Title: Tribute
Author: Kim Q
Rating: PG
Length: Vignette
Flavor: angst

Notes:  Originally posted to Uncharted Waters.  Dedicated to Henry Kulky, may he rest in peace.

~~~~~

"Unto Almighty God we commend the soul of our brother departed, and we commit his body to the deep..." - Navy Military Funerals, NAVPERS 15555D

The last echo of Taps had faded into the mist and the flag that had covered their shipmate's shrouded body had been reverently folded and ceremoniously handed to the captain. The honor platoon had been dismissed and headed below out of the cold night air. Only the spray of the ocean remained on deck, kicked up by Seaview's stately progress through the gently rolling waves. Up on the bridge, the brief light of a flickering match, cupped in hands against the chill wind, illuminated the melancholy face of a tall man lingering in the darkness. The two duty lookouts exchanged understanding glances and focused their attention towards to the horizon, giving him as much privacy as was possible given the limited space.

Chip Morton took a deep drag of his cigarette* and stared off into the nebulous fog. He still could not accept the fact that Chief Petty Officer Curley Jones was gone. It shouldn't have happened! Seaview wasn't on any sort of hazardous assignment. There had been no catastrophes...no mad scientists or mutated sea creatures running amuck. No, Curley had slipped away in his sleep, victim of a massive heart attack. The sudden, unexpected loss of the beloved Chief of the boat had the whole crew in shock. For Chip, the loss was more personal than he would ever admit to, though most of the crew knew that he and Curley had served together before Seaview.

The first time he'd met the burly chief, Chip had been barely out of the Academy...a fresh-faced ensign, newly graduated from Nuclear Power School and the Submarine Officer's Basic Course at Groton, reporting to his very first boat, the USS Tullibee.* Chip shook his head as he reflected on his younger self. He'd been so scared behind his usual imperturbable mask! He was smart enough to know that no training simulation on shore could fully prepare one for life aboard a real boat. Then to be assigned a huge, hulking, salty chief as his Sea Daddy*...? Chip was sure he'd fail his sub qualification and be forced to leave the Silent Service forever!

At that time, Curley was the Bull Nuke* on the T2 and Chip was certain the crusty chief was resentful of being given baby-sitting duty for a wet-behind-the-ears ensign. But he soon learned that a kind heart hid behind the gruff exterior. Jones had taken him under his wing, helping him adjust to life aboard the boat and trying his best to keep the young ensign out of trouble. Not that Curley had been easy on him! On the contrary, even the Skipper occasionally raised an eyebrow as the Chief demanded, in the not-always-subtle way of a top CPO, only the best from the boat's most junior officer. But Chip had risen to the challenge and had managed to earn his dolphins in record time. More importantly, he'd learned how to properly care for the men in his unit. Curley taught him to lead by example, earning the men's respect by willingly diving into the most onerous of tasks. He'd learned how to manage the delicate balance of demanding the absolute best of his men as submariners while remaining compassionate to their needs as young men far away from home. The lessons he'd learned from Curley were beyond price.

A chuckle broke past his grief as he remembered some of the less 'official' things he'd learned from the chief during his time on the T2. Curley had a wicked sense of humor. Chip wasn't surprised to find out that the chief had helped Lee prank him with the Academy 'cannonballs' after the Army-Navy game* as Curley had been the master prankster aboard the Tullibee. From frozen pillows in the COB's rack to stealing the XO's door, Curley knew that a good prank gave the men a way to relax and cope with the stressful life of a submariner.

As the hazy fog slowly dispersed and a bright canopy of stars was revealed in the night sky, Morton's musings turned towards more recent times. When he'd been asked by Nelson to join the fledgling N.I.M.R. staff and Seaview's pre-commissioning crew as Executive Officer back in '71, he'd been thrilled to hear that Curley would be the new sub's COB. Captain Phillips wasn't quite as sure about Curley at first... Chip grinned as he recalled the first meeting between the very proper skipper and the crusty old sea dog...but Phillips soon realized Jones' worth. Six foot tall, weighing well over 200 lbs, CPO Jones had been a study in contrasts. His huge ham hands could knock out a squad of belligerent marines in a bar fight or wield a soldering iron with fine precision on the most delicate of Seaview's systems. A blustering tough guy with a heart as big as his girth, he was slow moving and lumbering on land, but swift and skilled in the water. As plankowner COB, Jones had been instrumental in helping Morton and Phillips prepare the new crew for service aboard the finest and most advanced boat ever launched.

Knocking ash off his dwindling cigarette, Chip considered how lucky he'd been to serve with Curley. While the XO and COB on any submarine work closely together, the long months of working to bring the Gray Lady to life forged a very special bond of mutual respect between the two men. Whether getting grubby in the depths of the ballast tanks making crucial repairs during a crisis, or dressing up for the silliness that was a Line-Crossing ceremony, Curley could be counted on to do whatever was asked of him. The man personified faithfulness and loyalty to his shipmates. Even when Morton and the chief risked their lives in the diving bell to rescue their trapped shipmates on the sunken Seaview, Curley never faltered. Chip smiled fondly at the memory of the chief calling him "Skipper" during that daredevil descent. Curley always did have faith in him...sometimes more than Chip had in himself.

Chip flicked the smoldering butt of his forgotten cigarette over the side of the boat and sighed. Curley had even tried to convince him to stop smoking. Not that Chip indulged very often...never on the boat until now...but perhaps it was time to finally take the COB's advice and quit. It was the least he could do for the man who had been the hardworking heart of Seaview's crew.

Wiping what must have been sea spray from his face, he turned to go below. There was going to be an old-fashioned wake for Curley in the crew's mess at 20:00 and he didn't want to miss it. The admiral was even authorizing appropriate libations in the chief's memory. It was time to share with his shipmates some of his earliest memories of the COB. As long as they remembered Curley, he would remain alive in their hearts.

Pausing for a moment at the top of the ladder, Chip gazed up at the glowing silver moon that had emerged in the night sky. "Fair winds and following seas, Curley. Seaview won't be the same without you."

Fin


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*There is a brief moment in "Submarine Sunk Here" where Chip is seen taking a last drag on a cigarette, although he was never seen smoking at any other time in the entire series. I'm simply giving him a reason to quit early in the series.

*USS Tullibee (SSN-597) - a unique experimental nuclear fast attack submarine that incorporated innovative engineering to meet the need for a deeper-diving, ultra quiet submarine design. Smaller than any other nuclear boat save NR-1, her original complement was only seven officers and 66 enlisted men. She was affectionately known as T2 since she was the second US Navy boat to bear the name, Tullibee. http://www.geocities.com/weatherman5/Tullibee.html

*Sea Daddy or Sea Dad - one who is assigned to be 'mentor' to a newly arrived crewman, providing guidance (and the occasional kick-in-the-pants) as the new crewman works to 'qualify' or earn their submariner dolphins. Is also used for the CPOs who take new little baby (boot) ensigns under their wings and teach them to become proper submariners.

*Bull Nuke, senior nuclear trained enlisted man aboard any nuclear vessel. On a sub, they are just under the COB in authority.

*Academy 'cannonballs' prank appears in my "Carry On" story.




2007 Kim Q. All Rights Reserved