Editor’s Note: I want to thank Russ Woods, ICC/SS USN (Ret) for keeping the memory alive with another great candid eye-witness reflection about one of the original USS Bremerton SSN 698 sailors.
This is a republication of an original posted in January 2017 in effort to consolidated some relevant 698 history and sea-stories in the bremertonreuion.net website.
If you would like to submit an “unclassified” 698 sea story for publication, please contact me, Challen Yee, for assistance.
MM1(SS) Michael Riley McGann
By Russ Woods
I submit this short recollection of one of the major players aboard Bremerton SSN 698during our early days in the shipyard of Electric Boat. The delays in construction caused by the shipyard created a condition where we did not get to sail with a lot of the senior Petty Officers and Chiefs who are normally an integral part of a crew, not just for the successful deployment of a brand new submarine but for the development and future success of us – the junior nubs.
I chose MM1 (SS) Michael Riley McGann to write about first simply because I know what a profound effect he had on all of us non-quals. He is not the only one that deserves tribute in this manner. Others will come. I have several I would like to see admired if you will. I am hoping through the 698 Facebookgroup Challen Yee has put together, my shipmates might also name one or more that they believe impacted us in a significant way.
From the USS Bremerton SSN 698 Commissioning Program.
Front row:Michael McGann, MMC(SS) Ken Richardson (A-Div LPO), Ed Putnam, Mark Bilsborough. Back row: Sean Hankin, Raymond Lee Rich (aka Rich Ray), Timothy Ohlman, Lee Cable*, Ken Collins (aka Colonel Ken), Elmer Jatko, Jr., Doug Neeld. *It should be noted Lee Cable was from Bremerton, WA. One of the 3 hometown sailors to be assigned to USS Bremerton (Thanks to Plankowners Sean Hankin and Russ Woods for recalling everyone’s names. Photo Source: Plankowner Tom McPhillips).
For those unfortunates who never got to experience Michael Riley McGann(aka M.R., Michael Riley, McGann), allow me to set the stage. He stood about 5’7″ maybe 8″ with a swimmers physique. He would come to the boat in the AM with clean dungarees. By 08:00 he was covered in oil and grease. He was a human pipe cleaner. His size allowed him to get deep into the piping and valves of the different A-Division equipment: Hydraulic systems, air systems and of course the Diesel engine. If there was grease or oil available to stain a set of dungarees MR could find it.
When he was not growling at some non-qual he had a boisterous laugh. Now what someone could miss about McGann, with his gruff no nonsense demeanor and a standard unparalleled when it came time to check a young sailor out on a particular system, was inside there was a genuine desire for all of us to excel and do well. He was not hard on us because he was as one might think….an asshole. He took pride in knowing when he signed his name on your qual card you had stretched the limits of what you believed you were capable of.
An observant person could see he was proud of you for earning that signature. Michael would not say it out loud. More than likely after signing your card he would give it back and tell you to go away and stop bugging him. But the pride in you was there.
I have no doubt he was most likely the heaviest toad on the boat. A-gang Master Chief Gagnon, never to my knowledge had a disparaging word to say to or about M.R. McGann, he was respected by all on board – from lowlifes like me, a Fireman Recruit, to the Skipper, Captain Anderson. This respect was demonstrated one day on the IX-504 barge. When after morning quarters the buzz went out that McGann was UA (Unauthorized Absence). OH SNAP! The idea of McGann getting busted was a definite WTF? (OH Crap) The Command was looking all over for him. Not at home, not in the hospital, not in jail.
Now Michael Riley, was also known to party hard. “He was a real Boat Sailor.” I don’t think there could have been more concern if the reactor had scrammed and it was yet to go critical. So about 11:00-ish, Michael Riley staggered into the barge. Oh My! He looked like hell. He was one hung over puppy. Us fresh out of boot camp non-quals were sure MM1 McGann was soon to be MM2 McGann. But you wanna know what happens when you are the heaviest toad on the boat who out-works all others when you screw the pooch? Nuthin! Absolutely Nuthin!
For at least 48 hours there were whispers and concerns about what would become of M.R.
The incident just…disappeared.
And we the crew somehow understood why.
He was one of very few who could have dodged that bullet. But in his case the bullet never got fired. Most of that is due to who he was and the contributions he made to the boat. That McGann signatureon your qual card was indeed gold. Another reason for his escape was that between Capt. Anderson, the XO Frankie Lee from Tennessee, and the COB Master Chief Pomella, there was not a wit of interest from these three in taking down Michael Riley. These men believed in an aggressive Navy. They wanted hard working, hard playing, and yes, hard fighting sailors. McGann was all three in spades.
USS Bremerton SSN 698 News
USS Bremerton, the most senior commissioned submarine in the United States Navy, is currently at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard preparing for Decommissioning.
SAVE THE 698
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.