Kentucky veterans picnic, share stories
The Daily Independent, Ashland, Ky.
ASHLAND, Ky. — More than 20 years of Wayne Davison’s life is stitched in bright colors on the vest he wore Saturday afternoon.
The vest is covered with embroidered patches emblazoned with the names and emblems of the 10 submarines Davison served on during his career in the U.S. Navy.
From the diesel-powered USS Hardhead to the nuclear USS Tinosa, Davison spent a career spanning the most intense years of the Cold War at sea and mostly under water in a deadly serious game of hide and seek with Soviet subs.
It was a career that in some ways has defined his life, and on Saturday Davison, 76, got a chance to talk about it in the company of other veterans at a picnic hosted by the Eastern Kentucky Military Historical Society at Armco Park.
Davison, who lives in Ashland, joined the Navy in part to escape the humdrum life in his native Caro, Mich., choosing that branch to avoid what he thought would be the rigors of infantry life — marching, sleeping outdoors and the like.
He doesn’t hesitate to extol the amenities of submarine life — good food served well and protection from the elements among them. “After I got to submarines, that was the life. I couldn’t handle anything else,” he said.
A machinist’s mate for most of his career, Davison was one of the men responsible for the systems that propel the underwater boat. And “boat,” by the way, is the term submariners use by longstanding naval tradition to describe their craft; you will never hear them call their submarines ships.
Submarines took him around the world and under the polar ice. Their mission, for the most part, was to track their Soviet counterparts. “Our main objective was to find and trail Russian submarines and record the sounds they made. It’s like a signature,” he said.
Once the characteristic sound signature was transmitted to fleet headquarters, other naval craft could use the sound patterns to identify Soviet subs.
The job was not without its dangers. A common tactic, when submarines became aware of one another, was to engage in a grim game of underwater chicken. The prospect of two 6,000-ton submarines hurtling toward one another at high speed was daunting and dangerous. “We’d come back almost every time with scrapes and bangs and dents,” he said.
The Cold War for the most part was not a shooting war, and Davison hesitates when asked if he was involved in any such exchanges. “All I will say is we came back missing some torpedoes sometimes,” he said.
The Eastern Kentucky Military Historical Society works to contact as many local veterans as possible to offer informal services like monthly coffee-and-gab sessions and roundtable workshops,said Matt Potter, one of its founders. The events offer veterans, many of whom are older and not regular users of social media and other instant communication methods, a way to form social networks.
The society, which has about 100 members, also provides a focal point for public appreciation, according to Potter. “We give a face for the public to come to and say thanks to veterans. We want to promote what these men and women have done for the community,” he said.
The picnic, the first the society has hosted, was another chance for veterans to get together and talk — not just about their experiences, but about issues common to those who have served in uniform.
The opportunity is welcome, according to Davison, because veterans, regardless of their branch of service, share the same frame of reference. “Nonveterans have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said. “We’ve all lived through the same types of issues.”