought the Razorback to Little Rock, Bob and his buddies purchased a $350 bottle of Crown Royale whiskey that is currently stored in the galley kitchen. They have an understanding that when the last Razorback crew member passes on, the local submarine community will raise a toast in their memory. 

We are grateful for Bob escorting us on our personal tour through history. While we may not be able to toast him and his comrades in the future, it was our pleasure to share stories, smiles and hugs with a true American hero!

Until next time ... hug a hero ... and enjoy the adventures in your life!
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  1. Thanks for this blog entry! We just spent a week outside of Little Rock and saw the sub. We thought about a tour, but ran out of time, so this was almost like being there!

    1. So happy that you enjoy our blog! Little Rock is one of our favorite stops as we enjoy all that there is to do within walking distance. The submarine tour, however, was really over the top! Our naval veteran and guide, Bob, really did a wonderful job! He is so passionate about making sure that this part of American history gets passed on.

    2. Happy Birthday, Doug! I enjoyed celebrating vicariously with you with this tour of the Razorback. Amazing that 66+ crew members could live in this!

    3. Yes, it made our little home seem spacious!