Lee Mauk of Venice was aboard the nuclear submarine SSN Skate when she made the historic cruise under the Polar Icecap during the winter of 1958. He was the chief electrician aboard the boat.
The primary purpose of the undersea adventure, according to the lead story in the July 1959 edition of National Geographic magazine: “Up Through The Ice At The North Pole,” was to distribute the ashes of Sir Hubert Wikins, an Australian Arctic Explorer, to the top of the world.
“We had a burial service on the ice. Then we scattered his ashes,” Mauk recalled.
In addition to spreading the scientist’s ashes on the snow in Artic, what the U.S. Navy was primarily trying to determine was whether a nuclear sub could break through ice, that in some cases was 30-feet thick in winter, and launch a series of nuclear missiles at targets in the Soviet Union if there was a Third World War.
Aboard the Skate, this country’s third nuclear submarine, the crew discovered it was possible to fire missiles in the dead of winter from the Polar Icecap. The Skate was a nuclear attack sub that fire torpedoes at enemy ships.
During their cruise to the North Pole the Skate spent 10 days under the ice cap. She managed to surface 10 times.
“The sail of our submarines was reinforced with additional steel so it could break through the Polar Icecap. We found places were we could pop through the were the ice wasn’t so thick,” he said.
“During the year I was on the Skate I only had 60 days on shore. The rest of the time I was aboard the sub and most of the time she was submerged,” he said.
Mauk’s picture was in the magazine sitting in front of an electrical console during the polar adventure. He was a 29-year-old sailor who would serve 20 years in the regular Navy and another 10 in the Reserves.
By the time he retired from the Navy in 1969 he was a Master Chief and “Chief of the Boat.” Mauk was the highest ranking enlisted man aboard the SSN Henry L. Stimson (SSBN-655) the last sub he served on.
After the voyage to the North Pole the crew aboard the Skate went on a North Atlantic Patrol. While at sea in the North Atlantic they spotted a surfaced Russian submarine.
“Since we had a camera mounted on the bow of our boat we decided to take some pictures of the bottom of the Russian sub,” he recalled more than 50 years later. “We shot her stern with her three screws. Then we went forward and began taking underwater pictures of her bow section.
“All of a sudden she went into a dive and collapsed on top of us slightly damaging our sail. We went to 400 feet and took off. Fifteen miles away we upped periscope and looked at her some more from a distance. Then we left,” he said.
After leaving the Skate, Mauk helped commission the SSN Theador Roosevelt, another nuclear missile submarine, built in California. He and his new boat went from the West Coast to the East Coast and New London, Conn., headquarters of the submarine fleet.
The skipper of the Roosevelt suggested he pay Adm. Hyman Rickover, head of the U.S. Nuclear Navy, a visit in Washington. Mauk’s boss wanted to keep him in the nuclear submarine fleet. His trip to D.C. was somewhat of a disaster initially.
“I spent a total of 42 minutes with the admiral. You weren’t suppose to argue with him. You were suppose to say, ‘Yes Admiral’ and nothing more. I argued with him and he didn’t like it.
“He was about to throw me out of his office, but when I got to the door he said, ‘Come back in here!’
“I came back in and sat down in a chair in front of his desk. That was a mistake.”
“‘Did I say sit down?’
“‘No Admiral you did not.’
“‘Then stand against the wall!’
“I backed up against the wall.
“Then the admiral yelled, ‘I didn’t say lean against the wall!’
“While I was standing there the admiral said, ‘You’re a fat slob. Lose 20 pounds. Now, get the hell out of my office!’
“When I walked out a WAVE who worked for him handed me a sheet of paper she told me to sign. It was a statement saying I would lose 20 pounds in the next 90 days. I signed it.”
What Mauk found out in a hurry: It was tough to lose 20 pounds that fast. With some diet pills and a major reduction in his daily food consumption, at the end of 90 days he had lost the 20 pounds demanded of him. He also learned his blood pressure was off the chart, He spent 31 days in the hospital getting it lowered.
He was immediately dispatched to the nuclear sub training facility at Idaho Falls, Idaho teaching sailors how to operate a nuclear submarine. Mauk spent the next two years doing that until he received his last assignment in the regular navy.
He became Master Chief and “Chief of the Boat” aboard the nuclear submarine SSN Stimson (SS-665). He was not quite 40 years old when he retired from the service.
For the next four years he got a civilian job helping to build nuclear submarines at the naval shipyard at Pascagoula, Miss.
“I helped install the nuclear reactors in subs,” he explained.
Thanks to a friend he quit ship building in 1974 and joined him in Texas building a recreational trailer park. He and his first wife had had enough of south Texas after a couple of years of trailer park construction.
They went to Naples where she got a job working for the late John Pulling, a multimillionaire developer who helped put the town on the map. It wasn’t long before Muak got a job as Pulling’s assistant, a post he held for the nest two decades.
After his first wife died of a heart attack he officially retired and moved to Deep Creek in Charlotte County. Later he and his second wife, Angelina, moved to the Jacaranda Trace apartment complex in South Venice two years ago.
Name: Elam L. Mauk
D.O.B: 12 Nov 1929
Hometown: Charleston, SC
Currently: Venice, Fla.
Entered Service: 13 Aug 1948
Discharged: 15 Feb 1969
Rank: Master Chief
Unit: USS Laws, SSN Skate, SNS Henry L. Stimson
Commendations: Navy Unit Commendation, Navy Good Conduct Medal (6)
Special duties: Nuclear Power operator, Nuclear Submarine Service 13 years
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Oct. 27, 2014 and is republished with permission.
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