• Sunday, September 28th, 2008

The article below was written by Dr. Joyce Brothers in 1963 after the loss of the USS Thresher and the 129 men aboard her.  It attempts to explain the reasons that Submarine sailors are who and what they are.

My days in the Submarine Service are among the finest in my memories.  As Dr. Brothers explains below, all of us learned that we could count and be counted on by our shipmates – at sea and in port.  I considered many of them my family, my brothers.

Risk is an Inspiration in Submarine Service

The tragic loss of the submarine Thresher and 129 men had a special kind of impact on the nation … a special kind of sadness, mixed with universal admiration for the men who choose this type of work.

One could not mention the Thresher without observing, in the same breath how utterly final and alone the end is when a ship dies at the bottom of the sea … and what a remarkable specimen of man it must be to accept such a risk.

Most of us might be moved to conclude, too, that a tragedy of this kind would have a damaging effect on the morale of the other men in the submarine service and tend to discourage future enlistments. Actually, there is no evidence that this is so.

What is it, then, that lures men to careers in which they spend so much of their time in cramped quarters, under great psychological stress, with danger lurking all about them?

Bond Among Them

Togetherness is an overworked term, but in no other branch of our military service is it given such full meaning as in the so-called “Silent Service.”

In an undersea craft, each man is totally dependent upon the skill of every other man in the crew, not only for top performance but for actual survival. Each knows that his very life depends on the others and because this is so, there is a bond among them that both challenges and comforts them.

All of this gives the submariner a special feeling of pride, because he is indeed a member of an elite corps. The risks, then, are an inspiration, rather than a deterrent.

The challenge of masculinity is another factor which attracts men to serve on submarines. It certainly is a test of a man’s prowess and power to know that he can qualify for this highly selective service. However, it should be emphasized that this desire to prove masculinity is not pathological, as it might be in certain dare-devil pursuits, such as driving a motorcycle through a flaming hoop.

Emotionally Healthy

There is nothing dare-devilish about the motivations of the man who decides to dedicate his life to the submarine service. He does, indeed, take pride in demonstrating that he is quite a man, but he does not do so to practice a form of foolhardy brinksmanship, to see how close he can get to failure and still snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

On the contrary, the aim in the submarine service is to battle the danger, minimize the risk, to take every measure to make certain that safety rather than danger, is maintained at all times.

Are the men in submarines braver than those in other pursuits where the possibility of sudden tragedy is not constant? The glib answer would be that they are. It is much more accurate, from a psychological point of view, to say that they are not necessarily braver, but that they are men who have a little more insight into themselves and their capabilities.

They know themselves a little better than the next man. This has to be so with men who have a healthy reason to volunteer for such risk. They are generally a cut healthier emotionally than others of similar age and background because of their willingness to push themselves a little bit farther and not settle for an easier kind of existence.

We all have tremendous capabilities but are rarely straining at the upper level of what we can do; these men are.

The country can be proud and grateful that so many of its sound, young, eager men care enough about their own status in life – and the welfare of their country – to pool their skills and match them collectively against the power of the sea.

I am proud to say I was one of the few that can call themselves “Submarine Sailors.” If you have been one yourself, or are considering a tour, you may enjoy a few stories from my days in the Submarine service and aboard the finest boat in the fleet, the USS Helena (SSN 725). HAHDF!

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12 Responses

  1. 1
    Bob Fore  //

    I read with great interest in the above article by Dr Brothers. I served aboard two submarines, qualified on both, made 6 overseas deployements for over 4 years.
    Over the years I have had the occasion to reflect upon the experience; only in advanceing middle age (I am 58) have I put the experience in perspective.
    My immediate emotional reaction is one of gratitude, not pride. To serve in the capacity that I did was an immense privilege and honor, one I am eternally grateful to my God,Country, and Navy.
    I am the brother of every submariner in the world, regardless of Nationality.
    I am a brother of the ‘phin’.

    Thank You, America!

  2. 2
    Lynn Miller  //

    Hi Jack,
    Strange and wonderful how the internet works these days. Fellow bubblehead sent me a different link to this article and I “Binged” keywords to verify it’s source and came upon your blog entry. There is no doubt we all share a unique pride in our service. I have shipmates I have known for almost 40 years that are still close friends. Retired after 29 years, Pulaski, Webster, Snook, Sculpin (sister boats of the Thresher and Scorpion), Tautog, Grayback and Proteus. Interesting background yourself and I will be contacting you about your other career in the hope that perhaps you can help me in that area. Thanks, Lynn in Vegas

  3. 3
    Jack Leblond  //

    People that haven’t served on the boats just don’t understand; you can take the man out of the submarine, but you can never take the submarine out of the man.

  4. 4
    david stewart  //

    got on helena right after i got to hawaii. found your sight thru thanks for the stroll down memory lane. would like to know more about The Book.

  5. 5
    Jack Leblond  //

    Hey Dave – I think I remeber you (old age sucks). I have more of the book to put online, just never enough time.

  6. 6
    Sanal  //

    Dear jack, I really liked this well.I am an Indian. I am also wish to join the submarine for having the pride and gratitude you said earlier. Thanks:-)

  7. 7
    Kyle Gallagher  //

    Good read but never been on a submarine.

  8. 8
    FN Jacob Paszak  //

    i look forward to the time when i find out if im on subs or surface. i do know that one you go subs, that you will never serve on a surface ship. i still have a few years till im in the fleet and look forward to the schooling im going through to get to the fleet.

  9. 9
    Dave Garrido  //

    Jack…a truly accurate description of who we are, what we are, and why we behave the way we do…725 was probably the best tour of my career out of the 6 fast boats I was on…I learned more and grew more on that tour than anywhere else. That crew I served with was the closest and most tightly bound group of men I have the privilege to call shipmates. To this day, and many of us have been retired for several years, whenever a 725 crewmember has a big to-do on the base, there are always us 725’ers in a group heckling and making sure that poor bastard gets the send-off he deserves…good on you Jack and thank you for remembering…

  10. 10
    Tom Gaston  //

    Served on 5 boats during my 21 years of service in submarines both as enlisted (CPO) and commissioned officer. The submarine service drives you to be the best you can be. It gives back 10 fold.

  11. 11
    George Camiolo  //

    I also served on two submarines in my stint in the Navy but I also served two terms in the marines and one term in the Army all on Active duty. I knew I wanted a life in the Military my Only regret was I picked the Navy last, if I would of Joined the Navy first there I would of stayed. I do not regret joining the Army Or the Marines but Submarine Service was where I truly belonged. I qualified on Both. The Men that serve in the silent service are truly men that stay brothers for the rest of their lives, even in civilian life. As old age creeps upon me I truly wish I could go back and do it all over again. I lost a few shipmates while serving some while we were underway and I think about them everyday. The two greatest things I will always remember and love and take to my Grave becoming a blue Nose and then becoming a shell back. Those that have gone threw it know what I am talking about.

  12. 12
    Phil Sibbald  //

    Having served aboard the USS Thomas Jefferson (SSBN- 618), I can honestly say that they were the best years of my life. I have recently found friends that I have lost track of, and can’t wait until we can sit down and recount our many memories. Thank you for this article and to my many “bubblehead” brothers.