Dave Hinkle is a retired submarine officer. He qualified in CAVALLA (SSK244), one of the first of the ASW boats. He was commissio11ing Sonar Officer of TULL/BEE, Operations Officer of HADDO, Executive Officer of PLUNGER and Commanding Officer of PARGO. After retirement from Active Duty and graduation from Law School he founded and ran Sonalysts, Inc. in Waterford, CT.
F or four decades the Soviet Union and the United States faced off in what is now referred to as the COLD WAR. The standoff was waged night and day, seven days a week, three hundred sixty-five days a year. For years on end, the planet was minutes away from an Armageddon. Thousands of nuclear weapons, each with the explosive power to destroy any city on the globe, were ready for launch in minutes. It is to the everlasting credit of both the Russians and Americans that the struggle ended without resorting to nuclear warfare. But, a price was paid by those who served their country on the front lines and also by their families.
The U.S. Navy played a major role in the conflict. Nuclear ballistic missile submarines carried the weapons that could not be stopped by any aggressor. No country could launch nuclear weapons at the U.S. and survive. Counter attack was certain as our quiet, nuclear, ballistic missile submarines roamed the seas undetected. Nuclear attack submarines, with superior sonar and quieting, were able to find and dog foreign submarines undetected. Thus, no enemy could be certain their missile-firing submarines would survive to launch weapons if a conflict escalated to open warfare.
Submarines manned the front lines around the world for decades. The world little knows nor appreciates the enormous effort made by the men manning the front line boats for all those years. Months at sea, never enough sleep, operating the most complex vehicle ever devised by man in the most hazardous environment known to man, became routine. Continuous sea duty was the norm, and shore assignments, generally in pre commissioning units, were so demanding that it was a relief to be sent to sea. There was little time for family and therein lies the equal sacrifice paid by the submarine families. I tell the story of the birth of my three daughters to illustrate the toll the Cold War took on submarine families and particularly our wives.
My daughter Valerie was born on 28 November 1956. I had been at sea almost continuously since July of that year but expected to return to New London from North Sea operations the second week in November. The projected baby launch date was the fourth week in November, which was a comfort for both Muriel and me, because I was scheduled to be home on leave to take care of Muriel when the baby was born.
The Suez War intervened and changed all plans. Submarines manned the barriers. None of us, at sea or at home, had any idea of when we would return to port. Muriel did not even know we would not be returning as scheduled until after we failed to arrive. I received a message on the 291h of November from COMSUBLANT congratulating me on the birth of my daughter and assuring me both mother and daughter were fine.
Muriel was told by the squadron that we could be home any day now but all movements were classified. Muriel stayed in New London because she wanted to greet me with the baby. However, she contracted an infection mid-December, and her mother came and took Muriel and Val to her house in New Jersey to recuperate and await my arrival.
The boat returned to New London at Christmas. I had a quick visit with Muriel in New Jersey but I left her there because we had been told we would redeploy in January. Everyone was working overtime to refit and load out for another North Atlantic transit in the dead of winter. Fortunately, our deployment was postponed and I brought Muriel and Val back to New London. Most of 1957 was spent at sea devoted to research and development projects for SUBDEVGRU-TWO and Muriel got us settled into our new home in Ledyard.
My second daughter, Janet, was born on 26 March 1958. I had been at sea in CAVALLA as part of an Anti-Submarine Warfare group looking for a Russian submarine reported by a coastal fisherman. CA VALLA had been abruptly ordered back to port with no explanation. We were met at the New London Ledge Light late on the 251h by our Commodore. The Captain was told to let no one off the ship, and we would get underway at first light on the 261h. Although no one was supposed to know we were returning to port, someone informed Muriel that we were back.
Muriel called, got through to me, told me she was in labor, and to come get her. I disobeyed orders to remain on board, borrowed a car, picked her up, and delivered her to the SUBASE hospital. I quickly returned to the boat to finish preparations for our underway. A few hours later, just before we sailed, I ran back to the hospital where a sedated Muriel had delivered our second daughter, Janet. I looked at the baby and her head was a mess, although the nurses had thoughtfully tied a pink bow in her dark hair. Her misshapened forehead was a 45′ angle from eyebrows to the back of an oblong head. I kissed Muriel goodbye and went to sea.
At sea, I fretted about what we would do to correct the baby’s disfiguration. I wondered how many operations would be required to restructure her head and I was also concerned for Muriel having to care for Valerie and now Janet with her problems all by herself. It was an enormous relief to see a beautiful, perfectly proportioned baby girl on my return home.
Sally, our third daughter, was born on 14 November 1961. Once again, I was at sea. We were on a special operation and all communications were prohibited. We received a daily radio broadcast but the messages were strictly operational, brief, and as few as possible to prevent having to copy the submarine broadcast from interfering with our mission.
I began haunting the radio room the first week in November. I decrypted all incoming messages except those designated, Commanding Officer’s Eyes Only. By the second week in November I grew more concerned as the doctor had predicted a mid-November delivery. By the end of the third week, I was sure something had gone wrong and one of those CO Eyes Only messages had been informing the skipper of the loss of Muriel or the baby, or both. I accused the Captain and the Executive Officer of not telling me-knowing there was nothing I could do and they didn’t want to create a bigger morale problem. The CO and XO both assured me there had been no such message received.
I prepared a message. “INTERROGATIVE HINKLE BABY,” encrypted it, and the Captain assured me it would be sent the minute we exited the No Comms Zone. Many anxious days passed. Finally, we headed home and my message was being set up for transmission when we received a high priority incoming message. “HINKLE BABY BORN 14 NOVEMBER. MOTHER & DAUGHTER FINE. COMSUBLANT SENDS PERSONAL REGRETS FOR LATE DELIVERY THIS MESSAGE.”
Muriel said the arrival of the third baby was the easiest. She had made arrangements with our good friend and neighbor, Art Gilmore, to take her to the hospital, and he had been more excited and worried than she was. Muriel remembers, “I had gone for a check-up on Thursday, 9 November, and the doctor scheduled an appointment for induced labor on Tuesday, the l 41h at 0830 check-in time. 1 called Art Thursday evening to tell him of the plan and when I told him who was calling, he said “I’ll be right there to drive you to the hospital!” “No, no. Not yet, Art-Tuesday morning at 0800″ and explained the baby would be induced at that time. We both marveled at the civility of an appointment.”
Life at sea was hard and years of continuous sea duty harder, but the wives had an equally difficult struggle. Bearing and raising children with husbands gone most of the time, being separated with little communication for months on end, moving the family often, alone, and on short notice, were just some of the costs the wives paid to support husbands and the submarine service throughout the decades of the Cold War.
Yes, the Cold War was won. We can rejoice there was no nuclear holocaust and the world is definitely a better place for the sacrifices made but there was a price paid and I think of it every time I see one of my daughters and I appreciate Muriel more than words can tell.