The Fog Dissipator
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The Fog Dissipator

As soon as I saw the watch bill for the exercise, I realized that it would become awkward for Bob and me before the week was out. Bob was a classmate of mine at submarine school, and we had reported to the same boat at the same time. Though we were both Ensigns, he was three months senior to me in rank, and a couple of years older. He had come from a well-connected family in the northeastern part of the country. When he finished at his Ivy League school he went to Navy Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island to get his commission. It was his way of avoiding the draft. He played excellent tennis. But he was unclear on the concept of running a submarine.

When I had been aboard for a few weeks it was time for me to start standing watches as Officer of the Deck (Surfaced), or as Diving Officer. Until then I was standing these watches as a trainee, with a qualified watch-stander looking over my shoulder. But Bob was nowhere near ready to stand watch alone. Trainees always stood watch four hours on, eight hours off. When I was added to the watch bill it allowed us qualified officers to stand four hours on, twelve hours off. On the second day of the exercise, Bob and I stood watch, with him as a trainee under my instruction.

We spent a few minutes in the control room, reviewing the status of all the machinery aboard the boat. We climbed up to the conning tower, where we reviewed the operation plan and the navigational information. We climbed through the upper hatch, and up two more ladders, to get to the bridge, where we were to relieve Don.

Don was a Chief Warrant Officer, a former torpedoman, who later got commissioned and went on to fame and glory at the Pentagon. But he had just finished standing a boring watch, and he was eager to get below decks, out of the mist. As we were making conversation with him we entered a patch of fog, and Don whimsically leaned over the voice tube and yelled "Energize the fog dissipator!"

The helmsman, from three decks below, yelled back "Energize the fog dissipator, aye." Then, after five seconds or so, the helmsman reported through the voice tube, "Fog dissipator indicates energized."

We really talked that way. We never turned something on or off. We either energized it or we secured it. The words "on" and "off" can be confused with each other over low fidelity voice circuits in extremely noisy environments.

Of course, we did not have a fog dissipator. No one did. But Bob assumed that we must have carried such a piece of gear, because Don was so deadpan about it. Bob asked Don, "Where is the fog dissipator?"

Don was surprised at Bob's gullibility, but he recovered quickly enough to say that the control head for the fog dissipator was located in the conning tower, near the helm. He also said not to use it too much, because it draws a lot of power. Don then went below to inspect the boat, to report to the skipper that everything was OK, and to get some coffee. He casually mentioned to the group playing cards in the crew's mess that Bob believed that there really was a fog dissipator on board.

The electronic technicians then proceeded to locate an unused piece of electronic equipment in the conning tower. They removed the face plate, and they re-stenciled it to say "Fog Dissipator".

Bob and I were punctilious on our watch together. I did not harass him, and I did not pretend to be instructing him. Mostly, I just listened to his stories of playing tennis. From time to time he bent over the voice tube and called for the fog dissipator to be energized or secured. When we finished our watch, he asked to see that fog dissipator, and the quartermaster of the watch showed him the control head.

And once again Bob was the laughingstock of the crew. A few weeks later he bilged out of submarines and was sent ashore. We lost track of him. Some years later, when we sold the boat to Brazil, the IFF control head was still labeled "Fog Dissipator".

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