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My defining moment was on the Sea Poacher. Being an oiler was a step above shithouse mouse and mess cook (thank you I did them both). At eighteen I thought I knew it all. Little did I know.
At that time the throttleman was, if not god, cetainly right next to it. Not only could he start the engines but also could tell me what to do or not to do. My throttleman was Larry Weinfurter, a fleet 2nd class that was rare -to us- when he came aboard. Through his "tutalege" he taught me, in the bilges and tank tops of that engine room, that I could do anything if I put my mind to it and had enough "motivation". He provide that motivation.
I continue to look back on those lessons as a defining moment in my life that has allowed me whatever success that I have had.
The message for my grandchildren? You can do ANYTHING you set your mind to (with the right motivation).
This story does not qualify as a "war story", but may be interesting and just might turn up shipmates with whom I served (albeit short).
Out of sub school, I reported aboard the Poacher in Portsmouth, NH. That was sometime in May of 46, just 28 days after my marriage to Mary Louise (Melanson) Ezell. The Boat sailed down the East coast, through the Panama Canal and to the Pacific side (Balboa). Before the Poacher I served three years in the Pacific aboard the Battleship Tennessee. While aboard her I was a signalman. l went to sub school from Japan, immediately after the surrender. While in sub school I became dual rated as a Quartermaster/Signalman Second Class (QMS 2C). Because of that training, I had the good fortune to steer the Boat through the Panama Canal.
While aboard the Poacher, we operated with a Squadron, which included the Sea Owl, Sea Robin and others I don't remember. Maybe response to this article will fill in those "senior moment" blanks, created by 57 years of passing time.
When we were in port, we had an organized baseball league, playing in a full sized stadium on the Marine base. Each boat had a team and the Tender had three teams. It was a sporty league, with some players who were previously "pros". I was the playing coach for our team.The stakes for each game was a keg of beer, with the loser buying. Much fun.
I am happy to report that the wedding that took place in Norwich, CT, 57 years ago is still intact.
Just got this from another old diesel boat skipper, don't know for sure who wrote it but I cannot disagree with any thing that is said! regards,
One thing we weren't aware of at the time but became evident as life wore on, was that we learned true leadership from the finest examples any lad was ever given. Boat qualified CPOs.
They were crusty bastards who had done it all and had been forged into men who had been time tested over more years than a lot of us had time on the planet.
The ones I remember wore hydraulic oil stained hats with scratched and dinged-up insignia, faded shirts, some with a Bull Durham tag dangling out of their right-hand pocket or a pipe and tobacco reloads in a worn leather pouch in their hip pockets, and a Zippo that had been everywhere. Some of them came with tattoos on their forearms that would force them to keep their cuffs buttoned at a Methodist picnic. Most of them were as tough as a boarding house steak. A quality required to survive the life they lived. They were and always will be, a breed apart from all other residents of Mother Earth.
They took eighteen year-old idiots and hammered the stupid bastards into submarine sailors. You knew instinctively it had to be hell on earth to have been born a Chief's kid. God should have given all sons born to Chiefs a return option.
A Chief didn't have to command respect. He got it because there was nothing else you could give them. They were God's designated hitters on earth.
We had Chiefs with fully loaded Submarine Combat Patrol Pins in my day... hard-core bastards, who found nothing out of place with the use of the word 'Japs' to refer to the little sons of Nippon they had littered the floor of the Pacific with, as payback for a little December 7th tea party they gave us in 1941. In those days, 'insensitivity' was not a word in a boatsailor's lexicon. They remembered lost mates and still cursed the cause of their loss... And they were expert at choosing descriptive adjectives and nouns, none of which their mothers would have endorsed.
At the rare times you saw a Chief topside in dress canvas, you saw rows of
hard-earned worn and faded ribbons over his pocket.
"Hey Chief, what's that one and that one?"
"Oh Hell kid, I can't remember. There was a war on. They gave them to us to keep track of the campaigns. We didn't get a lot of news out where we were. To be honest, we just took their word for it. Hell son, you couldn't pronounce most of the names of the places we went. They're all depth charge survival geedunk. Listen kid, ribbons don't make you a submariner. We knew who the heroes were and in the final analysis that's all that matters."
Many nights we sat in the after battery messdeck wrapping ourselves around cups of coffee and listening to their stories. They were light-hearted stories about warm beer shared with their running mates in corrugated metal sheds at resupply depots, where the only furniture was a few packing crates and a couple of Coleman lamps. Standing in line at a Honolulu cathouse or spending three hours soaking in a tub in Freemantle, smoking cigars and getting loaded. It was our history. And we dreamed of being just like them because they were our heroes.
When they accepted you as their shipmate, it was the highest honor you would ever receive in your life. At least it was clearly that for me.
They were not men given to the prerogatives of their position. You would
find them with their sleeves rolled up, shoulder-to-shoulder with you in a
stores loading party.
"Hey Chief, no need for you to be out here tossing' crates in the rain, we can get all this crap aboard."
"Son, the term 'All hands' means all hands."
"Yeah Chief, but you're no damn kid anymore, you old coot."
"Horsefly, when I'm eighty-five parked in the stove up old bastards' home, I'll still be able to kick your worthless butt from here to fifty feet past the screwguards along with six of your closest friends."
And he probably wasn't bullshitting.
They trained us. Not only us, but hundreds more just like us. If it wasn't for Chief Petty Officers, there wouldn't be any Submarine Force.
There wasn't any fairy godmother who lived in a hollow tree in the
enchanted forest who could wave her magic wand and create a Chief Petty
Officer. They were born as hotsacking seamen and matured like good whiskey
in steel hulls over many years. Nothing a nineteen year-old jaybird could
cook up was original to these old saltwater owls. They had seen E-3 jerks
come and go for so many years, they could read you like a book.
"Son, I know what you are thinking. Just one word of advice. DON'T. It won't be worth it."
Chiefs aren't the kind of guys you thank. Monkeys at the zoo don't spend a lot of time thanking the guy who makes them do tricks for peanuts. Appreciation of what they did and who they were, comes with long distance retrospect. No young lad takes time to recognize the worth of his leadership. That comes later when you have experienced poor leadership or lets say, when you have the maturity to recognize what leaders should be, you find that submarine Chiefs are the standard by which you measure all others.
They had no Academy rings to get scratched up. They butchered the King's English. They had become educated at the other end of an anchor chain from Copenhagen to Singapore. They had given their entire lives to the United States Navy. In the progression of the nobility of employment, submarine CPO heads the list.
So, when we ultimately get our final duty station assignments and we get to wherever the big CNO in the sky assigns us. If we are lucky, Marines will be guarding the streets. I don't know about that Marine propaganda bullshit, but there will be an old Chief in a oil-stained hat and a cigar stub clenched in his teeth, standing at the brow to assign us our bunks and tell us where to stow our gear... And we will all be young again and the damn coffee will float a rock.
Life fixes it so that by the time a stupid kid grows old enough and smart enough to recognize who he should have thanked along the way, he no longer can. If I could, I would thank my old Chiefs. If you only knew what you succeeded in pounding in this thick skull, you would be amazed.
So thanks you old casehardened unsalvageable sonuvabitches. Save me a rack in the Alley.
You contacted my cousin, Boston Globe editor Steven Kurkjian, about Navy Steve Kurkjian. They were uncle and nephew, but Globe Steven Kurkjian didn't really know Navy Steve Kurkjian and contacted me to pass info on to you.
Navy Steve Kurkjian was my uncle, my mother was his older sister. Steve was
born in Boston in 1923 and was raised in Watertown, Mass. He attended a
trade high school in Waltham, Mass and his parents signed him up for US Navy
service when Steve was 17. He served aboard a cruiser, USS LOUISVILLE, at
Pearl Harbor and transferred to sub school at New London one week before Dec
7, 1941. All of his WW II service was aboard Pacific subs as a motor
machinist mate (later EN rating) and he spent a lot of time operating out of
Dutch Harbor, Alaska. I regret that I do not know the name of any of the
subs that he served in.
After WW II he served on a sub out of Guam and then
was aboard a sub at Charleston, SC. He married a Charleston girl named Lois
in 1952 and was stationed or aboard a sub at New London in the mid 1950s.
Later he was divorced and finished his military career with a few years in
the Air Force in Vandenburg AFB, Calif. He left military service about 1961
and worked for awhile at Boston Navy Yard as a machinist.
During sub service
he suffered some heart damage but never would speak about it. About 1967 he
suffered a major heart attack and changed his life style to a very spartan
life, riding a bycycle everywhere, and looked after his aged mother. She
died at age 96 in 1976 and Steve passed away in November 1977 at the age of
54. He is buried in Watertown, Mass alongside his mother and father. Steve's
older brother Jeff, was an MIT math major, became a PHD in math, and
eventually became the US Army's number one mathmetician. He died just a few
weeks ago or I would have referred you to him. One of his sons is ESPN
baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian.
That is about all that I can report to you. Robert Shvodian
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