Mat and Potatoes or submarines. Those were the choices I faced in 1995 as the Internet came to my small community in the Rocky Mountains where I was raised and from where I am writing this. A friend and computer store owner asked me to write a page for the new Internet service he was bringing into our town of Sheridan, Wyoming (pop. 15,000) that would bring people from out of state to his site. That would give him the numbers to show prospective local advertising customers as he tried to sell them on this new technology. He was targeting the tourist/travel industry and real estate companies in the area.
Meat and potatoes was the job I had held since 1968 when I left the Submarine Service after eight years, the last five on USS PATRICK HENRY, and went right into the grocery business. I had been promoted to grocery store manager after a year and a half. Submarines and the grocery business were the only two jobs I had done in my life.
I decided to write a page about submarines as I felt I could give something back to the service that I had enjoyed from 1960-68 and help my Internet Service Provider (ISP) at the same time. I had spent my time in the best of submarine worlds having served on a diesel boat, then graduating from Nuclear Power School and reporting to PATRICK HENRY. I also had some guilty feelings for never having tried to find past shipmates. So I would write a page and rely on the old adage that if I built it, they would come. And did they ever come.
What was a page? That was a key obviously. My friend, the computer store owner and ISP, really didn’t know how to create one and I didn’t either, but we would figure it out. I had been playing with computers since 1984 so that pan was easy, but I really had no clue as to how to write a page.
I was also the president of our local computer users group which at one time was the largest such group between Minneapolis and Seattle. From that group a couple of us figured out, without texts and outside assistance, how to write a page. There is a way you can view the source code (language) of any page you are looking at. If you find an easy page you can look at the code, copy it to your computer and change it to see the effect of your changes on your own machine before it’s put on the Net. The language is simply plain text with some tags at specific locations telling the program what to do and how to place things on the screen. That’s what I did-searched for a page that I liked and started plugging in my own pictures and text. There was a lot of trial and error but it works and is not difficult.
I had managed to save some pictures from my days aboard USS CATFISH and USS PA TRICK HENRY and I found some technical data on those two boats from reference books. I made a page with actually three subjects or sub-pages. The two boats and a general page on links to other pages and information that I had found surfing the Net. When my page first hit the Net there were only five other pages: SubNet; Silent Service; Sturgeon; Hot Rod’s Page (actually done by a lieutenant commander at Kings Bay); and a page that had some information about nuclear reactors.
Was my venture successful in the minds eye of my friend? Wildly so. The number of visitors to his server increased exponentially as did the number of pages. From back in the days of 25 hits or visits per day being very good, it has evolved into a Bulletin Board Service (BBS) for submariners that has received 115,000 posts since its inception three years ago. Hit counters placed on the BBS page indicate that over three years, people who stop just to read the posts outnumber the people who place the posts about 3-1, which translates to about one-half million people who have come to the board. That BBS is just one of four that I currently maintain. I have another for serious submarine book readers, one for my Sub Vets Base, and one for the officers of Sub Vets to discuss issues. I have also written and maintain some 21 other pages ranging in interest from boat pages, collectibles, officers, veterans rights and benefits, videos, a bookstore, ports and yards, official U.S. Navy sites, humor, pictures, history, accidents and much more. One of the BBSs’ raised over $1100 to help give some needy boat sailors at Norfolk a good meal over the holidays. I have held three on line auctions to benefit ongoing work on museum submarines. We gathered up stuff from guys on line and auctioned it off and have raised over $7000 for CA VALLA in Galveston, CROAKER in Buffalo and TORSK in Baltimore and another planned this coming November and all without benefit to any individual. The next auction is going toward benefiting the planned USSVl/SubVets Library Foundation Fund.
One interesting side note of all these pages and interest is the accumulation of pages and Web sites written by others that are designed to track and record crew members. Nearly one half of the boat pages in my Fleet page maintain crew lists. Many reunions have occurred because of these lists. The Internet has given people an extraordinary ability to track down former shipmates. There are other services on the Net that are huge lists of submariners and veterans. The U.S. Navy Memorial in Washington, DC, for example, maintains an on-line listing of Navy veterans.
One of the pages mentioned above (SubNet) was the first to recognize the need to maintain such lists. Don Merrigan of SubNet has more than 27 ,000 people recorded on his system. I do something a little unique, in that I also maintain a list called D.O.S.-the Directory of On-line Submariners. It currently lists more than 13,000 submariners with email addresses, the city and state where they live, and boats they served on. I receive 8-10 entries per day now for that system. It is used also for planning reunions and finding shipmates. You can look up and find a shipmate if he has an email address in less than five minutes.
Here are some numbers of interest. My Fleet page contains page links to over 350 submarines. In that page are some 143 different nuclear boat pages alone and many of them have multiple pages. That means more than one person wrote a page for a particular boat. My total link count (the address of another page embedded in the one you are viewing) is over 2000. That means if you explore three pages per day thoroughly you will spend two years of surfing just for submarine related topics.
I have over 174 foreign boat links to pages from Australia and Brazil to Russia and Sweden. I list over 150 new submarine books to buy. There are 75 Ports and Yards to visit, hundreds of official Navy sites, 75 links to Veterans and pages on models, salvage, search aides, stores and shops that sell submarine memorabilia, Veteran groups, photo pages, historical pages and odds and ends. Also there is a humor page called Golden Rivet that is a collection of how to relive your days on the boats-such as converting your closet to a bedroom and running emergency drills in your home. Want to keep up on Groton news? Visit the New London Day on-line or the Dolphin News from Groton Subase or how about the Trident Times from Bangor.
Don’t ever think you are too old to use this new technology. I used to talk regularly with a man named Tom Parks who served on S-39. Tom passed away last year but he used his computer daily out of his retirement home in Mexico. Two regular visitors to my system are Ron Smith who served on USS SEAL in WWII and who wrote the book Torpedgman and Frank Toon who rode USS BLENNY in WWII. Get aboard the USS Internet. Along the way stop and view NSL’s new website at: www.navalsubleague.com. The Navy recently has opened up the channels of email to the ships at sea. Communications to and from family members has changed greatly since the days of family grams.
So my meat and potatoes is now submarines. It consumes my days since I have retired from the grocery business and it is an ongoing journey of meeting new people on the net and talking about submarines and old days. My system address is: wavecom.net/~rontini and my email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.