23 Jan 2006
I was living in Wyoming when I enlisted in the Navy in February 1956. I took
advantage of the "Kiddie Cruise" option, and enlisted a couple of weeks before my 18th
birthday; that way they had to discharge me on my 21st birthday which would give me an
enlistment of just a little over three years.
After boot camp in San Diego, I went to Class “A” Engineman School in San Diego and
from there to Submarine School in New London. They said my class (#137) was the last
class that would be using the old “Momsen Lung” for submarine escape training, and that
classes from that time on would be using the "free ascent" method of escape.
From Sub School I went to Basic Submarine Diesel Engines School at New London.
From New London I went to Key West and reported on board the Thornback on
December 17, 1956.
While I was attached to the Thornback, the Navy started a new program to have a
certified SCUBA diver aboard each boat. I was lucky enough to qualify for that position,
and went to basic Underwater Swimmer School in Key West (October 26, 1957-
November 29, 1957). UWSS was at that time the first 5 weeks of the old Underwater
Demolition Team ("UDT" or "Frogman").
We were in the ocean every single day, and in addition to that we had to run several
miles a day. I heard all the horror stories about the guys who went on to complete the rest
of the UDT program and having to go through "hell week." After hearing all that, I was
glad I only had to do the first five weeks of that training to get certified as a Navy SCUBA
diver. I completed the course and enjoyed doing a lot of sport diving up on the Keys after
I kept a journal while on board the Thornback and wrote in it almost daily during our
cruise to the Mediterranean, June 2, 1958 to October 9, 1958. That was almost 50 years
ago, but I still find myself looking back through what was truly one of the more interesting
time periods of my life. In that journal I recorded daily events during that entire cruise, to
see if I could make an accurate recording of what life was like on a submarine. I even
recorded the titles of the books I read (36) while on that cruise. Some of the short stories
from that journal are in the Sea Stories Section of this website.
While at sea I drew cartoons of shipmates (and of myself too), based on actual events
on board the Thornback. I taped them to the wall in the mess hall and whenever I drew a
new one I'd take the old one down. I finally got in trouble for a couple of them that
portrayed some of the officers in a bad light. I was called into the Ward Room by the
Exec., and he basically told me I couldn't be doing that. The one that got me in the most
trouble was the one about Lt. Stafford and his "Santa Claus Boots" (which Pat Gurr
currently features on his Thornback website).
I was discharged from the Navy in early February, 1959. I was a Harley rider (1955
Panhead) at that time, and rode it back to Wyoming. I was hoping I could use my skills as
a Navy Engineman on the outside. Although I had only worked on Fairbanks Morse
engines on the Thornback, I knew the railroads were using the same GM 278 series
engines in their locomotives that I had trained on at Basic Submarine Engine School in
New London. They had no jobs working on engines, but said they had a job as a
locomotive fireman if I wanted it (they still had firemen in those days).
I took that job. It was fun and I did that for 6 years, and then was promoted to
locomotive engineer. I worked as a locomotive engineer on the Burlington Railroad for a
few more years, and decided I wanted to do something different with my life. So, in 1967 I
gave up my 8-1/2 years of railroad seniority and moved to the central coast of California
and went to work for the city of San Luis Obispo as a firefighter.
After 22 years of "putting the wet stuff on the red stuff," I retired in 1992, and haven't
worked a day of my life (for money) since. I live in the beach town of Oceano with my wife
of 20 years. We have a cat and a dog and some wild birds that my wife feeds. I have two
boys from a former marriage (one is a Chief in the Navy SeaBees and will have 20 years
service this coming November), and my wife has two children from her former marriage.
I run on the beach three times a week to stay alive, and drink quite a bit of the excellent
wine they make around here. I drink mostly reds. There's over 50 wineries in this county
and they're all good!
I guess my old habit of recording events in writing, keeping journals, and drawing
cartoons, etc. has stood me in good stead. I have two published books written about this
area, and possibly a third in the making.
I've thought a lot about you guys over the years. I always wonder what's happened in
your lives since we last saw each other so long ago. I don't make any of the Thornback
reunions, but with this new computer and Internet technology I've been put back in touch
with many of you.
Pat Gurr has done an excellent job with this website, which I'm sure is going to bring
even more of us old undersea shipmates back in touch with each other as time goes by. If
you happen to wander onto this website, please sign in and let us all know you're still out
there. It would be really great to hear from you…
* * * DIESEL BOATS FOREVER * * *
Norm Hammond * * *