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"Stealth is the business here." (Audio interview, 36:06)

   Ronald P.C. Waller
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War: Cold War
Branch: Navy
Unit: USS Scamp (SSN 588); USS Daniel Webster (SSBN 626)
Service Location: San Diego, and Treasure Island, California; New London, Connecticut; South Carolina; Idaho; Scotland; Spain; Atlantic
Rank: Petty Officer First Class
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A trio of speeding tickets led 19-year-old Ronald Waller to join the Navy in 1960. He had been attending college and working at Remington Rand on early models of computers, so the Navy decided to put him into its nuclear submarine program. Waller served on the attack sub Scamp and the missile sub Daniel Webster, boats with contrasting missions. The Scamp's business was hunting down other submarines; the Webster kept a low profile as it patrolled various areas of the North Atlantic, waiting for instructions to fire its missiles. Waller adapted well to the lack of privacy in crowded quarters, less easily to the rotating schedules that played havoc with a sailor's body clock.

Interview (Audio)
»Interview Highlights  (12 clips)
»Complete Interview  (89 min.)
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»Submarines: The Silent Service
 Audio (Interview Excerpts) (12 items)
Out of high school, working for Remington Rand, back when data was entered into computers through punch cards; going to school parttime; got three speeding tickets; father advised him to tell judge he was joining the military, to avoid jail, and he enlisted in the Navy; with his academic background, he was assigned to the new nuclear program. (01:27) Selected as the educational petty officer during training; description of Navy training; most difficult part was the fire training; learning to deal with lack of privacy. (03:54) Going to electronics school on Treasure Island, CA; weeding out those who couldn't cut it; from there to the Scamp, which he joined right after it was commissioned; new era of nuclear submarines; talks about Seawolf, which experimentally used liquid sodium rather water to cool it; discusses evolving hull shapes; settling on water-cooled reactor; his fast-attack sub was one of the first versions of a pressurized water nuclear sub. (06:29)
Talks about nuclear sub catastrophes, the Scorpion and the Thresher, which both sank due to design flaws; if too much water leaks, you can't expel it fast enough to avoid the water pressure doing damage; Thresher was in water too deep to survive a leak. (06:29) Qualifying in submarines means learning every system on the sub; knowing everyone's job; having a limited time to do that or you're gone; other sailors on board enforcing a "pinging" period of hazing to test you; talks about a new supply officer getting the treatment until he decided to leave. (05:21) Front end of modern submarines are sonar listening devices; sensitive for thousands of miles; sonar man controls the direction of the equipment by wheel; it's a real art. (00:43)
Deterrent submarines; 41 built, now all out of commission; their job was to do undetected; attack sub's mission was to kill other subs; "stealth is the business" on a missile-firing sub; went out to 50-mile square area and cruised at 3 knots, waiting for signal to fire a missile; cruising around Arctic; after a while, the cold would seep in and moisture would start collecting; attack subs were very effective in WWII, also had the highest percentage of losses; during Vietnam War, mission was one of support; no other subs to chase, no supply ships to sink. (04:44) Missile submarines trying to go undetected; Russian fishing boats loaded with equipment to find subs; each submarine had its own sound profile for identification; constant communication with military on shore; trailing antenna floating on water; could be cut off by a ship; missiles timed to go out between waves; wave motion affecting sub; sleeping in bunks with side straps to prevent you from rolling on to the deck. (04:01) Missile submarines going to sea for 90 days; alternating crews, blue and gold; thirty days between crew changes; flying to ports in Scotland or Spain for the changeover; going home for R&R and training; toughest part of being a sea was being on watches of 18 hours--6 on, 12 off--which played havoc with your internal clock; trouble adjusting from pure water on ship to chemically treated tap water on shore. (06:28)
Unable to communicate with home while on a missile submarine; communication was one-way, from the Pentagon to the sub; dragging 1500 foot antenna around; military buried an ELF (Extremely Low Frequency) antenna in the North Woods that communicated with subs; families were granted 3 or 4 "familygram" personal communications to the sub; almost inevitably because of the 3-month cycle of rotations, you missed being home for the birth of a child. (05:56) Leaving the Navy; last two years was senior instructor in Idaho; reviewing what was entailed in training for sub duty; as instructor, was working with boiling water system for powering submarines; left because of inability to support family; went to work for company constructing nuclear power plants; that work dried up under pressure from anti-nuclear advocates. (03:52) "A few interesting experiences": on Scamp, shaft broke off the sub; they bounced around for a couple of days before they were towed in to shore; on Daniel Webster, bounced off the top of an uncharted underwater mountain; oxygen generators blowing up, killing a couple of people; food supply is only thing that limits how long you can stay out to sea. (02:42)
  
 
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  October 26, 2011
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