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Ashe County Veterans History Project: John Huck

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John Huck's Photos

“When you are launching a missile off a ship 3,000 plus miles away, you have to think about all the things that could make a difference ... You were never just sitting around drinking coffee; however, they did have good coffee on submarines,” said John.

John Huck's Story

"Only a submariner realizes to what great extent an entire ship depends on him as an individual. To a landsmen, this is not understandable and is sometimes difficult for us to comprehend, but it is so. A submarine at sea is a different world in itself, and in consideration of the protection and assistant operation in submarines the Navy must place responsibility and trust in the hands of those who take each ship to sea."

Thus was the life of U.S. Navy Veteran John Huck. Born in Long Beach, California, John went to school at Lakewood High School, where he was heavily involved in cub and boy scouts. From a young age, John was raised to be independent, learning how to back himself up and make informed decisions on his own, a mindset that would serve him well throughout his life. During high school and junior college, he began work at McDonalds, where he became night manager after only six months, before he was 18. After about three years, he would leave to work for an electronics company, following his chosen education in school.

It was around this time that the war in Vietnam was getting serious. Several of John’s friends had already been killed and the military was in need of new recruits.  With support from his family, John enlisted into the United States Navy. His military career began with boot camp in San Diego, and it was there he met several officers looking for men to volunteer for submarines. Knowing that he would be less likely to face combat at sea, John volunteered for the service.

John enjoyed great support from his family for his decision, including his two brothers and sisters. His father had also served in the navy during WWII.

However, when John told his father that he had volunteered for submarines, his father didn’t talk to him for three days. During WWII, he had maintained airplanes on ships that were specially designed to bomb surfacing submarines and the thought left him depressed for some time. John explained to his father that the nuclear submarines he would be serving on could stay 2,000+ feet below the surface for months at a time, lifting his father’s fears.

Due to his background in electronics, John was selected to become a fire control technician for ballistic missile submarines. After boot camp he married and traveled with his new wife straight across the country to Dam Neck, Virginia, to the Polaris A School of Electronics to learn about missile operations and launching.

Once his education was finished, he boarded his first submarine, the USS Daniel Boone, SSBN 629, thus beginning 26 years under the seas.

As a fire control technician, John’s main job was to monitor and maintain the electronic equipment needed to launch the ship’s nuclear warheads. Crew members would rotate through six hour periods with 12 hour breaks in between to make sure men were ready to launch at all times. Drills were carried out day and night, sometimes making sleep difficult. Meals were served four times a day.

The most important aspect of John’s job was keeping every piece of equipment up to date, as sometimes the slightest change could alter a missile’s path.

"When you are launching a missile off a ship 3,000-plus miles away, you have to think about all the things that could make a difference,” said John. “What direction is the ship going? Which way is it rocking.What’s the altitude or depth? What was the wind and weather like? There were 70-plus things that had to be monitored. In addition we had to make sure that everything was working correctly. If something malfunctioned, the problem had to be fixed quickly so we could always be ready to launch. You were never just sitting around drinking coffee; however, they did have good coffee on submarines."

During his career, he would serve on several different submarines, including the USS Daniel Boone, USS John Adams, USS James Madison, USS Nathan Hale, USS Woodrow Wilson, USS Mariano G. Vallejo, and the USS John C. Calhoun. He served at several locations included San Diego, CA; Dam Neck, Va; Pearl Harbor, HI, Pensacola FL, Charleston, SC; and Jacksonville, FL.

The isolation at sea did make communication with family difficult. While his wife could communicate several times when he was on duty, he had difficulty answering back. Every base had a chaplain who would offer to take letters and cards that John and other crew member had written and mail them to friends and family. While at sea, John’s closest company would only be his fellow crew members.

"The ships were large compared to their WWII counterparts. Everybody got along and you were not allowed to fight. If there was somebody you did not like, you just ignored them. And if you did have problems with someone, you dealt with everything calmly. One time after a patrol, another crew member and I each got a six pack of beer, sat on the beach and talked everything out."

John’s life wasn’t just spent out at sea. Each submarine had two different crews that traded operations. While one crew was at sea, the other would be retraining and using the time to relax and recover from the previous outing. As an avid fishermen, John always looked forward to using that time to fish. While serving in Hawaii for several years, John would arrange a fishing trip for Submarine Forces Pacific. The group of "fishermen" consisted of young enlisted men, officers, and commanders.

In fact, recreation was one of John’s favorite specialties during his service. From setting up golf tournaments to organizing dances, John always tried to give the crew a good time, a side job that he quickly became passionate about. While offshore, John was also heavily involved with the community. Going back to his childhood roots, he became involved with local scouting groups, talking to younger scouts about different ideas of life while helping older scouts work for the top levels. He also assisted in funding for these local groups.

"My best advice to someone going into the military is to decide which organization they want to go into. Talk to someone who is in that branch. Do research and make sure it's something you want to do. But most importantly do it as a career. If you go and serve your country, make it a life experience."

John found himself returning to Dam Neck to learn new missile technical and computer systems. He became an instructor at the Naval Education and Training Program Center in Pensacola, Florida; and thanks to his background on different computer and missile systems, John was tasked with rewriting several instruction books and manuals on the numerous systems he was familiar with while also writing books for completely new systems from scratch. He also served in Hawaii at the Naval Sub Training Center as an instructor.

John's military career remained relatively peaceful without a single day of combat. However, there was one occasion that made him and the rest of the crew uneasy.

"We were there for the cold war. We were the big bombs hanging over Russia and other countries. If they attacked us and sent nuclear weapons to the states, our job was to blow up the other side of the world. One day we had a drill come up and it was treated as an actual launching. Everything got carried down to seconds within the launch. I remember standing in my place for it. I was crying and everyone else was crying, afraid that the United State had been blown up. Then at the last second it was canceled and everyone sighed in relief. However, what was honorable in it was that everybody on board was willing to launch the missiles."

For John, navy life wasn’t a difficult adjustment. It was his style to move right up into leadership. Always pushing himself to be at the top, he would eventually obtain his highest rank of Chief Petty Officer. His ultimate aim was to become a Master Chief Petty Officer, but due to the limited number of positions in that ranking, the last position had already been taken one year prior to the end of his service. With his 26 years finished, John’s career in the navy came to a close. He was transferred to the fleet reserves on May 31, 1993, for three years but would never be called back out to sea.

John’s interest in electronics didn’t end with his service. He worked for several other companies, providing support and repair work for electronics and tools for many years before finally retiring in the late 1990s. Even then, he was still left with a thirst for adventure. During his free time in the summer, he took his camper to go off on long road trips around the United States and collect gems, rocks and minerals.

John’s time in the navy wasn’t just a job; it was a lifelong adventure.

"My best advice to someone going into the military is to decide which organization they want to go into. Talk to someone who is in that branch. Do research and make sure it's something you want to do. But most importantly do it as a career. If you go and serve your country, make it a life experience."

-- Interviewed by Troy Brooks