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5/21/2009 3:32:36 PM
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My next book, titled Red November: Inside the Secret U.S. - Soviet Underwater War, due out in 2010 by HarperCollins explores the facinating world of submariner operations, including, in some cases, those conducted by Soviet submariners. To hear their stories first hand, I traveled to Saint Petersburg, Russia and attended their annual event. Here's what happened:
Since Steve Robinson's comment from last year is still posted, here's a quick response: I spoke with Steve and clarified that I'm not a SEAL and never intended to indicate such and we're fine now. I did, however, do joint ops and training exercises with the teams during the Cold War but concur that "SEAL-trained" might be misconstrued, so that wording has been corrected. I am proud to have served as a submariner and navy diver, and what I experienced recently, which I wrote about below, conveys why I feel as close to this community of underwater warriors as I'm sure Steve does to the guys on the teams. We were all brothers in arms doing our job during the Cold War.
I recently interviewed some submariners and divers who conducted top secret underwater operations that would make your hair curl. I know, I did a couple myself. Prior to 1983, these were primarily done by nave divers. After 1983, some of these ops fell under Spec War (Navy SEALS). The common denominator for all these missions has always been submarines. My next book, titled Red November: Inside the Secret U.S. - Soviet Underwater War, due out in 2010 by HarperCollins, explores this facinating world from a whole new angle, including, in some cases, through the eyes of Soviet submariners. To hear their stories first hand, I traveled to Saint Petersburg, Russia and attended their annual event. Here's what happened:
I attend the submariner’s day celebration Saturday night, sponsored by the Saint Petersburg Submarine Club. I had to wear my uniform—which I hadn’t worn in more than two decades. I was awe struck. Here I am, a lowly former petty officer being treated like royalty by retired Russian captains and admirals. I sat at the table with the senior Admiral and dozens of smiling and friendly submariners came over and hugged me and thanked me for being there. We laughed and joked about being on the boats, once pointed in opposite directions to each other, and traded navy trinkets. One captain and I swapped navy diver pins and he couldn’t stop thanking me enough.
Then they started dancing and singing in groups on the dance floor and kept asking me to join them (yeah, in my hot wool navy uniform!). Some of them came over and told me stories about their adventures and four news crews interviewed me like I was a celebrity or something. I was surprised at how many of them knew the US-given name for their class of submarine. Back then, the Soviets did not name their boats, but gave them a project number, such as Project 675. The US navy gave them alpha designations like Foxtrot or Yankee or Delta. We joked with each other about how we once followed one another around the ocean—us chasing them or vice versa—but in every case they now consider fellow submariners as “friends for life” due to the common bond we shared. Validating this with more than just words, they initiated me into their official submariner’s club and gave me a pin and a club badge. Then they had me speak to the room (via my translator).
In the US, we don’t have an official “submariner’s day” like they do in Russia. We only have veteran’s day and memorial day. In Russia, submariners are revered and respected highly as it was such a dangerous profession (they had numerous accidents and lost quite a few boats during the Cold War). Like the vessels they rode beneath the waves, their camaraderie runs deep. In this fraternity no one cares about nationalities, creeds or skin color. We are all brothers who share a common bond—all of us spent a year or more learning about every switch, valve and system on our boats to “qualify” and earn the right to proudly wear submariner dolphin insignias. That we strangers, whose governments once fought as enemies, can greet each other with firm handshakes, warm hugs and broad smiles, is more than just a miracle, it’s a testament to the spirit that lives in each of us. That these men who had just met me could thank me for being there to share their special day, is truly a blessing. I felt honored and humbled to be a considered a brother among brothers.
After dinner, a small group of submariners walked to the dance floor, placed hands on shoulders, and started singing a song for submariners. Though I didn’t understand the words, I felt the meaning touch the deepest part of my soul. As the group grew larger, and voices crescendoed, tears filled my eyes. Words can never do justice to the feelings that overcame me when I stood alongside my brothers and toasted all submariners lost at sea. As I was leaving, one Admiral shook my hand and with a face filled with joy, quoted an old Russian proverb: “After a storm there is fair weather, after sorrow there is joy.”
Many of the submariners I met will be coming to San Diego this September for an international submariner’s convention. I look forward to showing them the same hospitality, warmth and the welcome they gave me. I also look forward to the day when all of us can lay down our swords and realize that we all live, laugh and love the same no matter what part of the world we call home. Until then, we are destined to remain captured by the storm of sorrow.
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