In the July 2002 issue of THE SUBMARINE REVIEW, there was a short piece .. The First Skipper” which spoke about, for me at least, how important a JO’s first CO can be as regards setting initial personal perceptions and expectations (and certainly affecting his retention). My first was a great individual and submariner by the name of Buzz Bessac. The issue wasn’t raised in the above article, but a potential downside and occupational hazard of having a truly superior first CO is that the second is merely average-raising serious issues about submarining as a career choice.
Six months into that first submarine tour on SCORPION, Commander Buzz Bessac was relieved by Commander Robert Y. (Yogi) Kaufman. Recently, a Naval Academy classmate of his -VADM Chuck Griffiths -asked me if I had any anecdotal stories about Yogi for a book celebrating their 601h graduation anniversary. Since most stories that immediately came to mind concerned one or another of the arguments and confrontations we had had, it made me honestly reflect upon the impact Yogi had had, on then Ensign Patton. As enigmatic as it may sound, had he been the first CO, I would probably have left the Navy at the end of obligated service (as I had always been predisposed) but as the second, he assured I would remain, if selected, through command-if for no other reason than to do it better than he did. In any case, as much as I wished he were at the time, Yogi was and is anything but average.
Where Bessac had instilled confidence, Kaufman challenged competency. Where Buzz had practised tolerance towards a neophyte, Yogi demanded conformance to uniform wardroom standards. In a metallurgical sense, if the first CO had annealed me to produce something ductile and formative, I was now quenched by the second to become hard and usable. As it must be perceived by now, I spent the last 6-7 months on SCORPION very angry with my Skipper (and generally he with me). Not the least of my reasons to be angry was that he really was an extraordinary submariner, making it clear that my announced goal of being a better CO than he would be a very difficult task.
Many other COs would have a shot at me over the next decade and a half, but to a significant degree, opposing boundary conditions were established by these two officers-the first and the second COs -while the others just supplied all the in betweens. In a later, post-command life, when interviewing Lieutenant-level officers, I discovered that I needn’t do much more than to ask which COs and XOs they had served with to get an 85 percentile feeling for their submarining skills. Many realized the existence of this window into their professional souls and would sometimes skim over or mumble the names of lesser players. I, and I suspect all others that survived him, have never felt as though service under Yogi was anything but something to be proud of-no mumbling there. It could easily have been Yogi, not Nietze, that initially perceived (and put into practice) the concept “That which does not destroy you makes you stronger”.
As I progressed through a long and rewarding submarine career, I noticed, to plagiarize a Sara Lee cake commercial, that ” … nobody dido ‘t know (or know of) Yogi Kaufman”. Once a perceived enemy, now a valued friend, Yogi is truly a legend in his own time.