Walking Away

Personal Money Planning |

By Gary Silverman, CFP®

Forty years ago this week, I climbed out of the Machinery 1 hatch, nodded to the topside watch who was busy trying to stay awake, and walked off the USS John Marshall (SSN-611). My days in the Navy were at an end.

While I have never considered the John Marshall my boat (I was on loan to her) it was my home for the last half-year of my military service, and I knew the insides of her as much as I knew the house I grew up in.

Sailors, military or otherwise, have a nostalgic fondness for the ships that carried them across (or in my case under) the seas. This, even though much of that past involved swearing at the multitude of “inconveniences” rising from broken, stubborn, and worn equipment (and mates). In reality those inconveniences gave the gal her personality, and she in turn gave us ours.

It is a fickle relationship. We honor our steel mistress for taking care of us and bringing us home safely even though she can occasionally tries to kill us. I’m pretty sure that just about anywhere I stood aboard her I was within reach of some system that was lethal if not treated with the love and care it deserved.

Crossing the gangplank for the last time, most swear never to step a foot back aboard. Later, most wish for one last patrol. I’m the same way, though I’m not sure why. While you might only stand 6 to 8 hours of watches a day, you don’t go home later, or to the store, or to see the sun. Drills are run. Stuff needs cleaning. Other stuff needs maintenance. And still other stuff needs fixing. Somewhere in there you get some food and sleep, then wake up and do it all over again. Every single day. For months on end.

Then there’s the stink. Think of 110-140 people crammed in a steel tube. Now think of all the fumes from the equipment (including the galley), and how many burps and farts get generated (again, thanks to the galley) with nowhere to go.

Let’s not forget the weather (the sea is where hurricanes come from), uncharted underwater mountains (yes, a sub bumps into them now and then), and the hundreds of welds holding together systems all of which were provided by the lowest bidder. Then there’s always the other folks out there, just like us, whose job is to sail around in their submarines to blow a hole in ours if their government asks.

I’ve been able to link up with a few of my old crew—old men, mostly retired. The Marshall, and my first ship, the Henry L Stimson (SSBN-655), both have been turned into scrap, their nuclear power plants, which I helped maintain, sitting in an Idaho pit as the radioactivity decays away. 

I miss it all, and don’t at the same time. And when I get nostalgic like today, I say a little prayer for those out there now under the sea.

May Ukraine stay free.

Gary Silverman, CFP® is the founder of Personal Money Planning, LLC, a Wichita Falls retirement planning and investment management firm and author of Real World Investing.