Dave Harvey

Dave Harvey, a Vietnam Era Veteran, discusses his work on submarines and the chaos of wartime service.


Dave Harvey


DAVE HARVEY: I was born in Santa Barbara, California, raised in Canada. And I live in Sykesville, Maryland, Carroll County.

INTERVIEWER: [INAUDIBLE]. So how long have you lived in Carroll County?

DAVE HARVEY: 30 years.

INTERVIEWER: Is this before or after you–


INTERVIEWER: –were in the service?

DAVE HARVEY: After my service time.

INTERVIEWER: All right. So you spent 21 years in the service.


INTERVIEWER: Tell me about that. What– what did you do? When did you enter?

DAVE HARVEY: I joined the Navy in 1960 and went straight from Basic Training to Submarine School and to the USS Thresher–


DAVE HARVEY: –which– and then I was transferred in ’62 to the Boomer Navy, the Polaris Missile Submarines. The first one of those was George Washington. And then I went to the Cavalla. And while I was on the Cavalla, my first boat, the Thresher, sank with all hands. So that forced me to rethink my career path with the Navy and submarines.

I got out of the Navy, eventually came back in and went back on submarines and ended up retiring in 1982.

INTERVIEWER: OK. OK. So you talked about getting out of the Navy, then joining back in. What was the motivator for that?

DAVE HARVEY: The motivation for getting out–

INTERVIEWER: No, getting back in.

DAVE HARVEY: –was the loss of the submarine.


DAVE HARVEY: Motivation for coming back in– one, I was living in Canada, where I was raised. But I was an American citizen. And at that time, Canada had this nationalistic phase going on. And it was next to impossible to get any kind of job as an American citizen. I know that’s hard to believe. But it did happen.

And then when Vietnam happened, everybody was running up to Canada. And they were hiring. So what was the difference? I don’t know.

INTERVIEWER: Sounds like fun. So what– what made you decide to start the first time? I don’t know. What was your–?

DAVE HARVEY: Ah, it was just, uh, something to do. Life– I was raised on a farm. And I worked for my room and board. It wasn’t a family farm. It was just a farm some other people owned. So I worked my way through grade school and high school. And I’d had enough. Because the– the guy that ran the farm was terminally ill. And his wife was always at the hospital.

So I was– I’d come home from high school. And I’d have to take care of three preschool-aged kids, run a 68-acre farm, 6 and 1/2 thousand chickens, and fruits and vegetables. And as a 16-year-old kid, you just couldn’t handle it.

INTERVIEWER: I can definitely unders–


INTERVIEWER: That sounds like a decision a lot– some people would make. Yeah, cool. So what was training in the Navy like at that time?

DAVE HARVEY: At that time, now Basic Training was minimal. Submarine School was based on a World War II submarine. And then when I graduated from that, I went right to a nuclear-powered submarine, which– so all the Submarine School training was– was minimal for what I– I needed.

But at least in Submarine School, you got to go to sea. And so you– you got the feel of that. And a lot of people washed out b– just because going to sea they couldn’t stand. And, they– they check you pretty good. When you’re going through Submarine School and training, you have to go to psychiatrists and medical exams and your school training and, like I said, go to sea.

So somewhere in there, if you’re not going to be able to cope, most people will be caught in that time frame before they ever get to duty on a submarine– not everybody, but– but most people will be discovered.

INTERVIEWER: All right. So what was, like– what was your first experience, uh, going out into the sea and, uh, when you actually went into a submarine for more than just training, but actual–?

DAVE HARVEY: Well, my first submarine was being built. It was a brand new submarine. It was the first of its class. And so it was a while before we ever even got to sea. Because it just came down a ways. It was a year before we were even commissioned. Our first and only so-called foreign trip was San Juan, Puerto Rico, where we had a major power failure. And things were pretty hectic during that trip.

And then we came back. And then we had to go to Florida for what they call shock trials. Every new submarine of its class, the first of its class, was required to go through shock trials. And basically, shock trials is– they set a charge. And they will hang it from a– like a buoy or something.

And the first charge is at the surface or near the surface. Second charge, it’s some distance from the boat. And the second charge they drop to 100 feet or somewhere down there. And then the third charge they move back to the surface, but closer to the boat.

Then the fourth charge is down again. And then the fifth charge is back to the surface, but closer yet to the boat. And no submarine had ever made all five charges. They’d all gotten– been towed in because of failures. I mean, its depth charging. You’ve seen World War II movies.


DAVE HARVEY: That’s what it was like, except for the fact that you knew it wasn’t so close you were going to die, (LAUGHS) you know. Because it was a set-up scenario. But it was pretty bad. And you got knocked around a lot. And all the other boats that had ever done it– Skipjack, Skate, Nautilus, those guys– all got towed back in. And we didn’t. We were the first ones to ever do it successfully.

But we finished that in– in, uh, summer of ’62, went back up to the yards in Portsmouth, New Hampshire for a refit. And when they came out of the yards at the end of that refit, they sank. So did that have something to do with it? Nobody knows for sure. But it beat you up pretty good.

INTERVIEWER: Um, uh, where did your wartime services with the Navy take you? You were talking about it being during the ’60s.

DAVE HARVEY: Yeah. I was, uh– I was out on a boat on the West Coast called the Gudgeon, which was a post-World War II diesel submarine based on a German U-boat design. And we– we actually served in Vietnam. And then, of course, all the submarines were basically involved in the Cold War. So a lot of people don’t think of as war unless you were out there doing it.

And it was pretty hectic, you know. We– one time we, uh, got an unidentified contact. So we were trying to track it down, find out who’s– who’s in our waters and stuff like that. And we went to battle stations for, I think, 70-some hours. So that’s everybody on the boat is awake and at their station for that whole time.

And then when– when we secured from battle stations, I had the next watch. [LAUGHS] So that was not fun. So I was up about 76 hours straight on that one. And you go through a lot.

I was– I was on the George Washington, the first Polaris submarine during the Cuban Crisis. And we were getting ready to come off patrol. And we got a notice that set condition, whatever. And we really didn’t know what was going on in the world. In those days, we didn’t get much news while we were out at sea. And we didn’t find out ’til later what was going on with Cuba.

All we knew was we were extended on alert patrol. We were running out of food. Guys were running out of cigarettes. Guys were fighting every day amongst themselves. So they say war is hell– [CHUCKLES] –even the little parts of it.

INTERVIEWER: So being a submariner during the Cold War, um, do you have any take on, um, just the Navy at that time, that maybe someone else– or maybe someone in another part of the armed services didn’t get to see?

DAVE HARVEY: No. Ah, well, they call submarine service the silent service. And that’s for a reason. The things we did were hush-hush. And most of it’s still not talked about today. It was– you know about– or most people know about submarines that tapped cables over in Russia, submarines that found the sunken Russian submarine in the Pacific.

That was the Skipper. That submarine was actually on the Thresher with me. He just died this month. He passed away. And I think they just put his ashes in the Naval Academy Crematorium a couple weeks ago.

And, uh, we s– what we did– most the guys on the boat don’t even know what you’re doing, even– even though you’re doing it. I was a radioman. So I was privy to some news because I read all the messages that came through.

And my last boat, I was in charge in Radio. So, uh, I knew most of the stuff that was going on. But most the guys, you– you do your job. And what the submarine’s doing you’re not paying any attention to. You’re just paying attention to being able to do your job.

And on a submarine, uh, we have what we call dolphins. And that’s these things here. And you earn those by learning every single thing there is to know on a submarine. So if you’re a cook, you have to know how to shoot a torpedo. You have to know how to start the engines.

The only exceptions were two– nuclear power. You have to have been to Nuclear Power School before you’re allowed to start the reactor or do things like that. And not everybody goes to Nuclear Power School. And then two is Radio. Because the clearances required in Radio are not required for everybody on the submarine. So not everybody can come into Radio.

And then I guess you would have to include sonar in that. Because not everybody has the capability to understand sounds like sonarman does. I’m tone deaf. So I wouldn’t be able to do that.

INTERVIEWER: Mhm. Cool. Uh, any particularly interesting story that you’ve come across or that happened during, uh, during your service?

DAVE HARVEY: Probably a million of ’em. But to think of them at the top– off the top of my head– you know, my first submarine was lost at sea with all hands. That’s probably the low point of my career, when that happened.

I was on the Gudgeon on the West Coast. And we went to Vietnam and things like that. But we had, uh– my first Westpac cruise– the Western Pacific– we had 23 different port calls. The average submarine that goes on a Westpac cruise will make anywhere from four to six port calls. And we had 23.

And we just happened to have a skipper that liked liberty. So we’d pull into port every chance we got. And we– we went all the way from Korea and Japan up north all the way to Australia. And we were– we were the first submarine to pull liberty in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea since World War II. We were–

We went to Beppu, Japan, which is actually the port city for Hiroshima. And that was– people were not welcomed very well there. Gotta admit, they had no reason to welcome Americans if you lived in Hiroshima. And uh, we went to a lot of places– Philippines, Okinawa.

Places now– like Okinawa at that time was Okinawa. Now it’s Japan. Because it’s been given back to the Japanese. Hong Kong was Hong Kong. Now it’s China. It’s been given back to China. So as the time goes by, you see how the world at large changes. Vietnam, you know, we had a war going on, whether the politicians wanted to call it a war or not. It was a war. People died. It’s a war.

And, uh, now people go on tours there to Vietnam. I’ve never done that. I don’t think I ever will. Because I– I served there on a submarine. Even though I wasn’t in-country, I was still involved with the war. So I don’t think I care to go there.

INTERVIEWER: OK. Um, what did you do after you left the Navy, both the first time, and then after–?

DAVE HARVEY: I kicked around a couple jobs down in– I retired from the Navy– well, I– I was an instructor my last tour of duty at the Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarine Training Center in Charleston, South Carolina. And a friend of mine asked me if I’d take a course with him at a local college.

So I said, sure, I’ll go. And we went. And I ended up– and I kept going. And even at one time, even though I was working full-time– I was a Navy instructor in the daytime. And I was going to college full-time at night. So I went full-time at college. Ended up getting my bachelor’s degree. And I kicked around a few jobs in Charleston. I got laid off at several.

And then was working at the Navy shipyard down there and didn’t appreciate the type of work they had there. So I landed a job at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab. And I– that’s how I came to Maryland 30-some years ago. And uh, worked here, worked at Johns Hopkins for 24 years, retired from there. Now I’m retired.

And listening to that guy in there that’s still working at 80– being retired, I don’t have time to work. [LAUGHTER] People think retired people don’t do anything. And that’s not true. [CHUCKLES] we stay very busy.

INTERVIEWER: Is that true? I’m glad to hear that you’re still keeping busy. How nice. Um, we talked a little bit about some of the more low points, especially with, um, your submarine being lost with all hands a few months after you left it. Are there any particular high points that stand out in your career? Well,

DAVE HARVEY: The– the fact that, you know, one, I– I was able to progress. You know, when I first started– like I said, I went from Basic Training to Submarine School to, uh, the submarine. So I didn’t have a trade. I was in the seamen gang. No– no chance to advance or anything. And I got out of the Navy.

When I came back in, I told them I wanted to go to– I wanted a trade. And eventually, I got them to give me Radio A School in Bainbridge, Maryland. So I went to school in Bainbridge, six-month school, and became a radioman. And I progressed well from that point on and retired as a chief radioman. And my work for Johns Hopkins was submarine communications for 24 years after I left the Navy.

And I was happy with that success. I was happy that I was able to arrange to where I got a– a shore duty that allowed me to go to school and get my degree. You have to understand as a– as a radioman, most shore duty for radioman– radio is a 24-hour-a-day business in the– in the military.

And so most Radio positions onshore work shift work. And if you’re working shift work, you can’t go to school. I mean, how do you do that? And I was in Italy for two years. But I couldn’t do much of anything because I worked shift work. And so here you’re working a day shift. Then you’re working an evening shift, then a midnight shift.

So you can’t get into something like education, or even a spare job. How do you do that? But I was able, at the end, to get a job in my rating that was strictly daytime. I was an instructor. And by doing that, I was able to go to school and get my degree. And that worked out very well for me.

INTERVIEWER: So your, um– your technical skills that– or technical training that you learned in the Navy, it came back and was useful for civilian’s life.

DAVE HARVEY: Yeah, it was very, very useful. That– the fact that I was a Navy radioman and they wanted somebody to work with submarine communications and the fact that I had a college degree– because let’s face it, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, you’re talking college graduates, for the most part. So the two things worked together to get me a job up here.

INTERVIEWER: OK. I did not realize that John Hopkins had a– a submarine–



DAVE HARVEY: –Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which is not– it’s part of the Johns Hopkins family. But it’s not in Baltimore.


DAVE HARVEY: It’s down in, actually, Scaggsville, but near Columbia.


DAVE HARVEY: And the mailing address is Laurel. Because any of the local post offices were not big enough to handle our mail. You’ve got– I don’t know. Thousands of people work down there. They’re a very big operation there involved in–

I just saw a show the other night on the Hubble Space Telescope. Johns Hopkins Lab was heavily involved with that. They have a space department. They have a submarine department. They work on defense against hackers on computers and stuff like that. They do a lot of different things.

INTERVIEWER: Was it always that way? Or has it just become more diverse as–?

DAVE HARVEY: They– they actually started out World War II, I think, or right after World War II, finding something about, um, a detonator for some bomb or something. So they started out with that one thing. And they were in a garage down in Montgomery County somewhere, I think. And they’ve expanded now to the point if you go down there where the lab is on Johns Hopkins Road and 29, in that general area, you– you’d be amazed at the size of that complex. So they’ve done a great job.

INTERVIEWER: All right. Um, you’ve talked about going to places as far away as Italy to Japan to Okinawa. Um, what are your– some of your experiences from those places? What are some of your takeaways that you’d like to share?

DAVE HARVEY: [LAUGHS] You have to be careful. I was a sailor. [LAUGHS]

Uh, it’s good to– to meet other cultures, to learn about other countries. You learn things that you don’t even hear about back here. When we went to, you know, Korea, Okinawa, Japan, Hong Kong, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Australia, Fiji. I spent– I spent a year in Iceland. I spent two years in Italy.

On the– on the Boomers– the Polaris and Poseidon submarines– you really don’t get to go pull into port any place. So there’s not much liberty with those guys except in your refit. And we did refits in Holy Loch, Scotland and Rota, Spain. And then my last– last time I turned the boat over was down in Kings Bay, Georgia, where they now do refits down there.

And the reasons are, uh– the main reasons is the missiles have advanced so much that when we first started out on the George Washington, we had to be close to our targets. Those missiles didn’t go a long way. But nowadays they can patrol almost anywhere and reach their targets. So you can refit closer to home. But in the– the early days, we didn’t have that luxury.

INTERVIEWER: OK. Um, how have you seen the armed services grow and develop over the years? And there’s– has to have been numerous changes from the 20-year span.

DAVE HARVEY: Yeah. It’s changed drastically. It scares old timers. We’re not– well, you’re not there. So you don’t really know the nuts and bolts. You’re just like any civilian, except you have some past– some past experience, whereas not everybody does.

But you know, one of the big topics in the submarine veterans that I– associations that I interact with is women on submarines. That’s a big issue. Uh, they have to change things on the submarine. Let’s face it, it was a big deal when women went on surface ships. So now women are going on submarines.

Hopefully they’ve– they have ways to make life easier on a boat, the women and the men. But on the old diesel boats, it wouldn’t have been possible. On the World War II boats, you might have had one washroom in the entire submarine.

And showers– you didn’t take showers. We opened the shower once a week once you got to the point where the showers were available. Because on an old diesel boat, if you were loading out for a long trip, you stored some of your stuff in the shower. So you had to eat all that stuff before you could use the shower.

The same thing on the passageways. You would store crates of food. So you had to walk on top of that. And the submarine’s not very high. So you had to– you were walking like this for the first couple of weeks, ’til you ate your way down to the deck.

INTERVIEWER: That certainly sounds inventive.

DAVE HARVEY: Yeah, it was. It was– uh, but, you know, I– I read a lot of books on submarines. And submarines in World War I– I couldn’t imagine serving on those boats, just like the kids going in submarines today couldn’t imagine being on some of the boats I was on.

I was on one submarine that served in World War II. And, uh, that’s where you, you know, you had to eat your way down and– to the deck and the shower. But we couldn’t even imagine the people from World War I. So that– everything changes as time goes by. And it’s not just in the service. It’s everywhere.

INTERVIEWER: Um, what was the highest rank you achieved in the Navy?

DAVE HARVEY: I was a chief.


DAVE HARVEY: Chief petty officer.

INTERVIEWER: All right. Um, so you talked about the times when you were living in Canada and going to service after that. Was it a surprise? Was it a shock or–? How was your friends at the time?

DAVE HARVEY: No, it wasn’t– it wasn’t much of a shock. Because I lived in Ontario, Canada growing up. And we didn’t have a television where I lived. But we had friends that had TV’s. So I’d– I’d seen a lot of shows. And where I lived was about, I don’t know, somewhere between 60 and 90 miles from the US border. And half the TV stations were from Buffalo, New York. So we knew a lot about the US.

My biggest surprise, my biggest problem when I came to the US was my education. My education was superb. I had a great education. Canadian schools were very good. But I was lacking on American history.

You know, I didn’t know all the states. I didn’t know all the presidents, you know, little simple things like that. And I remember on the boats people would ask, what’s the capital of Idaho? You know, stuff like that. I didn’t have a clue. Is Idaho a state? I didn’t know. [CHUCKLES]

So when they challenged me and they said, oh, you’re not very good, are you? I said, well, OK, let me ask you– name the 10 provinces and all their capitals. I said, OK, I got a bigger percentage of the states than you did ca– the provinces in Canada. And that usually got them off my back.

But that was the biggest thing, was the history of the US, I didn’t know as well as most the guys I worked with. But I had a better understanding of other parts of the world. I knew Canada and England because we studied British history and geography. And since Great Britain was involved with– throughout the world– Australia, New Zealand, India, all those countries that they had– I knew bits and pieces about all those places, whereas a lot of American kids did not.

But as far as a shock, no. Because I’d seen a lot of it on TV. I knew about– you know, I’d seen news from Buffalo. So I knew about, you know, things that happened in US cities and stuff like that.

INTERVIEWER: OK. Good. Um, having a little bit more of that background and having a little bit more knowledge about the world, did that do anything to change your take on things from what some of the other service members were like?

DAVE HARVEY: Uh, yes and no. I think that I’m probably pretty conservative. And it’s the mindset of Canadians. And granted I was born in the states. I’ve spent most of my life in the states. Put my formative years– school, grade school and high school– was spent in Canada.

And I have kind of that mentality that they have, you know. We don’t go around bragging about everything, which I think did me– served me well in the submarine service. Because as I said, it’s the silent service. We don’t go around doing that sort of thing. And in– in Canada, that’s kind of the mindset of the average Canadian citizen.

And it’s what I was subjected to growing up, granted I’ve been here a lot longer than I ever spent in Canada. But you still, you know, that’s– that’s the time, when you’re growing up, that’s when a lot of your habits get embedded. You know, they don’t change that much.

INTERVIEWER: Well, thank you for your time. I– On behalf of everyone here, we appreciate you coming and talking about your experiences and your time in the service.