Lake area Navy veteran reflects on years of service
Bob Jackson likens being in a submarine to being crammed into a 55-gallon barrel and tossed into the water.
While that may be a bit of an exaggeration, Jackson says only a select few qualify and then master the skills needed to become a submariner. He spent 20 years assigned to submarine duty all over the world, usually three and six months at a time sleuthing through the open seas often playing hide-and-seek with Russian submarines.
“We had some close calls,” the Morgan County R-II (Versailles) High School graduate recalled. “Sometimes, we could hear them pass right over us, could hear their screws turning – thump, thump, thump.
“We were a nuclear deterrent, we were ’41 for Freedom’ which means there were 41 nuclear submarines at the ready,” he explained.
Jackson served mostly on nuclear submarines, but had experience on a diesel sub as well.
“Talk about being in a lead-lined coffin,” he said of being on board a diesel sub. “A nuclear sub is a luxury compared to a diesel.”
It’s been roughly 30 years since Jackson retired from the U.S. Navy, but his recall of his daily routine, the intricacies of operating a submarine, the various duties and ranks he acquired was instantaneous. On this day on his and his wife’s rural Rocky Mount home, he proudly sported his U.S. Navy cap and a multi-purpose vest with various patches and emblems reflecting his 20 years of service.
“Do you know what they call an escape hatch on a submarine?” he asked whimsically. “A placebo.”
Jackson was born in Kansas City, Mo., and was raised in St. Louis before ending up in Versailles where he graduated from high school in May 1969. He was working jobs in Eldon at the time when the U.S. government instituted the Military Draft as the conflict in Southeast Asia escalated.
Young men were called to duty based on their birthday. His Draft Number was 3 and he most certainly would have been drafted into the U.S. Army or Marines. So, he quickly enlisted in the Navy in January 1970.
“I was ordered to the St. Louis Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) and was within a hands-breadth of being in the Marine Corps,” Jackson recalled as if it were yesterday. “They lined us up tallest to shortest and the drill sergeant walked down the line and stopped in front of me. Everybody to the left of me went into the Marines, the rest of us into the Navy.”
He says he’s heard a rumor that most of the group that went into the Marines never came home.
From there, Jackson went to the Naval Station Great Lakes for boot camp, then to Naval Submarine School in New London, Conn., and was assigned to the USS George Washington Carver (SSBN 656), a Benjamin Franklin class fleet ballistic missile submarine. Everyone on a submarine is cross-trained on every aspect of the boat. He spent four years on the Carver, first with a Seaman Gang doing basic chores such as painting, galley duty and as a gofer – in 12-hour shifts.
Jackson was sent to Yeoman A School where he learned to perform administrative and clerical work, operating office equipment like computers and fax machines. They also answer telephones, type, sort incoming mail, organize files and do all manner of office writing.
“Because I could type, I was assigned as a ‘Yeoman Striker’ to keep patrol reports and other paperwork,” he said.
His service took him to Scotland, Japan, the Philippines, Australia and eventually to San Diego, Calif. By then, as he had climbed the ranks to an E-6, he was the Lead Yeoman and filled in for other Yeoman when they were absent from their positions.
From there, he was assigned as Lead Yeoman to the USS Barb (SSN 596), a Permit-class attack submarine, and served at the pleasure of the Barb’s Captain (commanding officer) and XO (Executive Officer). The mission of the Barb was to hunt “enemy” submarines and surface ships.
Because submarines were gone for months at a time, often on classified missions, it was called the “Silent Service.”
His final Duty Station was aboard the USS Jacksonville (SSN 699), a Los Angeles class submarine, in Norfolk, Va., where he finished out his career. After a year of overhaul in dry-dock, the Jacksonville was one of the first to take part in depth charge training and to assess the stability of the submarine in simulated depth charge situations.
He and the boat passed the challenge.
In 1989, Jackson decided it was time to retire. He had reached the rank of an E-6 in 10 years, and spent the next decade hoping to move up in rank. Although he passed all the right tests and met all the right criteria to become a Chief Petty Officer, it never happened.
Jackson’s first stop as a civilian was with the Department of Veteran Affairs National Cemetery Administration in Washington, D.C., where he helped coordinate dignified burials for veterans and others who qualified for the service. After nine years there, he relocated to Daytona, Fla., where he was a metro bus driver until 2005.
He and his wife soon moved to Rocky Mount on property she inherited. They renovated and remodeled the home and he keeps busy with the Miller County VFW 2442 and dabbles in woodworking.
•Jackson’s oldest daughter followed in her dad’s Naval footsteps and was one of the first women on the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS LaBoon as an electronics technician.
•Jackson is the only living of four brothers who served in the Navy. None of them died in the line of duty.
•Jackson’s dad was in the U.S. Army in World War II. Jackson says the family’s military service goes back to the Revolutionary War from 1775-1783.
•Jackson is a past commander of VFW Post 2442 and remains active with the VFW Honor Guard which conducts final tributes to fallen soldiers.
•Jackson was one of the lucky few to take an Honor Flight on the World War II B-25 Mitchell that participated in the Lake of the Ozarks Air Show in Camdenton in September.
•Jackson’s only regret is retiring from the U.S. Navy when he did.