It had been a long day at San Jose State University. After painting houses for 17 years, Rick Moran had gone back to college to earn a teaching degree in history. It was his last semester, finals were looming and he had a lot on his mind as he pulled up to his home in Ben Lomond, California.
Turning into the driveway that late May afternoon, he noticed a piece of paper stuck in his front door. Juggling books, coffee mug and a backpack, he plucked a note from the door jamb. Pushing open the door he scanned the words quickly-what he read made him stop. Dropping everything, he sat down and found himself traveling slowly back in time as he re-read each word on that scrap of paper.
“If you are the Rick Moran that served aboard USS HA WK.BILL (SSN-666) in 1970 please contact Mike Henry,” and it gave a phone number. The note was signed “Mary” with a local number.
Memories flooded his mind- Mike Henry and their time together on HAWKBILL. He could even see his face after all these years.
Moran was 18 years old when he enlisted in 1969. The Cold War was heating up and the Navy was looking for sub-sailors. Following family tradition he signed up for sub-duty. His grandfather, Richard C. Moran had served aboard the R-19, a WWI diesel boat and his father had been a quartermaster for USS PITT, an LST in WWll.
Moran had gone to boot camp in San Diego. A native of Norwich, Connecticut, and a veteran of 18 years of bone-shaking winters, he enjoyed the sunny west coast winter. After boot camp he was sent to New London, CT for l 0 weeks of training at Sub school. Upon completion he was sent to the Mare Island shipyard in Vallejo, California and assigned to the new construction sub, USS HA WKBILL, a sturgeon class, fast-attack, nuclear powered submarine. That’s where he met Mike Henry, QM3SS-Quartermaster.
Henry was a seasoned salt who had served in USS RA TON (AGSS-270), a diesel sub. He had come aboard to build a navigational team and to prepare them for sea trials. He trained the crew for a year. Moran was a striker, a seaman who hadn’t been placed in a specific position, and Henry encouraged him to become a navigator. The job, he said, was interesting and it gave an overview of the sub’s operational mission. Working with charts, taking bearings, finding the ships location, securing safe passage, all appealed to Moran, and Henry turned out to be an excellent teacher. In Navy tradition Henry showed Moran the ropes of seamanship (with a few knots). On their time off they enjoyed riding their bicycles over the back roads of Vallejo even visiting Farrow’s, a local submarine bar. They served together for a year and then Henry was transferred to USS PINT ADO (SSN672) to begin training another crew. That was 1971.
Rick recalled the last time he had seen Mike Henry. White serving aboard different boats they had coordinated their leave to go on a six-day bicycle trip. Leaving the close quarters of the submarine behind, they hit the open road, pedaling through wine country, towering redwoods and onto the rugged coast of California. They covered over 420 mites riding hard during the day and sleeping under the stars at night. They were young, strong and adventurous. That was 34 years ago.
Would they have anything in common now? Moran called his wife at work to tell her about the amazing note. They wondered how Henry had managed to find Rick after all these years. “What do I do now?” Moran wondered out loud. “I guess you pick up the phone and call,” his wife Chris, stated simply.
Rick sat looking at the phone, and shook his head in disbelief. What would he say? Would he and Henry have anything in common after all this time? An hour later Chris came home from work to a living room full of laughter-Rick had made the call and it was a great telephone reunion.
Henry had looked for Rocky for years. He had contacted six or seven other Richard Moran’s over the years with no luck. The previous year Rick, his wife and daughter Shannon, had gone to Hawaii to celebrate their 25•h wedding anniversary. Chris, daughter of a navy radioman, Harold Moore, had always dreamed of visiting Pearl Harbor. After returning from the tour they had climbed aboard the USS BOWFIN at the Submarine Museum nearby and spent hours looking at the submarine collection.
Inspired from their trip, Rick had gone online to look up information about HA WKBILL and after 29 years away from the sub he added his name to the plank owners list: Richard Rock-Boy Moran. He also added his e-mail: email@example.com. (He and Chris have a small iris farm in the San Lorenzo Valley above the coastal town of Santa Cruz).
Mike had been living in Oregon working as a fishery biologist and his passion was perfecting home brewed beer. He named his brews with submarine themes such as Submarine Pale Ale, Torpedo Room IPA, Rig-for-Deep Wheat, Combat Lager or Conning Tower Cascade Ale. Occasionally he would check the HA WKBILL website to see who he might know. As Mike perused the list one night the name Rocky suddenly jumped out at him. “I couldn’t believe it, I knew this was it- the right name, right boat and right time!” Mike e-mailed right away but the message was returned undelivered- able- the Moran computer was in the shop. Mike figured that Rick must have something to do with an Iris Farm in Santa Cruz County, California, so he started calling around.
Mary Clark was cashiering at Scarborough Lumber and Garden Center in Ben Lomond, when she received an odd call. The guy on the line was looking for someone named Moran, and was there an iris farm nearby? She thought that the name sounded familiar but said “I don’t know of any iris fan around here. A customer standing in line said, “Wait a minute, there’s a little iris farm about a quarter mile up the road.” Mary took down the information and waited for her lunch hour. Then she searched the neighborhoods until she came upon a beautiful field of blooming iris- this must be the place, and she left the precious note.
Henry’s job found him traveling extensively. He was able to visit Moran for the first time in 2002. It had been 34 years. He brought along Henry’s Rocky Reunion Ale and they toasted to old times. Throughout the year they occasionally talked and e-mailed each other. In 2003 the two families: Mike and his wife Debbie, and Rick, Chris and Shannon met each other halfway in Mt. Shasta, California. At an old lodge they spent four days getting to know and re know each other. Dangling their feet over an old wooden bridge to the sound of the creek they celebrated their new friendship with a new Henry brew Pintado Pale. “They are our newest-oldest friends,” said Chris Moran. “I had heard about Mike Henry when Rick would tell his submarine stories (all declassified, of course); I felt like I had always known him. Debbie was icing on the cake.”
Both couples have been married for 30 years, their anniversaries only three weeks apart, and each has one daughter. This year they camped together near Ash land, Oregon. Next to the lake they built a bonfire, roasted hot dogs, swam and laughed-old friends comfortable together. Warmed by the embers their bottles clinked as they toasted to old friends with Henry’s new brew Run Silent.
Note: Mary Clark had heard of Rick Moran, her daughter played softball with Rick’s daughter. The Moran’s are indebted to Mary for her caring effort in bringing these two old vets together again. Rick is now teaching at White Oak School in Fulton, California.