The Submarine Force has never had a shortage of heros. There have been the bona-fide wartime variety, the Fluckeys, O’Kanes and Gilmores, and the peacetime versions, whose immediate impact was less dramatic, but no less worthy of respect-Rickover, Wilkinson, Beach and so on and so on. In fact, if the measure of a hero is what he accomplishes, the Submarine Force was pumping them out by the gross during the sixties and early seventies-enough to, a decade or so later, virrually control the Navy.
In the Fall of ’61, as an Ensign and brand new product of the experimental direct input program, I found myself reporting aboard SCORPION (arrogant and largely unmotivated) fifteen minutes before she left post-shakedown availability at EB enroute to being the first SSN in Norfolk. As I met the other officers in the Wardroom, Lieutenant Holland was glad to see me, since he had been George on his destroyer, and his diesel boat, and was still so on SCORPION. “Call me Jerry”, he said, which I still find hard to do; Lieutenant Fountain said “Call me Bob”, and Lieutenant Commander Carr, the XO, introduced himself as Ken. The other officers followed suit except for Lieutenant Commander Lumsden, the 3n1_”I’m Lieutenant Commander Richard E. Lumsden-my first name is Sir”. A hulking and physically powerful bear of a man, I was soon to find out that he tried bard to be scary, but really was a softy with a heart of gold.
The SCORPION wardroom then was an intellectually intimidating crowd, with the likes of Holland, Fountain, Carr, Baciocco, and Shaffer either there or having just left, and was to soon become even more so as Trost and Kaufman shortly reported in-at least 21 stars came out of that bunch. Lum was sometimes the brunt of an observation that he was the only one there from the bottom half of his class-USNA ’52-famous for having, to a man, stepped out of their shoes and marched off in socks at their final June Week Graduation P-rade. Starting with Lum, however, and reinforced through the next few decades was a personal observation that any nuclear submariner had already been pre-certified as smart enough. Some of the greatest failures observed were those who thought that sheer inrelligence was all that it took-as if being the fattest in the crowd would make one the best Sumo wrestler.
Like any other trade-school product, I had been force-fed concepts of leadership and responsibility until they ran out of my ears, but they hadn’t necessarily taken. Serving with that crowd, particularly Lum, for the next 13 months made them all very real. As 3n1, Lum was the Navigator-a job that took only 2 hours a day as long as one realized that meant 5 minutes each and every hour. The Dead Reckoning Analyzer Indicator position (DRAI), then an electro-mechanical device which used EM log speed and gyro heading to calculate (exclusive of set and drift), was his exclusive domain. No one reset it but him, and to watch the mental and emotional investment he made, after poring over such as LORAN ALF A or shaky visual fixes on a foreign shore, was a study in applied appreciation of not just responsibility, but the next step, accountability. He also tried, but failed, to portray that same hard and gruff exterior towards his troops. They too saw through it, loved him as a leader, served him well and knew that whatever flak they might take on some leave or special request chit, he would invariably approve it.
The relationship soon took on all of the characteristics of a good Plebe versus Firstie situation. He would rag on me, and, with obvious feigned obsequiousness, I would get my shots back in return. While the cut-throat Bridge others in the wardroom played wasn’t Lum’s forte, he was eager to learn cribbage. Lum would order me to play with him, and I’d do that ” … only if I get to take the points you miss, Sir”. When he would count his hand and reach for the pegs, I’d reach for mine-“Wait a minute … ” he’d say, and count them again-“Right?” he’d demand. “Take whatever you think is right, Sir” his very junior subordinate would respond, getting an ursine scowl in return.
Shortly after arriving in Norfolk, SCORPION was sent to drydock in Newport News to have her shaft replaced, another 588 class having literally twisted it off during an Emergency Back bell on the surface. Lum’s strong advice to an unqualified JO was to tour the drydock and study the ship from the bottom while it was on the blocks. One needed a hardhat to go into the dock, however, so I asked Lum if I could borrow his-a treasured artifact from new construction emblazoned with a metal naval officer’s device. Anxious to get this task over with, I went scurrying up a ladder near the stem only to literally crash into the bottom of an immovable stem plane and (you guessed it) split the hard hat in two. He wasn’t happy about that. However, the lesson I learned then about moving slowly and carefully in the dangerous shipyard environment served me well in five subsequent new constructions or refueling overhauls, and was well worth the pointed advice Lum gave me that night.
Commander Buzz Bessac had been the SCORPION commissioning and my first CO. He loved to be argued with, especially by the really junior officers. It was a very effective training technique, since there is great merit in not only hearing the right answer, but also being first encouraged to fully articulate a wrong one. Halfway through my 13 month tour, Buzz was relieved by Commander Yogi Kaufman. Now naturally assuming that all COs liked to be argued with, I continued to do that. It was years after I had left the ship that I realized what a flak shield Lum had been when he was called to the COs stateroom for 30 minutes or so after one of my “Captain, that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard … ” outbursts. His advice after one of these sessions (which went right over my head at the time) was “Patton, aren’t you ever going to learn to keep your mouth shut?” In spite of everything, Lum, Yogi and I all survived these events, and I now consider it a great honor that Yogi and I are great friends, and that he considers me a (perhaps imperfectly done) Kaufman-trained person.
Lum didn’t stop being a colorful and lovable character upon leaving SCORPION. While XO on a Holy Loch deployed SSBN whose crew had just been relieved, for several days he checked at the local air base about why the USAF MAC flight couldn’t fly his crew home to Charleston. The answer was that ” … this front, or that front, the weather … “, and so on. His, perhaps irreverent, quotable quote in classic North Carolinian was ” .. .Jesus Christ, for the sake of the Air Force, I sure hope that the Great War starts on a fair day.”
Lum commanded JAMES MADISON in the late ’60s. After I reluctantly took my engineer’s exam, and by then having realized that it’s not the ship that’s important but its skipper, I asked that I be sent there. BuPers instead decided that it would be nicer if I were the Engineer of DANIEL WEBSTER for a decontamination/refueling overhaul-thanks, BuPers-what fun! The story that emerged during my purgatory was that Lum was underway from Charleston on the first ever SSBN ORSE reexam (it was tense-the JCS were reportedly concerned about a few days of missed target coverage). During maneuvering watches on the treacherous Cooper River, Lum liked to sit on a partially raised VLF mast. In any case, outbound, with the first head of the ORSE, then Captain, now Admiral(Ret.) Paul Early on the bridge, Lum told essentially the following:
“All of a sudden, everything started falling out below me. The VLF mast was untypically being raised as part of the rig for dive checks. Paul Early was looking up as if to say ‘so this is an indication of your onboard control of events’. Knowing I had to somehow salvage the situation, I waited till the mast was fully raised, took a sweep downstream with my binoculars, then looked at the OOD, said ‘very well, channel clear, lower me to the mark’. Being a sharp officer, he calmly rogered the order, forwarded it to control, and a few seconds later Early and I are staring each other down (VLF loop now at the original 2 or so feet) with my unspoken message being ‘doesn’t everyone take this additional safety precaution?’, and his being ‘you’ve got to be s—ing me!’. Early then went below and we passed the reexam”.
I never got to serve with Lum again, but we stayed in touch. Once I was in a men’s store and saw a rack of clan tartan ties. One was Lumsden-I sent it to him.
Promising to be the last (of too many to tell here) Lum stories, it is one that doesn’t involve he and I, but he and my youngest son. In 1994, just after graduating from college and committed to staning three Peace Corps years in Paraguay that Fall, he conned me into secretly (my wife would have killed me) underwriting the purchase of a used Honda motorcycle with which to conduct an unstructured tour of the U.S. He left armed with a hundred or more addresses and phone numbers of relatives and friends across the country, but a few days out, calling from a Buddhist rest camp in South Carolina, he asked if I knew anyone in North Carolina, where he was headed the next day. I told him to check the phone book for a Lumsden, Richard in Raleigh.
After a few days, Lum called and related how he thought I had really been a handful, but that youngest son had outdone me, calling to say “I’m Jim Patton, Jim Patton’s son, can I come use your shower?” In any case, Lum and I had a great conversation-he gave me a blow by blow description of the cribbage games he and the younger had played, and we traded a few reminiscence, sea stories and lies.
Two weeks after that call, Lum’s daughter called. “My father died last night”, she informed me. Srunned, I managed to mumble my sincere regrets and sorrow. “Thank you”, she said, ” … but I really wanted to tell you just how much your son’s visit meant to him. Dad knew he was dying for the last year, and honestly, hadn’t been too much fun to be around. For the last two weeks he was his old self-joking and outrageous-please thank your son for all of us here when he gets back from his trip.”
I couldn’t make it to the funeral, but Lum endures as one of a ‘/ery select group of my personal submarine heros. He taught me a dimension of the submarine profession impossible to cover in the curricula offered by the Naval Academy, Nuclear Power School or the Naval Reactors/Type Commander’s PCO courses. Unlike some other more brilliant people I served with, there was not an iota of arrogance behind his pseudo-gruff exterior-he was a careful and consummate professional with that essential degree of humility necessary in a true leader. I miss him, and only hope that a small degree of his professional excellence and sincere humanitarian concerns were passed on during my brief opportunity to influence others.
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