MIDWAY: The 698 Connection



and the 698 Connection 

Article by Challen Yee and Sherman Smith, without whom this article would not be written.


Some of you, well probably a lot of you (given my audience) went to see the feature film “Midway” (2019), the action packed “historically accurate” movie that covered a breathtaking amount of epic events in a cinematic whirlwind lasting nearly 2 hours and 20 minutes.

The movie hits you with history that would be best served in a mini-series, though those who are interested may be inspired to go more deeply into a number of subjects as a result of watching the movie. The storyline includes the pre-war relations between Japan and the U.S., the development of the intelligence services, Pearl Harbor with an up-close and personal connection to the USS Arizona, the Marshalls-Gilberts Island raids,  daring Doolittle’s raid on Tokyo and its China connection, an education in the intricate nature of dive bombing, of course, the Battle of Midway, and the interpersonal dramas on both sides that goes along with each chapter…. (okay, I’m catching my breath now….).

Computer generated images have come a long way in recent years and the grand fleet actions could not be reproduced with any historical accuracy without the impressive CGI used by Hollywood with their legions of artists and the latest high performance computers. However, there are some things, that are still better when you have the real McCoy, as we will see later.

The movie  portrays these transformative world events in fast paced Hollywood star-studded style taking on several characters from Admiral Chester Nimitz to LCDR William Brockman, Jr.. Who is William Brockman? You need to brush up on the submarine history. Keep on reading.


A submariner, Admiral Chester William Nimitz, Sr served as Command in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet in World War II. Source: en.wikipedia.org
Woody Harrelson as Chester Nimitz. Source: Fandango

Admiral Chester Nimitz is portrayed by Woody Harrelson. Harrelson brings enough looks, gravity and charisma to the key role to make a powerful and believable impression. A much better match, may I say, than Matt Damon playing Carroll Shelby in Ford v Ferrari, a movie that also came out in late 2019.

As much as I admire Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles, there’s no comparison. Chester Nimitz and the servicemen and women of the armed forces fighting for the survival of the United States and the free world is a course defining crisis that must be remembered and honored as part of our critical past.



USS Nautilus SS-168

USS Nautilus SS-168. After her “modernization” was equipped with advanced radio, new engines, air conditioning, “topside” torpedo tubes. Her huge deck 6 inch guns were used well in her many shore bombardments Source en.wikipedia.org/NHHC.



Lovingly mixed in with the entire aircraft carrier, fly-boy mega-drama is the story of the USS Nautilus SS-168, a Narwhal/V-Class boat stationed out of Pearl Harbor under the command of LCDR William H. Brockman Jr.

LCDR William Herman Brockman, Jr. Commanding Officer, USS Nautilus, who was awarded the Navy Cross with two gold stars, a Silver Star, and a Presidential Unit Citation for the Nautilus. Source: en.wikipedia.org

At the time of the Doolittle Raid, April 18, 1942, the developing story suggests there is a submarine aspect of the Battle of Midway as the audience is introduced to characters serving onboard the Nautilus, moored along a pier at subbase Pearl Harbor. In real life, the Nautilus was being modernized at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, California and was not in Pearl. The timeline is reasonable close as Nautilus departs Mare Island for Pearl in late April.   Hey, we’re within a few weeks, close enough for government work. The producers sought to give the Silent Service its due beginning by portraying life on a sub and we are grateful.

The first scenes are well crafted beginning with a nest of the submarines at Pearl Harbor. We enter crews mess with a close up of the antique radio as crew members are tensely focused on a radio broadcast from Tokyo. we get some close ups of our star submariners including the skipper (portrayed by James Carpinello).

As the story develops and the warring battle groups position themselves, we follow Nautilus and her crew into harm’s way, the intensity of the action with depth charges and torpedoes is worth the price of admission. It could be the first movie ever to realisticly detail the skipper doing a face plant into a raised periscope during a depth charge attack. The torpedo room scenes of readying a torpedo tube for firing are a beautiful site. I believe the post theater version has a few more torpedo room scenes.

Through the portrayal of Nautilus’ story, we further record the crucial role the submarine played in the success of the Battle of Midway as the key flight of dive bombers under the command of Wade McCluskey and Richard “Dick” Best, flying without any idea where the Japanese carriers are, sight the destroyer returning to its task force at flank speed after laying down depth charges around Nautilus. On McCluskey’s hunch, the bombers follow the ship back to the Japanese fleet and the rest is history.

How authentic were the submarine scenes in the movie Midway? According to Capt. Chuck Merkel (ret), the Executive Director at The Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum and USS Bowfin Memorial, the producers used the USS Bowfin for all interior scenes. Bowfin is in outstandingly restored condition, giving all the authenticity needed for WWII era scenes and providing all the actors a good taste of what it was like to fight in the tightly enclosed and complex spaces of a WWII submarine.


So how does the Bremerton connect to this incredible World War II flick?


The BADFISH via SANTA FE connection to MIDWAY

What you may not know is the producers sought some real live Navy men to fill some of the roles in the film, and it is a pleasure to report that our shipmate Sherman Smith’s son, MMN1/SS Sampsun James Smith, plays a speaking part of one of the dungaree wearing submariners.

A super-cool still shot from the MIDWAY movie set aboard the USS Nautilus (actually USS Bowfin). Sampsun Smith is looking quite comfortable as he finally gets to wear dungarees in an official Navy role. Captain Brockman is standing at left, portrayed by James Carpinello. The XO is sitting at right. The guy seated is, not sure, but looks a helluva lot like past CNO Admiral John Richardson masquerading as a enlisted man,who portrays a phone talker in the combat scenes. OK who left the darned cell phone and a plastic bottle of water on the table? Don’t they know this is 1942? “PROPS: Replace those two items with four packs of cigarettes!” (Image courtesy of Sherman Smith).


Sherman, who served as a QM/SS aboard Bremerton in the 1980s quipped, “[Sampsun] always wanted to wear dungarees,” since dungarees are currently not part of the official seabag for Navy enlisted personnel.

Petty Officer Smith, the younger, was attached to his first submarine, the USS Santa Fe (SSN-763), stationed at Pearl Harbor when he got the opportunity to audition for the movie. He certainly made an impression on the movie staff since he was awarded a speaking part portraying one of the WWII enlisted submarine sailors.


The following is reported to me from shipmate Sherman Smith:

Sampsun was stationed on the Santa Fe when the call for extras went out. He walked up to Squadron and got picked. Because he got a line to speak he got his own trailer. The support staff called him ‘Mr. Smith’.

It’s kind of funny how his 7-word line kept on getting shortened, but a line is a line.

He is in 2 or 3 shots, two in control and one on the mess deck.

In the Movie

We are introduced to Sampsun with the best closeup of a crew member in crews’ mess during the Nautilus at Pearl Harbor scene.

In the battle, Nautilus audaciously weaves her way into the Japanese battle group, as the enemy warships are swarming all around her. This high density threat combat condition was perhaps unprecedented in US Navy submarine history, as Brockman is determined to sink a carrier and not just any of the heavy escorts. Count on a submariner to go for the gusto.

The scene in the conning tower seems rigged for red for effect, there’s the skipper and the XO working the periscope, and our man Sampsun is in a key role manning the TDC (Torpedo Data Computer) where as the spinning dials are set he calls out the confirmation that the periscope observation and the TDC solution “MATCH”.

Are there more roles for Mr. Smith?

Impressed with the young Mr. Smith, the studio has sought him for additional roles with a part in the next Kong movie, according to Sherman. Seems like Join the Navy see the World has a new meaning.

Now we know where he gets his good looks. 🙂

Sampsun Smith is currently serving aboard the moored training ship MTS-626, formerly the USS Daniel Webster SSBN-626, in Goose Creek, South Carolina.


Our Submariner Stars onboard a 688

Sherman Smith (SSN-698) and his son Sampsun (SSN-763) having some fun in the athwartship passageway during a cruise aboard the Santa Fe. Photos courtesy of Sherman Smith.


So what did you think of the movie MIDWAY?




698 News



Staying with the Pearl Harbor theme, this is a photo of Cmdr Lindberg during a 2017 change of command ceremony held onboard USS Missouri. (U.S. Navy photo).




USS Bremerton, the most senior not yet de-commissioned submarine in the United States Navy, is currently at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard preparing for her date with destiny. Decom ceremony and reunion in Bremerton are tentatively scheduled for Spring of 2021, that puts BadFish on course for a 40 year run.

Cheers – from RMCS(SS) Don Jones, Plankowner, SSN698



Join the Movement. Are you passionate about preserving the USS Bremerton in any way shape or form after her decommissioning for the benefit of the public and of naval history? You are invited to a new closed group forum on Facebook “SaveThe698” to be involved in public discussion related to Saving 698. You can see the group site by clicking HERE.

Copyright © 2019-2020 bremertonreunion.net



“You owe me one”

Editor’s Note: I’d like to introduce John Brunkalla, he is a USS Bremerton Plankowner who served in M-Divison from 1981-1983. We’re grateful to be able to share in one of John’s recollections especially in light of the fact that he suffered a near fatal motorcycle accident not more than a few months after he transferred off the boat in 1983. In his story he captures a glimpse of the magic and legend found in the Silent Service. 

This is a reposting of an original article published on February 11, 2017.


“You owe me one”

By John Brunkalla

I was in engineroom Upper Level in an ocean somewhere, a LONG LONG time ago…….. I was standing the 2300-0700 watch when around 0100 my trusty Bremerton Zippo ran out of fuel. Damn, 6 hours to go with no lighter. Check maneuvering…no one has a light…same with COTW, ERS, ERF ERLL and the ELT. Double damn!

Picture me climbing onto the turbine generators, main engines and any other available steam pipe I could find to light my smoke, hoping it was hot enough to fire me up…close but no cigar. In the words of Wiz (shipmate David Withers): spin, Spin, SPIN!

I’m guessing around 0300 Captain Wright scared the living shit out of me as he came up the ladder and turned the corner to where I was catching up on 0000 entry logs. A Marlboro hanging from my lip. I hopped to attention and he told me, “At ease.”

He asked how things were going. I gave him a rundown and he then asked if I had any problems. “As a matter of fact sir, my lighter ran out of fuel earlier in the watch, nobody back here has a light and I can’t run to my rack to fill it up. I need a smoke BAD” (I know, Waah, waah, waah, right?).

The Captain reached into his pocket, pulled out his lighter and fired up my smoke. Then he looked me in the eye and said, “Don’t forget now…you owe me one.”

Captain Douglas S. Wright with the harbor pilot standing on the bridge as USS Bremerton is preparing to enter Bremerton, Washington, in 1982. Also in photo are Lt. Erik Nelson, EM/SS Ron Martin  on the headset, and Seaman Mike Hansen on the fairwater plane (Photo courtesy of Plankowner John Scanlan, THANKS JOHN! and Tom McPhillips for the eye-witness ID work).


Maybe a month or so down the road I was just hitting the rack, it was after having stood watch, followed by drills, followed by field day, then some poker, working on quals and another watch. Finally, eight glorious hours to sleep!

I had pretty much just gotten into the beginning of my equalizer when the runner slid my curtain open and said “Bronk, get up, the Captain wants to see you on the bridge ASAP.

WHAT? WTF had I done to piss him off so bad that it bypassed everyone up the chain? And on the bridge no less!

I dressed as quickly as I could, hoping I looked at least half way presentable and ran up to Control where the OOD was pointing topside and said, “He’s waiting for you.”

HOLY SHIT! My mind reeled as I climbed the ladder to the bridge, running through the past 24 hours trying to figure out what it was I had done wrong.

I climbed out into the fresh air…AHHH that smells GOOD…then I noticed the Captain’s  back was turned to me. I announced my presence, “Petty Officer Brunkalla reporting as ordered, sir.”

He held up his hand and said, “Give me a minute” and proceeded giving orders to the lookouts and instructions below. When finished he turned to face me…unlit cigarette hanging from his lip…and said, “I believe you owe me one.”

After lighting his smoke he let me stay topside a few minutes and check out the glorious view of being surfaced in the middle of nowhere where there is nothing but ocean and sky, standing on the bridge of the baddest boat ever to sail the seven seas!

What a magnificent few minutes those were.

Thank you for that memory Captain Wright. I would sail through the gates of hell with you sir!



Author John Brunkalla with a young lady friend during a 1982 port visit in Bremerton, Washington. John reflects, “If I had only met her 10 years later when I was ready to settle down…” (Photo  courtesy of John Scanlan).