|Navy veteran revisits life on sub tender|
during trip from Guam to Sasebo
Story and photos by Greg Tyler, Sasebo bureau chief
Petty Officer 1st Class Tim Painter, right, explains some of the history of the USS Frank Cable to Ricky Smiddy and his wife, Dixie, on the ship's quarterdeck.
SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan ó An old salt took a nostalgic and enlightening trip back to the sea this week.
Ricky Smiddy, 53, and his wife, Dixie, 54, were guests aboard the USS Frank Cable submarine tender on a trip from Guam to Sasebo.
From 1965-69, during the Vietnam War era, Smiddy served on Guam in the Navy. He served two years on the submarine tender USS Proteus.
The Smiddys now are retired residents of Graford, Texas. To see what sort of changes occurred in Guam during the past 32 years, they recently decided to vacation on the island. During their time on Guam, the couple took a tour of the USS Frank Cable and had lunch with the shipís commander, Capt. Scott Spencer. Spencer also served on the USS Proteus, about 20 years after Smiddyís stint.
The trip was unusual because the Smiddys are not prominent business leaders, diplomats or powerful politicians, and trips on Navy ships are not normally given to "average" citizens. It was approved by the Submarine Group 7 commander, a ship spokesman said.
Smiddy served on board the USS Proteus from 1968 to 1969, while Spencerís tour was from 1988 to 1990.
"That sparked a lot of interest," Spencer said. "We talked quite extensively about the changes the Proteus and Guam went through in that 20-year gap between our tours."
The Texans and the skipper simply hit it off, and the next thing they knew, the Smiddys were bound for Sasebo.
"When he offered this trip, I just felt pure bliss," Ricky Smiddy said. "I had no idea he would offer us a trip like this."
He used the excursion as an opportunity to reflect on his days on a submarine tender. In the 60s, there were about 60 ships of this type, and today there are just two.
Ricky Smiddy and his wife, Dixie, stand on the brow leading up to the USS Frank Cable, a submarine tender stationed in Guam that is currently moored at Sasebo Naval Base.
"Back then, we basically just worked all the time. We never deployed anywhere back then, so it was sort of a 24-hour shop," Smiddy explained. "We always had submarines tied up next to us."
He said todayís Navy seems like it did in his day, with some key differences.
"Our weapons werenít as sophisticated. Everything is more high-tech. Even the sailors today Ö many of them have college, and back then very few had college degrees; most just had high school. And me, I just had the GED. Other than that, many things are the same, but everything now is newer."
The Smiddys flew from Sasebo back to Guam early Thursday morning. He said his experience on board the Frank Cable was enlightening.
"I was impressed with the entire ship. Itís certainly the largest submarine tender Iíve seen," Ricky Smiddy said.
Quality-of-life amenities also have dramatically improved since his days on the Proteus, such as a shipís store, an onboard Morale, Welfare and Recreation department, improved berthing spaces and the availability of television with movie channels.
"We had one very small TV on the Proteus up in what we called the TV room. But nobody ever went up there because all the programs were in Japanese. Once a week, we did enjoy a special treat when Rawhide would come on, and it was in English," he said.
Sailing the high seas was a new experience for Dixie Smiddy.
"Iíve never even been on the deck of a ship," she said. "This has been very educational. I have enjoyed seeing all of the crew work, and work as a team.
"And being here is fascinating as a mother Ö to see that they (young sailors) are in good hands, and that they are being taken care of here."