One day in early 1957, while the USS Salisbury Sound was tied up to the dock in Buckner Bay, Okinawa, a submarine pulled in and tied up alongside us. I happened to be on deck at the time and my shipmates and I stood there watching the unusual sight of a sub mooring next to the Sally.
The hatch opened and sailors came boiling up out of the sub carrying what appeared to be an officer, who was struggling to extricate himself. As we watched, fascinated, it became clear that the officer was the captain of the sub! As the rest of the crew cheered, several sailors held him by the arms and legs and began swinging him like a sack of wheat. Finally, with a mighty heave, they threw the captain over the side, into the bay! He came swimming back and was pulled aboard, laughing along with the crew.
My shipmates and I stood there with our mouths open. One of the things that made that scene so impossible for us surface Navy types to imagine was that the skipper of the Salisbury Sound at that time was CAPT Thomas H. Moorer. The larger-than-life CAPT Moorer, who went on to become CNO and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, twice, was not a man anyone could imagine throwing over the side.
My shipmates and I couldn't believe what we had just seen, and the image of that stayed with me all these years, along with the question, “Why would they do that?”
Fifty-three years later, I learned the answer. In April of 2010, my wife, Karen, and I attended a “ConFam” for people who plan military reunions in Branson, MO. At breakfast one morning, I happened to be seated next to a gentleman whose name tag indicated that he was a retired submariner. According to his name tag, he was James “Jay” Everitt, a retired chief whose last duty was aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln (SSBN-602), a ballistic-missile nuclear submarine.
I told him that my son Steve had served as a LT aboard the USS Tunny (SSN-682), a fast-attack nuclear sub, and we struck up a conversation. While we were talking, he looked at my name tag, saw the “USS Salisbury Sound” and said that he knew that ship. An earlier sub that he had been on had tied up next to the Salisbury Sound in April, 1957 in Buckner Bay, Okinawa in order to use one of our cranes. The sub was the USS Diodon (SS-349), a Balao-class diesel/electric boat.
I stared at him, and said, “Are you the guys who threw your skipper overboard?”
He laughed and said, “Yeah, that was us.”
“Why on earth would you do that?” I asked.
He shrugged and said that the captain, LCDR Lewis O. Smith, had just relieved LCDR Patrick J. Hannifin as CO and that it was a tradition to celebrate good news by throwing crew members overboard. The skipper, it turned out, was no exception.
So I finally got an answer to my question, and two old sailors, in a chance meeting, got to share a good laugh over something that happened over a half-century ago.