When submariners were away, family celebrations and activities—birthdays, anniversaries, visiting relatives—were 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 and gifts.

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.

Coupon Book
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.

Halfway Night
Wives and husbands found occasions to celebrate even when the submarine was away. "Halfway Night" was celebrated simultaneously—or at least as close to the same time as guesswork would allow—aboard 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.

Welcome to Norfolk
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.

Welcome Home
Child makes posters to welcome father home.

The Return
The entire community turned out to welcome the returning submarine.

Absentee Birthday
Although dads away at sea might miss the birthday party, they could share it photographically when they returned.

Bachelor Sailors
About half the sailors—usually the younger ones—and 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.


Back to: Homepage / Life Ashore

Copyright © 2000, The National Museum of American History