The Submariner from Pico Canyon.
By DARRYL MANZER.
Published in The Signal, 1-30-2005.
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I can always tell when someone has been watching The History Channel too much. They've just seen 10 or 15 programs in a row about submarines and think they're experts on the subject. Sure, they know a lot about the history and capabilities of submarines. They might even be as well informed as that former insurance salesman, Tom Clancy. But I can always tell a fake.
It is all in how they pronounce, "submariner."
I can almost hear you saying it to yourself. You try to emulate the British inflection of the word. It's so natural. You say, "sub-MAR-in-er." Don't you? Isn't that what you just heard the last 12 hours on The History Channel? Yep, that's what you heard and for us Americans, that pronunciation is wrong.
I'm in a pickle this week. Somehow I've got to write about my 36 years of Naval service, sailor and civilian, and at the same time connect it to the Santa Clarita Valley. That way, John Boston and Leon Worden both of whom will add another "zero" to my present Signal paycheck will be happy. As a former sailor and civil servant, this should be easy.
Growing up in the Santa Clarita Valley, I thought of the ocean as that body of water next to the beach in Ventura or Carpinteria. I surely didn't think of submarines.
Hindsight usually being near-perfect reveals that many things I learned in a landlocked valley had a direct impact on my career with submarines.
To start, I learned far more in math and science classes at Hart High School than I was willing to admit when I graduated in 1968.
Living near or on oil leases most of my life gave me quite an education in pumps, engines, electrical systems, pipes, tanks and valves. I also was aware of high-pressure liquid and gas systems and how to control them to a certain extent. I had a passing knowledge of fire safety and prevention. I also hunted and could use most types of firearms.
All of that was possible before the SCV filled up with people. The value of hard work done well was something learned at school and at home in Mentryville.
sports his dolphins and a beard common on submarines in 1971
in the missile compartment of the USS Thomas A. Edison.
I never ever considered a career involving submarines. Funny what a draft notice can do to a young man. When mine came, I ran, not walked, to the nearest Navy recruiter (in San Fernando).
I enlisted to be a Navy musician. Since the Navy didn't need another bassoonist and I refused to play a single-reed instrument, I volunteered for submarines when I got to boot camp in San Diego. That is how I became a "Torpedoman's Mate" or "TM".
With all of the training I received, it was more than a year before I got to my first submarine. I had already learned to call it a "boat." No matter what the size, all submarines in the U.S. Navy are called "boats" by those who serve them. It's tradition.
The Navy has lots of traditions. Calling a submarine a "boat" is one of the few better traditions. There are lots of worse traditions in the Navy. That list is too long to cover in this column.
I was trained to be a "Cold Warrior." Serving on Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarines that carried 16 Polaris missiles and 11 torpedoes, it was a duty that meant I would be in the boat, submerged for patrols of 60 to 90 days each. I made seven of those patrols. Some sailors have made more than 30 patrols.
The job was to launch nuclear warheads at the Soviet Union if they launched nuclear warheads at the United States. Being on an undetectable submarine, ready to launch within 15 minutes of getting orders, it was thought that such a threat would keep either side from launching at all.
Since the world still exists, the system worked well. Had we launched a single missile with a warhead, we would have failed in our mission.
Every sailor who reports to a submarine has one goal in life: to qualify in submarines. That is when you get to put on a pin called "Dolphins" that is the mark of a qualified submariner.
All navies worldwide have a qualification pin with dolphins. I'll never forget getting mine.
Pipes, pumps, wires, diesel engines, high-pressure air, oil and water systems, and lots of hard work. Remember that background in the SCV? It surely helped me on the boats. Those boring math classes at Hart? I'm glad I passed them. It didn't take long to get my "fish."
I extended my original four-year enlistment by three years for a bonus of about $3,000 and an extra $75 per month in proficiency pay. Recently I found out that in my six years, 11 months and 26 days of active duty in the submarine service, I earned almost $30,445. That isn't per year. That was the total for all seven years.
Not wanting to stay in, I left the Navy long enough to realize that my Navy training had not prepared me for a normal job in civilian life. Plus, I loved the boats. I was able to get a civilian position as a test director at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, Calif. You know northern California. That's where Southern California gets the water that fills the lake in Castaic. (Was that a stretch, or what?)
The civilian job with the Navy often put me at sea on a submarine, doing tests following an overhaul or series of modifications. The pay was much better as a civilian. I transferred to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Wash., and continued to get more training and education about the boats and at Seattle University. I still had to go to sea on submarines to test and certify the boats for the jobs they had to do for our country. I transferred back to California in 1982 and then to Virginia in 1989.
I worked on or for the boats until last Friday, when I retired with 36 years of total service in and with the Navy. Not a bad run for a job I took to escape a draft notice.
I had a few other highlights in my career adding a ship to the Navy and keeping another ship in the Navy, both without Congressional approval. Doing so saved us taxpayers an average of $3 million per year. But that is another story.
So, what is the proper way to pronounce "submariner"? I was corrected once and only once by a World War II submarine veteran. Since he was a real warrior, having survived so much in those old boats, I'll divulge his bit of wisdom.
He told me he never served on a "sub-MAR-in" but only on "sub-ma-REENS." That made him a "sub-ma-REEN-er."
I'm proud to say, I earned my Dolphins and will always be a "sub-ma-REEN-er." Of all my on-the-job accomplishments, that was my finest.
Darryl Manzer lived in the Santa Clarita Valley oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s as a teenager. He now lives in Virginia.