Silent Service and its Veterans often Overlooked

Sep 19, 2011

America’s war on terror features familiar images of soldiers in body armor, Humvees and attack helicopters.  Submerged in war coverage is the role played by submarines and their crews.  In the latest installment of our series of interviews based on the University of Kentucky’s oral history project, “From Combat to Kentucky,” WEKU’S  Ron Smith has memories from a submariner…

Eric Perry was raised on a farm north of Frankfort. Like many young people who grow up in rural areas, he itched to leave home and see the world. So after graduating from Franklin County High school with mostly A’s and B’s, Perry left home. Today, the 25 year-old proudly characterizes himself as a navy man, a submariner, and a free thinker.

“There’s an old saying, I don’t know if it’s Navy-wide or just in the submarine force, that a complaining sailor is a happy sailor,” said Perry.   

If that saying is accurate, there must be many, very happy sailors.

“Sure there was a lot of complaints, there was a lot of, and discipline’s different because it’s a very different interaction because there’s nothing or there’s very few things that require an immediate action on a submarine,” noted Perry.

That’s not to say submariners bide their time groaning below the surface while combatants fight the hot war on land. A sub might be out of sight, but as far as military operations are concerned, it’s never out of mind.

“We don’t get a lot of high-profile kind of stuff because it’s kind of hard to get a camera shot of a submarine at sea. But just recently if you look at when we began our support of the rebels in Libya, the centerpiece around the Navy’s response was nuclear-powered submarine,” said Perry.

That sub launched cruise missiles at pro-Gaddafi forces.  Perry says submarines plays multiple roles in the war on terror, from monitoring activity off hostile coastlines, to delivering special forces.

“A lot of it too, is force projection, because it’s gotta give somebody pause when they think you know, do I really want do this, do I really to invade this little country here, then they wonder, Is there a submarine over there , I mean, could they be watching right now? Is that a submarine over there? And you don’t know. There could be, maybe and maybe not,” said Perry.

With his strong background in math and science at Franklin County High school, Perry pushed himself to learn the ins and outs of nuclear propulsion.  He was assigned as a mechanic on an attack submarine, which is what he wanted. But he found out learning about submarines and being in one are two very different things.

“You can’t make someone understand what it’s like to be underwater. It’s just a whole different world. I remember the first time they sounded the diving alarm I looked around and all the hatches were shut and the diving alarm sounded and the first time I really thought about it, hey, there’s 400 feet of water above me.”, remembered Perry.

Perry trained for two years before setting foot on a sub. But on his first deployment he pretty much knew his days were numbered. He soon tired of the daily routine of reading gauges every hour, and dreaded long missions at sea, which would take him many miles and many months away from home.  So he chose not to re-enlist. Though he’s no longer in active service, Perry is wistful about his time spent as a submariner.

“Some of the smartest, most dedicated people you’ll ever work with are in submarines. The navy gives them fifty pounds of crap to shove in a five pound sock day in and day out and they do it.  I don’t know how they do it, I don’t know how we did it, but we did. You know, I miss that,” said Perry.

Today Perry continues to put to use skills learned in the Navy. He’s enrolled at the University of Kentucky, studying mechanical engineering.  And’s he’s still in the Navy Reserves.