Walter Kaiser’s 26-year career in the Navy is divided into two parts. During his first decade he served in the Submarine Service searching for secret Soviet transmission cables on the sea floor off Russia. Then he became a Master Bomb Disposal Technician during his last 16 years and helped disarm an errant U.S. nuclear bomb off the coast of Spain and find murder weapons discarded by a culprit in the ocean off Cocoa Beach, Fla..
Kaiser joined the Navy at 17, immediately after graduating from high school in 1955. He went to boot camp at Bainbridge, Md., then on to Great Lakes for advanced training to become an Navy electrician’s mate.
“I went aboard two World War II submarines stationed in San Diego, Calif. after I graduated from electriian’s school. They were diesel subs,” the 78-year-old Port Charlotte, Fla. resident said. “Most of the people I trained with were carryovers from the Second World War. They were some of the greatest people in the world.
“One day this old chief put his arm on my shoulder and told me this: ‘You never know how straight a man stands until you put weight on his back. I know you can stand straight.’ That was one hell of a comment I never forgot.”
Kaiser went on secret missions throughout the Pacific aboard the USS Ronquil, SS-396, and the USS Caiman, SS-323. Five of those voyages were special operations missions of which he will only talk about one. And that’s only because it was written about in “Blindman’s Bluff,” a book about outstanding skippers and their subs.
“Two World War II submarines (one being the Ronquil) were sent to find a Russian underwater transmission line and we found it,” he said. “About the time we found the underwater cable two Russian destroyers found us.
“By then our batteries were low and we were running out of air. One of the other main problems was that it got dog-gone hot down there.”
The Russians dropped mini-depth charges on his sub. They were about to force them to surface for lack of power and air when their sister boat diverted the destroyers attention. They made underwater noises off the coast of Volgadousk. The Russians thought the other sub was them and began following the second American submarine.
“This allowed us to get away. We finally surfaced about 2 a.m. in the Bering Sea way off the coast of Russia,” he recalled.
Later the Navy sent a nuclear sub and a diving team undercover to tap the Russian’s communication system. It was apparently a big success, but not something Navy personnel talk about in public.
The second sub story Kaiser can discuss. This story has to do with a collision at sea between the USS-Caiman and a U.S. destroyer some time in the mid ‘50s or early ’60s.
“We got run over by a destroyer off the coast of Okinawa. We almost lost the ship on that one,” Kaiser said. We were on a training exercise coming up the coast and were about to surface when a destroyer hit our sail. We finally got our sub’s angle up and surfaced in a hurry.
“I don’t care what religion you are. You would be surprised how many prayers you can say in a minute,” he said with a grin. “No one aboard our boat was injured in the collision.”
In 1967 Kaiser got out of the Submarine Service and went into the Bomb and Mine Disposal Service. After 18 months of grueling training he was qualified to disarm anything from a nuclear bomb to a simple improvised explosive device world-wide in the air on land and in the sea. Eventually he became a Master Bomb Disposal Technician.
“I started out in ’67 at the Combat Swimming School in Key West,” he said. “We began with 24 men and right off the bat we lost half of them.
“I went on to Chemical Warfare Classes and from there to Bomb Disposal Training at Indian Head, Md., down the Potomac River from Washington. It was there I took hard hat diving and scuba diving.
“Then it was on to Fort Benning, Ga. to Jump School. We jumped out of C-141 (Starlifter transports). You didn’t jump, you sort of stepped out of the plane’s door. The wind blast grabbed you and threw you out. You deployed sideways and all of a sudden it’s quiet!
“I also went to Nuclear Bomb School where I was taught how to disarm a nuclear bomb. That was by far the hardest school I attended,” Kaiser recalled 48 years later.
Of the 24 men that began the Bomb Disposal Training in Key West a year-and-a-half earlier, only three others graduated with him when all the training was completed.
He got to put all his bomb disposal education to the test when one of this country’s B-52 nuclear bombers went down while refueling off the coast of Spain.
“I was involved in one of the most successful nuclear bomb salvage operations our military ever performed,” he said. “What happened: A SAC bomber crashed and four nuclear bombs were dropped in Spain. Three were retrieved from the beach without incident, but the fourth bomb went into the sea and sank in 2,800 feet of water.
He was aboard the Submarine Rescue Ship ASR-14 (USS Petrel) that retrieved the bomb off the coast of Spain on April 7, 1966. The Navy put a control module for a remote-controlled submersible on the back of the ship.
“A civilian guy, Carl Halsey, was in charge of the bomb rescue operation. With the aid of the submersible he spotted the bomb hanging off the side of an underwater cliff 2,800 feet down,” Kaiser said. “He grabbed it and pulled it to the surface. Our bomb disposal team disarmed it.”
Kaiser has a plaque on the wall of his den to prove he was there and played an important roll in the bomb’s removal. However, the plaque mounted on a wooden board tells no secrets about the part he played in the undertaking.
Another early ordinance disposal missions was to disarm all the mines dropped by American pilots into Haiphong Harbor, North Vietnam during the Southeast Asian war after it was over. Kaiser wouldn’t talk much about that either because he said it was still classified information as far as his service bosses are concerned.
Less controversial, Kaiser worked with the U.S. Secret Service when President Jimmy Carter went to Cape Canaveral to inspect a Los Angeles Class nuclear sub moored there.
“While there we bumped into some local police and sheriffs deputies from the homicide squad trying to solve a murder case in which a pistol and crowbar were used in the crime. The weapons had been disposed of in the water off Cocoa Beach,” he said. “They asked if we could use or special underwater equipment to find the missing murder weapons they had been searching for for weeks without much luck. In 30-minutes our divers with the help of our high tech equipment located the missing items.
“The Cocoa Beach Police were so happy with the job we did. Finding these weapons made it possible for them to get a confession from the murderers,” he said.
In 1980 Kaiser retired from the Navy and moved to the unincorporated part of Charlotte County south of North Port and north of Port Charlotte where he has lived with his wife, Irene, for years.
After moving to this area 35 years ago he went to work for the U.S. Post Office in Englewood for 20 years.. He officially retired for good in 2002.
Looking back on his Naval adventures he said, “There was never a dull moment. Quite often I have civilians thank me for the time I spent in the service. In all honesty I need to thank them for giving me the opportunity to serve. I was just a snot-nosed kid when I went in the Navy. I got an education from some of the finest men in the world. I had experiences in the service you just couldn’t buy.”
Name: Walter George Kaiser
D.O.B: 26 Oct. 1937
Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Currently: Englewood, Fla.
Entered Service: 1955
Discharged: 30 June 1980
Rank: Master Bomb Disposal Technician
Unit: USS Ronquil SS-396, USS Caiman SS-323
Commendations: National Defense Service Medal, Navy Unit Commendation, Navy Expeditionary Medal, Navy Pistol Markmanship Ribbon, Navy Expert Pistol Shot Medal, Master EOD Badge, Navy Parachutist Insignia, six Good Conduct
Awards, Submarine Insignia.
Battles/Campaigns: “Cold War”
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016 and is republished with permission.
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