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.”
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!