It was 1956 in San Diego. John Shilling and I were junior officers in USS CAIMAN (SS 323) under LCDR Hap Perry as Commanding Officer. CAIMAN was assigned unusual duty that week. We were to serve as a pseudo USS STINGRAY (SS-186) in making a half-hour episode for Navy Log. The TV series was based upon real events in the Navy, many taken from WWII deck logs. STINGRAY had distinguished herself while carrying out Life Guard duties in connection with air strikes on Japanese facilities at Guam in June 1944. One day she rescued five downed airmen, one while under fire from Japanese artillery ashore. This episode would be titled A Day for the Stingray
The producer, director, actors and technical staff came aboard. A camera platform was built on the deck forward of the bridge cockpit to shoot bridge action and some alongside recovery action. All the filming would be done surfaced since we couldn’t dive with the camera platform in place.
Some shooting went on in the control room. It was fascinating to see the actor serving as diving officer being sprayed with facial sweat so the camera could show typical submerged submarine tension to the viewing public.
There were a number of topside scenes. Several involved rescuing downed aviators, pulling them up off life rafts. One very exciting sequence involved a Navy SNJ, painted to resemble a Japanese Zero fighter, making strafing runs on the boat and the topside personnel scrambling to get below.
However, the scene that really resonated with John and me involved the two of us. We were extras, backing up the CO (actor) and 000 (actor) on the bridge. The script called for the XO (another actor) to stick his head up through the bridge hatch while holding a message form and say something like “Captain, there is another downed aircraft, 20 miles bearing 340 from us.” He blew his lines twelve times. Take followed take ad nauseam. John and I were convinced that there was a career for us in TV acting if we ever got tired of submarine duty.
My mother later wrote me that she had seen the episode on TV and recognized my ears sticking out in the background. Oh well, sic transit gloria.
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