Dawn of the Proto-Nerd: The Up Side of Underwater

From September 1968 until April 1972 I was in the Navy, most of the time aboard a nuclear submarine. We had two crews, blue and gold, and would have the sub three months at a time, then switch. One month of refitting and resupplying the boat and two months under water. Yes, you heard that right, two months at a time, with out surfacing! One time, we stayed under for ten weeks—but that trip is another story.

On the Fleet Ballistic Missile sub (I was also on a Fast Attack sub), the George C. Marshall, while underwater we watched a different movie every night, usually preceded by an old primetime TV show, such as Mannix, or Cimmaron, or Star Trek! Now look at those dates again, Star Trek at this point was still a FAILED TV series. Two years earlier my friends and I were gathered around my Mom’s 10” Black and White television set watching Star Trek, blown away by the writing, the concept, and Mr. Spock. Then “POOF!” it was gone….we were broken-hearted.

1970, we set sail out of Holy Loch, Scotland, and the first night out, right after dinner, they announce the movie, “What’s Up Doc?” and mentioned it would be preceded by an episode of Star Trek. Now on the Submarine movies are shown in the dining area, on a pull down screen, about 10’ x 4’, like being in a movie theatre. And we were going to see Sulu And Kirk and, mmmmm Uhuru on a big screen, in freaking color! We were stoked.

I grabbed a bowl of buttered popcorn and a glass of bug juice; kool-aid; and sat on the floor down front. The intro came up, with that classic music, the theremin ahh-ahhing, and the narration…then, it got better..they were starting with the first episode, they were going to show them in order! The Ryan O’neal/Barbara Streisand movie was fun, seeing Star Trek on a big screen in color was sci-fi nerd heaven!

Over the course of that two months I had to qualify on the submarine, that is earn my dolphins by learning EVERY system on the submarine, and regurgitating that info to a battery of chiefs, officers and fist class petty officers knowledgable in each field. I did it, yet never missed an episode of Star Trek (I often went without sleep!) On occasion we watched two or three episodes in a row, because the movie choice was questionable, i.e.. “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”. We eventually made it through all 79 episodes. The older ones on the submarine laughed at our enthusiasm for the show, but appreciated the cleavage and scantily clad green space women!

As a sci-fi reader; heavy into Heinlein, Jose Philip Farmer, and Roger Zelazny; I had just gotten a super dose of cinematic Nirvana. The original Star Trek holds up, even to this day. It’s themes are relevant, it’s characters relatable and the humorous tongue-in-cheek quality still makes you smile. That William Shatner chewed up the scenery, and it was a western in space didn’t matter. 2001:A Space Odyssey had come out in 1968…it simply didn’t matter. Star Trek, that failed TV show did not fail us protonerds, it took us boldly where no one had gone before! And I have been thankful ever since!

For that one sojourn underwater, Star Trek had softened the reality of life for two months at two-hundred feet below the surface, and took us to the stars.