Admiral Bell, Commmodore, distinguished guests, friends of PARGO, ladies and gentlemen. It’s customary at this point to say how honored I am to have been asked to do what it is I am doing today. What goes without saying, however, should, and for the sake of brevity, shall.
Furthermore, the fact is that honor is not the primary emotion I’m experiencing at the moment. I’m not even sure just what it is that I am feeling, except that it is powerful and profound! Perhaps with your help as empathic listeners I’ll be able to talk it out and gain a better understanding of it.
When Captain Wegner called me back in May to ask if I would speak at the deactivation ceremony of his ship, I accepted, then, with a sense of pride-the dangerous flip side of honor-1 told my wife, Mary. She gave the look that any man married more than a week recognizes, and told me “Don’t get maudlin!”
I, of course, was offended by that remark-the type of offense taken whenever one received unsolicited advice which is both desperately needed and painfully accurate.
It did make me reflect, however, that this whole affair isn’t about me, or Steve White or Brian Wegner or any other person, but it is about PARGO. Furthermore, to borrow a line, we’re here to bury P ARGO, not to praise her.
Her-that pronoun reminds me that at this point there is something important of which to advise you. I, and most others of us that have lived so intimately with these kind of inorganic hers cannot refer to them in a genderless sense, and I’m afraid that some of the following comments might not be entirely politically correct. They could even be perceived by some to have, although certainly not offensive, some slightly sexual overtones.
In fact, when one thinks about it, Sigmund Freud would have had a great deal to say about why 120 otherwise healthy men freely chose to send themselves off for months at a time locked inside a device such as PARGO. There must be some level of bonding with these hers, then, that is different from that which we feel for our car or favorite TV program.
My good friend and mentor, Jerry Holland, as he left command of Sub School, said about those that shared this bonding to a vessel, that .. Sailors were too embarrassed to use the word love when referring to one another, so they invented the word ship-mate.”
In any case, since I am neither in nor intend to run for public office, and since I have no more earthly selection boards to face, you, the audience will just have to deal with whatever it is that you think you hear me say.
When I first met PARGO she was a maiden-on the building ways at Electric Boat being coddled and protected by Steve White while I was building FLASHER. When some 12 years later I finally was told I could have her, she was fully mature and very experienced. Steve White, Dave Hinkle, and Jay Ransom had had their way with her, and she had developed a style and reputation that others on this waterfront whispered about with a degree of wonderment and envy.
A fast but discreet lady, she went in harm’s way with a knowing flair and determination; and, eager to please, would try anything at all that was asked of her, even, I suspected, but never
tested, to attempt violating laws of physics.
Some younger and even faster sisters were just beginning to show up, but were really rookies, and weren’t even yet allowed to go downtown alone. She was truly a working girl of the highest rank, and, like others before me, I really believed her first allegiance was to me until she drove off with Harvey Cybul and began happily responding to his wishes and demands.
As I was forced to leave this deck, furious because of her demonstrated infidelity, I actually called her nothing more than several thousand tons of steel hull, thousands of pounds of copper- nickel piping, and a few grams or perhaps ounces of transistor grade silicon-it goes to show just what we are capable of saying to a significant other when anger gains the upper hand.
My words didn’t phase her a bit, however, and she went on to know many other men as she evolved into the tough old broad she is today-now taken off the streets and out of a job, but still maintaining all the grace and poise of one on shakedown cruise.
She’s not being let go because she’s lost her stuff. The brains of these inorganic hers don’t stagnate or atrophy with age as mine and yours are prone to do. They actually get completely replaced with better ones periodically. Ms. PARGO thinks a lot faster and better about many more things than she did when I was intimate with her, and I’d even be hesitant to presently consider myself an adequate intellectual companion. She’s not faster, but neither is she any slower, and she’s even more discreet.
What exactly did she do that justifies her having passed this way, really using us far more than we even thought we were using her? Nothing much more, along with a few dozen like her, than simply wining the Cold War. Any student of the Battle of Britain in 1940 knows that although conventional wisdom credits the faster Spitfires with much of the credit for the victory, it was the slower Hurricanes that did the bulk of the work.
These warrior amazons chased the Soviet bear out of the world’s oceans back into the nooks and crannies of his own littoral-the bastions we used to read and hear so much about,
and, as any naval strategist will tell you, when a Navy assumes a defensive stance, it is beaten.
Also, as befits a proud and gracious lady. some of the last services she provided were for the greater benefit of mankind when she brought civilian scientists to her beloved but previously private Arctic waters. In a sense, she gave it away for free.
I could continue on with the usual-how many miles steamed, how many dives and that sort of data, and everyone would be suitably impressed, but in a larger sense, those numbers are almost trivial. What we that slept in her bosom will remember of her is that she enticed and seduced us away from our homes and families for extended periods to do things we never thought ourselves capable of. Whatever other purpose the grand designer had in mind for testosterone, it also causes young men to drive cars too fast, and slightly older men to push other envelopes a little too far. It is not the least surprising that these families now somewhat sigh with relief that she is almost gone, for it was idiocy to ever have expected them to love such a competitor for our time and affection. The most we ever could have asked or expected was the relative absence of dislike, and we would have been well advised to accept hate.
But, she’s gone-we come back to the hearth looking for the warmth and friendship we so often voluntarily left, and amazingly, it’s still there.
Ceremonies like this are cathartic-the naval version of Four Weddings and a Funeral-maybe Four Commissionings and an Inactivation-I’ll have to ask and see if Paramount is interested in that.
I think I speak for all that went before and after, both in the wardroom and on the mess decks, when I say I’m glad I knew her. She was a hard mistress, however, and rm not sure I would have bad the stamina to continue on much longer than I did. And certainly couldn’t meet her expectations now. As dichotomous as it sounds, however, we who served her should strive to forget, while everyone else should not.