Two friends who served in the submarine service before Jim Manning talked him into signing up for the Navy and going to sub school when the time came. He didn’t regret it.
“After boot camp at Great Lakes I went to submarine school at New London, Conn.,” the 73-year-old former sailor recalled more than 50 years later. “I was a fireman whose primary duty was to take care of the air conditioning and hydraulic pumps aboard a submarine.
“My first sub was the USS Sea Devil, SS-400, an old World War II diesel submarine with a history. It was among the leading American submarines at sending enemy tonnage to the bottom in the Second World War.
“It was while I was on the Sea Devil that I qualified as a submariner and got my dolphins. I was supposed to go on to nuclear power school, but the Sea Devil was short staffed so I stayed aboard for about a year.
“The most exciting thing that happened to us aboard the Sea Devil that year was during the ‘Cuban Missile Crisis.’ It was in October 1962 and they sent all the ships docked in San Diego Harbor, where our sub was based, out to sea. The Navy didn’t want another Pearl Harbor. We went to sea for a month.
“Then I got transferred to Mare Island, a Naval base in San Francisco Harbor. I attended Nuclear Power Training School at Mare’s. After graduation from this school I was sent to train at a nuclear submarine training facility in Idaho Falls, Idaho, in the middle of the desert, for six months.
We trained on the prototype of the first nuclear sub–the Nautilus.
“After my training at Idaho Falls I became an instructor at the school. For the next 15 months I did that until I was transferred to the air conditioning and refrigeration school in San Diego, Calif.,” Manning recalled.
“I went aboard the nuclear ballistic submarine USS Simon Bolivar in Charleston Harbor, my next duty station,” he said. “She carried 16 nuclear missiles each with 10 nuclear warheads.
“I didn’t stay there too long because they had too many first class people aboard. By then I was a 1st Class Fireman,” he said. “I was transferred to the USS Lafayette, SBN-616 in 1964. She was another ballistic submarine based in Charleston, S.C.
“I was a member of the Lafayette’s gold crew. We flew out to Rota, Spain, where the Lafayette was and replaced the blue crew aboard the submarine. We went out on a 90 day mission,” he said. “The whole time we were submerged in the Atlantic. The only time we surfaced was to return to port and leave port.
“Most of the time aboard the sub we were training for an advancement in grade or we might be training to qualify for a different station aboard the sub. The Lafayette was a big improvement over the Wold War II era Simon Bolivar. The nuclear sub had weight-lifting facilities behind the galley aboard ship. There was also a recreation area for card games and other games near the crew’s quarters.”
Manning’s gold crew took the Lafayette back to the shipyard at Newport News, Va. for a rebuild that took two years to complete. All the while he and a skeleton crew lived aboard a barge moored next to the sub that was being upgraded.
He took his third and last mission aboard the Lafayette to Rota, Spain after she was rebuilt. A short while later he got out of the Navy. He had served nine years.
“I wasn’t out of the regular Navy but a few weeks and decided to join the Naval Reserve,” Manning said. “When I rejoined I was made a chief petty officer. My wife Patricia and I were living in Milwaukee, where she grew up.
“One of the officers in the reserve unit I was in offered me a job as chief engineer in a hospital. I took the position and became the chief engineer in a 535-bed hospital in Rockford, Ill.,” he said.
“At the time I was working in the Navy Reserve at the Milwaukee Reserve Center. Once a month we would train quite a few reservists in a submarine welded to a Chicago pier. I did this for about 18 months until I found out about another unit that taught steam propulsion at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, where I had taken my basic, outside Chicago.
“They would fly in reservists from all over the country and we would train them. I was made chief of the training unit at Great Lakes. We would train them how to operate steam propulsion equipment on the weekends. We’d train between 25 and 50 people at a time.
“My next to last job in the Naval Reserve I was a lieutenant at the Forrest Burke Naval Reserve Center, west of Chicago. We were a small support group of about 40 people who relieved the harbor support staff at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii,” Manning explained. “I would go out every morning with the harbor master and inspect the mothball fleet.
“After 16 months our little unit was disbanded.
“I went to work as a reservist at the the Gary Naval Reserve Center in Gary, Ind. They were rebuilding the center and I helped with the rebuild and the start up. I completed my 23 years in the Navy and Reserve as the executive officer of the Yorktown Naval Reserve Center in Yorktown, Va. We were a small group of people who inventoried both conventional and atomic weapons.
“I retired from the Navy at Yorktown. I had spent 23 years altogether in the service–nine in the Regular Navy and 14 in the Naval Reserve. By then in my civilian job I was the director of facilities at the hospital in Rockford.
He and Patricia retired to Port Charlotte in 2006. They have two grown sons: Kevin and Christopher.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Wednesday, April 7, 2014 and is republished with permission.
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