November 2020 issue
In 2009, I had the once in a lifetime honor of meeting Frank Buckles, the last surviving American military veteran of World War I. I met Mr. Buckles when he was 108 years old. We sat together for several hours swapping stories of service, sacrifice, and friendship.
Frank told me stories of how, after being rejected for military service twice, (once by the Navy for having flat feet and once by the Marines for being too small) he borrowed his uncle’s name “Woodruff” to make himself sound older. “Wood Buckles,” as his friends called him, enlisted in the Army at 16 years old.
Wood passed away two years later. Even though we only spent a few hours together, we were united in our military experiences. Being a veteran isn’t specific to which war you fought in – it’s a community that continues to exist long after a uniform comes off. Wood reminded me of this fact, and it was a fact I needed to recall.
Being a veteran can feel isolating. Civilians might “appreciate” us, but they don’t understand. Wood taught me that part of the reason civilians don’t get it is because we don’t spend enough time talking about our time in service.
So this Veteran’s Day and every day, I invite you to spend some time with a veteran. Listen to their stories. Ask questions. Record them talking about their experiences. And then share those experiences with everyone you can.
Dress Blues Press: The Online Journal of the Military Experience dedicates its first issue
to Frank “Wood” Buckles. Thanks for reminding me who I am.
Share. Discover. Engage
Robert Thomas Atwood, MFA
Editor, Dress Blues Press
The Online Journal of the Military Experience
A short story by John Holley
Eddie, he is missing. You sneaked through the woods with him while playing Army, to the lake. You’d done it kazillion times but this time you couldn’t find Eddie’s hiding place. Not this time. No great pine-cone grenade battle, no stick firefight. You looked forever expecting an ambush every step. Nothing. You looked until you were scared…
Silent and Efficient: A Submariner’s Cold-War Story
Written by Dress Blues Press Nonfiction Editor: Christy Parrott
Retired Master Chief Davy Jones is losing his eyesight, but a military career spent as Quartermaster of nuclear submarines stationed along the North Atlantic and Mediterranean during the cold war has prepared him for challenges, such as navigating the dark. Raised on a farm, Jones decided that, for him, it came down to the Army or the Navy. “My weigh-in at bootcamp was a hundred and eight pounds,” Jones grins. Jones spent the better part of a decade from 1971 to 1982 aboard Naval submarines: the USS Sand Lance and USS Flying Fish. He worked as a Quartermaster, navigating submarines for hundreds of days on end. But what Jones and his fellow submariners did during those years underwater and out of sight has remained a mystery. In fact, Jones signed an official document whereby he agreed not to discuss the details of his missions for eighty years (there are many questions he wasn’t permitted to answer). Jones’ wife, Leslie, would often ask Davy what he did while underway. “I told her weather tracking, mapping oceans, testing subs, qualifying,” Jones explains.
In reality, Jones and his crew tracked Soviet submarine’s locations and movements in an effort to quietly and efficiently keep the United States safe. Navigating in the dark requires other senses to heighten and limits perceptions to objects close by; except, in this case, the closest object in the dark sea was an enemy sub, at times only hundreds of feet away and armed for war. While in stealth mode, Quartermasters couldn’t use the submarine’s active-sonar system to ping ahead for underwater hazards, such as undersea mountains, drilling rigs, or enemy subs. “Remember that subs are built for stealth,” Jones explains. Therein lies one of many hardships submariners faced: tracking a target blind. Thus, the quartermaster consistently monitored the sub’s position, relative to its own, while simultaneously avoiding signaling its own location to a nearby opponent who was performing the same drills against them. “We’d find them and track them, and they’d do the same to us. The subs were incredibly close to each other,” Jones shares. “We were always concerned about collision and detection, not only from Soviet Subs but every trawler, destroyer and frigate,” Jones insists. “One false move could result in opposing submarines crashing.” Confusion could have been catastrophic. Jones knew, “We were always preparing for war while hoping not to start one.”
The US and Russia played an underwater cat-and-mouse game for decades. Yet, not until the release of the book Blindman’s Bluff (and subsequent documentary) in 1998 did the public begin to understand the high-stakes missions submariners like Jones had embarked on. Jones explains, “Our objective was to track Soviet submarines—to make sure the Russians weren’t planning an attack.” The Russians had built thousands of subs. “We really worried about third-world countries getting access to weapons, much like we still are today. There’s always someone that wants to play the dirty game.” For example, Jones remembers that in October, 1973, “Egypt wanted to take over Israel, so we stationed there to make sure no Axis powers would interfere.”
The public may never know the full extent of missions sent for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. “When I found the History Channel documentary on Sub Espionage, I gave Leslie the remote and left her to watch the movie,” Jones explains. “When I returned, I asked if she had any questions? She said that she was happy to finally know what I had done.” Many families, such as those of the USS Scorpion, which went missing in 1968, due to an undetermined underwater explosion, are still waiting for answers. Regardless of the mystery, it remains important that the public remember the challenges an older generation faced and helpful for them to share their stories, even if most of what they’ve done remains classified.
Additionally, no one understands a veteran like a fellow veteran, particularly when it comes to a unique experience like serving your country in a submarine–the cramped, often dark quarters, narrow passageways, and hot beds rotated among several shipmates. This stands true even if the fellow submariner served for the opponent: “Yes,” Jones recalls, “I have met my counterparts in the Soviet subs. We were all nervous at first, but as time went along it was like in-laws and outlaws with a shared understanding.” Therein lies the difference between the military and their civilian counterparts that Davy hopes to explain: “Civilians can come to a stop sign and consider whether they want to proceed or turn around and go back home. The military does not have that choice. Even in harm’s way, there’s no other option than to continue moving forward, because the mission is bigger than you.”
In 1982, Jones switched rates to Navy Councilor Chief, enlisting men and women of different backgrounds and experiences. He still thinks of them, remembers many of their names. One of whom, Barbara Sweredoski, was among the first women to enter into the military nuclear-power field; she retired a three-star admiral. Others, Jones swallows hard in recollection, “Didn’t fare as well, and none of us got out unscathed.”
Outside of books and films, the military experiences of many remain unknown and unacknowledged. Still, Jones asks for no thanks, grateful to have had the opportunity to serve. He’s a humble man, like so many veterans, often recognized by his blue Veteran ballcap, without anyone realizing the full extent of what he’s seen and what he accomplished. Master Chief Petty Officer Davy Jones reached the highest enlisted rank achievable, drove submarines on secret missions of espionage, and risked his life during endless hours spent straining to hear the most subtle of shifts from a nearby underwater enemy armed for war. The hours of boredom followed by moments of sheer terror, and yet there’s still so much Davy cannot share, information and experiences only a select, brave few understand, and the best anyone can do is say, “Thank you for your service.” Jones served the United States until 1993, retiring at the Pentagon. In times of upheaval and unrest, it’s sound to listen to the words of someone who’s survived the obscure and the unknown. Through the dark, Master Chief Davy Jones has seen more than most could possibly imagine.
Author Feature: Thomas M. McDade
Kelly’s Men’s on Granby Street Norfolk was where I bought my tailored dress blues
gabardine fabric on my first charge account…
Paint on the Port Jeff Ferry decks is green not gray like what I chipped and sanded on destroyers when I was young…
It was just another refueling and no big deal since we were pulling into Bermuda the next day. All went well until the hose was uncoupled…
On Cemetery Hill
A piece written by Shawn D. Brink
Behind them was Gettysburg. Before them was Cemetery Hill. It had been thirty years since blood spilled down that slope. Yet, after all that time, the bloodshed still haunted Samuel. He alighted from the carriage and glared at the land before him. His right hand held an aged Bible while his left caressed his wife’s arm…
Swim Suit Patch
A short story by Susana Gonzales
When I was a little girl on Scott AFB, we were issued round cloth patches to be sewn onto our swimming suits. The patches were admission passes to the NCO pool. They distinguished who was allowed in and who was not…
A short story by Bill Cushing
Whitey Tuggle took one long final drag off the unfiltered Camel. Savoring the sweet but nutty taste of the cigarette’s Turkish tobaccos, he leaned against a lone wooden sawhorse to survey the grounds. At first glance his place looked like a microcosm, the aftermath from an atomic explosion…