Port Charlotte, Fla. man spent years in the ‘Silent Service’

Former submariner Jerry Bauer of Village of Holiday Lakes mobile home park looks at a copy of "United States Submarines" that contains pictures of many of the subs he served on during the "Cold War."

Former submariner Jerry Bauer of Port Charlotte, Fla. looks at a copy of “United States Submarines” that contains pictures of many of the subs he served on during the “Cold War.” Sun photo by Don Moore

Jerry Bauer of Village of Holiday Lakes mobile home park, near Port Charlotte, Fla., spent 22 years in the military, most of it in the “Silent Service” during the “Cold War.”

He grew up on a small ranch in southwestern Colorado and joined the Navy in 1948. The teenage swabbie became a seaman primarily because his brother-in-law and two older sisters served in the Navy during World War II.

In the late 1950s, after a decade in the Navy, Bauer switched from the WW II diesel-powered subs to Adm. Hyman Rickover’s nuclear-powered Navy. After completing six months training on nuclear equipment at Idaho Falls, Idaho, he was assigned to a nuclear submarine at Pearl Harbor.

“Adm. Rickover and the officer corps wanted college graduates and engineers on their nuclear subs. There was really no place for me in the nuclear sub program. So I went back to the regular fleet boats,” he said.

He was reassigned to the USS Sterling (393) a conventional-powered sub equipped with a long-range sonar. They could track a ship from a couple of hundred miles.

“We were fingerprinting ships. If you take a ship’s engine noise and put it in the system the Navy had, it was possible for any of our ships to match these engine noises with other engine noises later. It was just like fingerprinting. That way we could tell what enemy ships were in a specific area,” Bauer explained.

“While on the Sterling we picked up the engine noise of a Russian submarine in the Gulf of Japan. We tried to make him surface,” he said. “It was a tactic we used. They did the same thing to us.”

How does one make an enemy sub surface?

“You bother him so much the skipper can’t stand it any more and surfaces. What we did in this case was everybody congregated on him. We had an aircraft carrier and its destroyer escort, helicopters dunking sonar units and fast-attack submarines after him,” Bauer said.

“We were all over this guy like a wet blanket, but the skipper of the Russian sub was good. He was using decoys to try and confuse us,” he said. “He kept working his way closer to shore. He got into the shrimp beds close to shore and finally got away from us.”

In the ’60s Bauer went back to basic submarine school at New London, Conn., as assistant director. Among the things he helped accomplish while serving in that capacity, with the help of four senior chiefs and master chiefs, the group published the first textbook for officers attending nuclear-powered sub school.

Among the interesting things he discovered while serving in the No. 2 capacity at sub school was: “People whose names end in vowels didn’t usually finish qualifying for submarines. We had a very high dropout rate.

“When we investigated the dropout problem a bit more we discovered that along the East Coast of the United Sates, much of the population were Italians, Polish and Portuguese. Many of their names end in vowels. They’d come to our school in New London and proceed to drop out or flunk out. Either way they thought they would be reassigned to a base along the East Coast close to home.

“Another thing we learned: Sailors from the Midwest and California were more likely to graduate in the upper percentage of submarine school,” Bauer said. “They qualified quicker on submarines than any other segment of the country. What we discovered is that the Midwest is basically an agricultural area with lots of pumps and motors, and sailors who grew up there were likely to know more about pumps and motors than the rest of the country. The kids in California were into cars. These two groups were very mechanically inclined which is a big requirement aboard a submarine.”

One other piece of submariner wisdom Bauer acquired somewhere along the way is that during the Second World War and into the “Cold War,” U.S. subs were named for fish: the USS Swordfish, the USS Dolphin and the USS Shark. Today they are named for people.

Why?

“Fish don’t vote,” Adm. Rickover said.

‘Father of Nuclear Navy’

U.S. Adm. Hyman Rickover is known as the “The Father of the Nuclear Navy.”

It was under his command and through his efforts that the Navy produced 199 nuclear-powered subs and 19 aircraft carriers and cruisers, some of which are still under construction. He had an abrasive personality, but was considered a brilliant Naval officer with lots of high-ranking connections in Congress and elsewhere.

With 63 years of continuous naval service, he was the longest-serving active duty military officer. He was born in 1900 and died 1986.


This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Feb. 5, 2007 and is republished with permission.

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