December 8, 2010.
Thirty years since the murder of famed Beatle John Lennon, on the sidewalk in front of his New York City apartment. Like the assassination of Kennedy, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, the attack on and subsequent collapse of the two towers of the World Trade Center, there are a few events that were significant enough that people remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when the event occurred.
Now, I wasn't a big fan of John Lennon, and for the most part don't consider celebrities of being worthy of remembering where I was when they joined the choir eternal. Many famed musicians have shuffled off this mortal coil since I was born...Jim Morrison, Elvis Presley, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Buddy Holly, Jiles Richardson, Michael Jackson...the list goes on. Of those, for some reason, I only remember where I was when I learned of the passing of two of them: The King, and John Lennon.
When the King departed, I was in Basic Electricity & Electronics School in San Diego - we were marching to lunch on the grinder, and someone came running out and stopped us, and passed the word that the King was dead. Twelve seconds later, we were back to marching. There you go.
John Lennon, on the other hand, well...that was different.
December 9, 1980
In 1980 I was assigned to S8G, the Trident reactor prototype in Ballston Spa, New York. I was on staff, and we were probably training some of the first production classes to come through the plant.
The plant, for those that haven't been there, like most of the submarine reactor prototypes at the time, was only half a submarine. Only the reactor compartment and the engine room were enclosed in a high pressure containment structure. So there wasn't a 'whole' boat, but what was there was fairly accurate and faithful to the design of the 'real' submarine plant.
Now the Trident was substantially larger than my qual boat, the USS WILLIAM H. BATES (SSN 680). In the BATES propulsion plant, we had three Air Particulate Detectors or APDs. One for the RC, one for AMR2, and one for the ER. The Trident, being a tad larger, had four. One for the RC, one for Engine Room forward and Maneuvering, one for Engine Room Aft, and unique to the prototype, a fourth for part of containment known as the FEC, or Forward End Compartment.
As RC division, we were responsible for maintenance of the APDs, and for ease of discussion we had given the APDs nicknames. Since there were four APDs, and most of us were old enough to be Beatle fans, the names of Fab Four made a logical choice to make the APDs easier to reference.
George, Paul, Ringo, and John. Hey, it made sense at the time. Turns out, John was the nickname of the Engine Room Aft APD.
"George needs the paper roll replaced."
"Hey, after lunch, you're up for the monthly on Ringo."
"Don't forget the source check on Paul and John!"
You get the idea.
It was day shift on the ninth of December. I was the RO on the RPCP. It was business as usual in Maneuvering.
Sometime mid-morning, an off-watch individual walked up to Maneuvering, lifted and dropped the chain across the door, and just stood there, looking stunned.
"Uh, could we help you?"
"John is dead", he said, in a monotone.
"John Lennon was murdered last night...", he mumbled.
"I guess this means the Beatles aren't getting together again."
We sat there stunned, wondering what the hell the world was coming to, when somebody could bring themselves to shoot any member of the Beatles, let alone John Lennon. I can't say any one of us was really broken up, but collectively, it did have an impact. Something big had changed, and not for the good, and we were a little uncomfortable trying to sort it out.
The next hour or so was subdued. We sat quietly, took our logs, did our jobs, and probably contemplated a little on the significance of the event.
About that time, the Reactor Technician, the equivalent of the Machinery Two Upper Level watch on the boat, stuck his head in through the door of Maneuvering and announced, "John is dead!"
"Yeah," we agreed, "we heard."
"No, I said John is dead. You know, the Engine Room Aft APD? Tango uniform, dead as a doorknob, a f__ing ex-APD!"
"What?", we simultaneously chorused.
"The APD is dead - I just found it with all the lights off, no alarm, and nothing..." His voice trailed off as he realized the implications. I actually got goose-bumps. That was just weird.
"I'm getting off watch in a few minutes. It can wait. I'll look at it on the way out." I said, letting the RT off the hook.
I worked on that APD for two hours, unsuccessfully trying to figure out why it wasn't working. I was no slouch in the trouble-shooting arena, and nothing was out of place. I finally gave up. I picked up my tools, buttoned John up, and, in a last act of desperation, flipped the power switch to ON.
The APD came to life, ran through its self-check routine, and settled down, quietly sampling Engine Room air. It wouldn't miss a beat for the remainder of my tour at S8G.
I stood there and stared at John for a good ten minutes, trying to figure out why John the APD died when John the Beatle died.
No causality, no technical explanation, no causal connection. Nothing.
Nothing but goose-bumps.
I guess John knew.
John Lennon (1940-1980)
Good seeing you Mark, been a while shipmate...