This concludes a three-part article on Tim Perry’s experiences as a submariner during the 1970s.
By Dawn Kiefer
During his service as a submariner Tim Perry achieved the status of “qualified” and successfully fulfilled his duties on 400 days of patrol duty spread out over about three years.
Not every man who volunteered for submarine duty can say the same.
“We had guys who were frustrated,” Perry says. “One guy had a breakdown in port and another time during a flooding casualty a guy freaked out. They got rid of him at port.”
Before a volunteer can be considered a full-fledged submariner he must complete qualifications, an extension of everything learned in “sub school.”
Perry says, “The first 12 months on board you continue to learn systems. You have to know every piece of equipment, its function and power supply. All that’s related to responding to a casualty (such as a fire or flooding). If something bad happens, you can’t wait around for someone to get there. If something happens, you have to know where the valve is or breakers are and where the fire extinguishers are. So, there’s no free time till you’re qualified. You have to spend time everywhere on a boat and ask questions. It’s not only for your own confidence, it’s for everyone else’s. You need to be fully aware of your surroundings. You’re never just a bystander in a casualty.
“You have to go to your peers with a verbal check-off. When your card is completed the division officer walks you through the boat from the torpedo room to the shaft alley – front to back. There’s nothing that’s not fair game to ask you.
“When you pass the walk-through you go to an examining board – all officers or chief petty officers. When you pass that, the captain signs off. Then you’re qualified. If you don’t make it, you’re sent to service fleet.
“There’s a tremendous amount of peer pressure if you’re a dink (delinquent in catching on). Qualifying is the biggest part of your identity. If you don’t, you’re pond scum. There’s hazing. You can’t have people who don’t carry their share of the load.”
However, Perry didn’t have to face hazing and made it through qualifying with relative ease.
When on board he was in navigation and stood his watches along with two other men in the control room – the nerve center of the boat, where all the driving and diving is controlled.
“I think I had one of the best jobs as an enlisted man,” Perry says. “I always knew where we were going and what we were doing, in contrast to the guys in the propulsion plant (engine room) with its steam turbines. I enjoyed knowing all that stuff. We’d go to periscope depth at least once a day and when there was a fire drill we’d have to go up to periscope depth and ventilate through the snorkel mast.
“It was fun for me. I got to use the periscope more than any other enlisted man, which was like looking out the window. The rest of my job included plotting position, planning where we were going, and interacting with sonar. A sub runs around ‘blind,’ operating by ‘ear.’ The crew listens through sophisticated methods. Three hundred miles away you can hear a (search) ping, but only pick up a target a mile away. There’s a crew in sonar at all times, keeping track of what else is out there. At periscope depth is when the sub is in most danger of collision.”
Even though part of a crew might be sleeping at any given time, other crewmembers were constantly on alert. “We received tactical information 24/7,” Perry says. “We had the greatest stealth platform in the world. Quiet is the key word. We had the advantage over the Soviets. Speed is not your friend. We did exercises with the fleet, so they had a chance to track. We dropped sonar buoys and could track under ideal conditions. When we took evasive measures, ‘they were toast’.”
Perry says that his duties were sometimes monotonous. “The job got boring,” he says, “but going in and out of port was interesting. I was really busy trying to stay in a channel. Target motion analysis was interesting and I liked drills when I was on watch. When I was trying to sleep it was not so much fun. My favorite part of the job was rigging the bridge when we surfaced. I tried to be the first one to open the hatch and stand lookout with another man and an officer. It was nice to be in the open air. Some guys never got to go on the bridge.”
Perry says that the U.S. submarine sector has decreased in the decades since the Soviet Union disbanded and took with it The Cold War. He says that the U.S. had about 300 submarines until the 1990s, but now has only a little over 100.
“I was in right after Vietnam, when the military was not popular,” Perry says. “The general public doesn’t know what (service) people go through. Currently, 1 in 250 people – .4% of our population – is in the military. During World War II it was 10%. If we who have served don’t put a face on this, that number will decrease. Public perception of what the military does will get lost. That’s why I became involved in local military organizations.”
Perry was in the Navy four years total and was discharged in 1979. He went in active reserves until 1983 and was on another submarine for a short while.
His rank when he left was QM2(SS) and he received the following medals: Dolphins; Deterrent Patrol; Rifle Marksman; Good Conduct; and a pin star for each deployment.
In 1979 he went to Clearwater Christian College in Clearwater, Fla., on the G.I. Bill and five years later earned a Bachelor of Science degree in secondary education with a minor in Bible studies.
Perry says, “When I left high school I had never written anything longer than a paragraph. I didn’t understand grammar till I took Greek in college. After four years in the Navy I was ready for college. I had a whole different outlook.”
After he graduated from college he worked in Florida until returning to Richland Center in 1989. He worked at a couple of different jobs until 1994, when he accepted a job with the Richland Center Water Utility, where he continues to work.
He stays busy in the community, too, serving as Commander of VFW Post 2267, Chaplain of American Legion Post 13, honorary member of Vietnam Veterans Chapter 7, organizer of local military history fairs, song leader at First Baptist Church, and Community Players of Southwestern Wisconsin member. He’s been in the cast of a few plays and does a lot of backstage work, including helping Peter Pan “fly.”
He has two kids, Rebecca (Samuel, who was a Marine linguist in Afghanistan) Delventhal and Benjamin Perry, who is in the Army, stationed at Fort Hood. Perry also has two grandchildren, April and Isaac Delventhal.
His parents are Wayne Perry of Fort Atkinson and Marge Sims of Richland Center, his sister is Colleen McArthur of Minnesota, and his brother is Tom Perry, who followed in Tim’s footsteps as a submariner. The brothers divided up the family farm.
These days, the brothers can stand ground on their own properties and breathe in the fresh country air, rather than waiting to go to periscope depth to ventilate.