by Don Ennis ETCS(ss) USN(ret), USS Stonewall Jackson SSBN-634
Familygrams when I was on the Jackson (634) were twenty-eight words long and each sailor got six of them. I think it was Lonnie Horowitz who either bought or talked some of the single unattached, couldn’t care less about family-grams crew members out of theirs and got called in to talk to the X.O. when he got so many that the radiomen couldn’t help but notice he had received more than his six. After that the radiomen were required to keep count on everyone.
I once got a family gram that made the gram of the month from my wife Carol, It read: “Sprayed for mosquitoes with roach spray. Bird, fish and turtle all dead. Trip to pet store in order. Bad day. Wish you were here” While I was on another SSBN one of her grams contained the words “I sold your truck” and “I love you.” That one was the talk of the patrol when more than a hundred Polaris submariners learned the meaning of the word oxymoron. It’s been more than 30 years since I received my first family-gram. I received all of my allotment from my dutiful wife and I read a lot of the messages received by my shipmates, but ever one I ever read pales when compared to the following family-gram story.
When I tell a story, I usually don’t make up names. When you read this one I’m sure you will understand why I am making an exception in this case and I know you will forgive me. However, if the parties concerned want to stand up and be identified, I will gladly publish their version with their real names. Until then, all I will say about this story is that it does belong totally to the Stonewall Jackson.
Shortly before flyaway, our semi-annual migration to Guam, the Stonewall Jackson received a new crew member. He was incredibly young then. He is young still today. His new bride was even younger. The couple barely had enough time to rent an apartment before the Blue crew was off too meet the boat.
In her small, sparsely furnish apartment Pam was left with an envelope her husband Petty Officer Hurley had left for her. She knew nothing about the navy or submarines. The family-grams must have been a mystery to her, but she figured out about the 28 words and she found out how and where she was to deposit them. She thought than since everything else she had encountered in her contact with the navy was top secret, her 28 word message to her lover-husband would be between them and confidential.
Her first message read “Uncle Harry is lonely” The radioman who delivered the message thought. “What the hell does Hurley care if his wife’s uncle Harry is lonely” Had he know that uncle Harry was code for the newly married young lovers physical activities he would have spread it around the ship. It would have been a long patrol for Hurley.
The next message read: “I think uncle Harry is going to be sick”
Then came “uncle Harry is definitely sick”
Followed by “I think uncle Harry is going to die.”
At that point Mrs. Hurley received a phone call and an appointment to visit with the squadron 15 chaplain.
On her way to the sub base her mind raced through options she knew nothing about. Had the boat sunk. Was her husband hurt. Was she a widow at 18.
She was ushered into the chaplain’s office and seated across a large desk from the fully uniformed naval office with crosses on his collar. She was frightened. She was ready to cry. She was preparing to morn.
“Mrs Hurley” the somber chaplain said “Mrs. Hurley. We’re very concerned about your uncle Harry”
She didn’t know if she should laugh or cry to hide her crimson cheeks. I think her response as she all but ran from the office was “He got better”
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