Veterans Voice: Pat O’Connor
Pat O’Connor and his twin brother, Mike, entered the United States Navy in 1963. They left Kansas City by train, arriving in San Diego for Basic Training three days later. Following Basic, both Pat and his brother were sent to Memphis, Tennessee where they underwent training as Aviation Machinist Mates.
Finishing training, they both went to NAS Pensacola, Florida where they spent the duration of their tour of duty working as aviation mechanics. Pat joked that they “joined the Navy to see the world but all we saw was a single air base!”.
Both of them re-enlisted and went to Nuclear Power School, after which they were assigned to submarines. Pat and his brother served first on the USS Nathaniel Greene, SSBN 636, then on the USS Lafayette, SSBN 616. Pat joked that then they “traveled, but it was all underwater!”. Their Commanding Officer put the brothers on different rotations so that neither worked at the same time. Pat’s duty was to keep the turbines going, the water system, and the air system. Monitoring and keeping these systems working was his total job. Pat and his brother were eventually granted shore leave together while in port at NSA Rota, in Cadiz, Spain. They spent a pleasant day at a city park.
Pat said that his worst memory involved a “flooding” incident. The flooding had to do with the sea water supply line to the distilling unit. He started the unit operating but forgot to open the outer hull valve. When he did it created a “water hammer” as water rushed in to fill the empty piping which broke a flange cover in the piping. He says he can still hear the rumble of water rushing into the line and the sea water spraying down on them. Fortunately, they were able to close the hull valve which stopped the water flow. He didn’t want to be responsible for sinking the sub!
Pat reports that the sub crew was a close-knit group which strongly supported one another. He says the wives of those who were married also supported one another. In fact, Pat says this sense of camaraderie is his best memory of the service. The guys played a lot of cards and other activities and everyone had a strong sense of “belonging”. He said that the first few months following service was a difficult period for him. People didn’t seem to appreciate, or care, about returning veterans. There was not the support received while in the service.
Pat said the greatest lesson learned in the military was “to do what you’re told”. He said many incident (such as the flooding) require immediate action, not going through a checklist. He is very grateful for the training he received in the military. He was trained for a good career and worked for Kansas City Power & Light until retirement. He now works as a consultant in the industry and lives in Kidder.