When submariners were
away, family celebrations and activitiesbirthdays, anniversaries,
visiting relativeswere minimized or put on hold until they returned.
The COB often held postdated cards, messages, and presents given him by
family members for delivery at the appropriate time. Soon-to-be-absent
husbands, too, might arrange anniversary and birthday deliveries of flowers
When submariners were away, they received familygrams from wives, children,
parents and girlfriends. Originally, familygrams were limited to 15 words
and only 3 could be sent during a single patrol. Later, longer and more
frequent familygrams were permitted, as many as 50 words 10 times per
patrol. A new baby usually rated an extra familygram.
Families at home found innovative ways to link daily lives with the
absent husband and father. "IOUs," a kind of promissory note, gave
even young children a way to illustrate a promise to Dad to be fulfilled
upon his return.
Wives and husbands found occasions to celebrate even when the submarine
was away. "Halfway Night" was celebrated simultaneouslyor at least
as close to the same time as guesswork would allowaboard the submarines
and among wives at home at the mid point between departure and return
of the submarine. Halfway Night only worked for SSBNs; fast attacks did
not keep such regular schedules.
Boats returning to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, received a lei of fresh flowers.
On the East Coast, wives used their ingenuity to make a lei from plastic
bread wrappers donated by a local bakery. Here such a lei drapes the sail
of the USS Lapon (SSN-661) steaming into home port at Norfolk,
Virginia, in 1988.
Homecoming was a joyous time as wives and children or girlfriends greeted
returning submariners. An infant sometimes met dad for the first time
when the submarine returned to home port. A "Final Fling" dinner the night
before the submarine's return often included fund-raising activities such
as raffling off a "first kiss." The winner went to the head of the waiting
line; she could be the first wife to kiss her returning husband.
Child makes posters to welcome father home.
The entire community turned out to welcome the returning submarine.
Although dads away at sea might miss the birthday party, they could share
it photographically when they returned.
About half the sailorsusually the younger onesand one-third
of the officers in the Submarine Force were unmarried, roughly the same
proportion as the rest of the Navy. Living in barracks (the enlisted men)
or the BOQ (bachelor officers' quarters, for the officers), their social
lives centered almost exclusively around the crews they were part of.