The best part of a Polaris Patrol, in my opinion, was the day you left the ship and returned to CONUS — continental United States.
There was much work to be done in the few days allotted between returning to port and our departure for the States. Officers, chief petty officers, and leading petty officers had to prepare their divisions for turning over of duties to the opposite crew. No one had time to laze around. From the lowest to the highest, it was work, work, work until that final day when we would put our dress blues on and have a quick change-of-command ceremony and depart for home.
That day finally came. Our short-timer calendars were filled in. The patrol was over. Reports had been prepared and submitted. Equipment had been inventoried and signed for by the relieving crew. Work requests had been prepared and reviewed and sent the submarine tender. Now all that was necessary was for the on-coming captain to say to our captain , “I relieve you.”
Our crew was dressed to the nines. We were going home. Soon the tug would come along side the tender and we would board for the trip down the lock and across the Clyde to the lovely little city of Gourock where we would board busses that would soon deposit us at the Prestwick Air Force Base for our return flight home.
Our two midshipmen would fly back with us. By this time a camaraderie had developed between them and the crew. But that did not stop the hijinks. Most of the crew would be required to attend the change of command ceremony. Officers (which would include our midshipmen) and chiefs were in the front rows. Behind them would be us grunts, grouped by division.
For my last assault on midshipman #2 I would need some help. I had to get his hat. That meant he would have to be distracted long enough to leave it unattended so I could do my dirty work. Finding partners-in-crime was not hard. The trick would be to get the hat close enough to the change of command ceremony for him not to notice anything amiss.
Finding my opportunity, I grabbed the middy’s hat and unscrewed his fouled anchor from its backing and turned the anchor upside down. Then I put it back.
Standing proudly at attention in the first row was my target. He was unaware of the alteration, but the change did not pass unnoticed by others, including the captain. You could tell because grins would start to form on the faces of those who had spotted the insignia.
I was sure someone would spill the beans, but not a word was said. No one said anything at the change of command ceremony. No one said anything as we processed through the airport. No one said anything until we formed in ranks once again at the submarine base for our final muster before being dismissed to go our several ways. Only after the crew was dismissed was the midshipman made aware of what I had done.
I do not know what became of this young man. I wonder if he ever dared brave embarking on another submarine. Perhaps he went on to become a career officer. I hope he did well in whatever course he took. Perhaps he’ll show up at a ship’s reunion where we can reminisce about our time together aboard the USS Robert E. Lee. I’d like that.