Written by: USS Bremerton SSN-698 Plankowner Russ Woods
My memory of a hero and my friend,
may he rest in peace.
From mid-June 1978 thru early 1979, Naval Submarine School, New London, spit out a group of swaggering, cocky, freshly minted Submariners, AKA “Boat Sailors”. One by one we reported to the Electric Boat shipyard in Groton, CT. to become crewman in the Pre-Commissioning Unit Bremerton SSN 698 which would become USS Bremerton.
We reported aboard standing tall and proud. We just knew the world revolved around us. As we checked in and learned of what was expected from each of us we discovered we were now part of Admiral Rickover’s Nuclear Navy.
There was serious work being done, requiring the full attention of serious men. Every Monday, we would arrive bright and early, 6’2”, shoulders straight and chest swollen with pride. Each successive day the responsibility and accountability of our duties weighed us down. As we exited the building ways on Friday afternoon we were now more like 5’ 8” and a bit bent over from the load.
Fortunately for us, just down the road at Norm’s “Tug Boat Annie’s Lounge” there was the Submarine Troubadour, Tommy Cox and his band. Tommy Cox, “TC”, “Tango Charlie”, whatever you called him, he was one of us. He was a recently retired Senior Chief, whose specialty in the Navy was as a Crypto Tech, a Spook, in plain English, he was a spy. He was part of the Special Ops group, that would report aboard a boat just prior to deployment on some Top Secret mission with specialized equipment, the Skipper would get him somewhere on the globe he needed to be and he would set about obtaining secrets our adversaries would rather stay unknown. His specialty was what the Submarine mission was most about during the “Cold War” years. And here on stage was this American Hero, regaling us FNG’s…. you know, “Fun New Guys”, with a song list of all the current Country and Western songs, interspersed with those of his own creation of the daring do of Submarines and Submariners whose shoulders we were standing upon.
His band was as they say in the music industry, “Tight”. Tommy’s voice boomed clear and crisp thru the mic and out the speakers of the Amps. For the “Bremerton Boys”, when we would hear, “Torpedo in the Water”, “Gitmo Blues”, “Seawolf” or any of the Submarine Ballads he would belt out our backs stiffened, our shoulders straightened and our chest swelled with pride. We were playing the game of “Blind Man’s Bluff” of which he sang.
This infusion of pride gave us the energy and will to head back down to the boat for the better part of two years as we oversaw the construction of what would become during our time the fastest submarine in the world. And 40 years later she would be de-commissioned as America’s longest serving submarine.
Uncle Sugar, certainly got his money’s worth with Bremerton. Many boats born after her went to the scrap heap years before her. Us Bremerton Boys, the “Plank Owners” choose to believe the standard of excellence that was created by that original crew, was passed down to successive crews for 4 decades, which allowed her to endure so long. That equation cannot be calculated without factoring in the contribution Tommy Cox, made to our pride and morale. So much so, moving forward, in my humble opinion, he should be recognized as an “Honorary Plank Owner” of USS Bremerton.
During this time several sailors of Bremerton, met and married the love of their life. Happily, to my knowledge they are all still together. A common theme of these weddings was Tommy and his band playing at their receptions. There was, is and always will be a special bond between the Bremerton Boys and Tommy and Sandy Cox.
Yes, Sandy, we can never leave you out either. How many weekend nights did you sit close by and support Tommy as he invigorated all of us with his music.
At this sad but inevitable time what gives us comfort is knowing Tommy’s voice is still being heard by the generations of cocky young bucks that are just now graduating from “Underwater U”, and by those who will come later. All of his songs are in my Spotify line up. When one of them comes on I sit up a bit taller in my pickup seat.
From all of the Bremerton Boy’s to Sandy and the entire Cox family we send our sincere condolences to you and we grieve with you the loss of Tommy. All I can say now is “Sailor, rest your oar. We have the watch”.