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Submarine HMCS Onondaga

US Naval Station Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico

Submarine HMCS Okanagan


Sous-marin NCSM Onondaga

Station navale Roosevelt Roads, Porto Rico

Sous-marin NCSM Okanagan





January 1970 - HMCS ONONDAGA departed Halifax for exercise MAPLE SPRING in the Caribbeans. Because my 5-year term in the Navy was to expire in April 1970 and because I had not yet signed up for a new term in the Navy, I was replaced before ONONDAGA's departure. I spent the next few days contemplating my future. The Navy was offering a monetary bonus if I sign up for an indefinite term. Because of my upcoming release from the Navy, I had not been issued the new green uniform which was now worn by the Navy. I was one of the last sailors in Halifax to wear the old bell bottom uniform.


One day in January 1970, after a few drinks at the Fleet Club, I decided to sign up for an indefinite term so I could get the monetary bonus. Within hours of signing on the dotted line, I was issued the new green uniform which made me look like a Texaco service man or a Maytag repair man. It was with great sadness that I abandoned my old bell bottom uniform full of tradition which to me was a source of pride. I now felt the same way as Admiral Landymore did when he was fired for opposing the unification and integration of the three forces. The only positive thing about the new uniform was the new dolphin badge which now could be worn on your chest instead of on your arm.



Now that I had signed up for a new term in the Navy, I was planning to submit a request so I could return to submarine service as soon as possible, either by flying down to Puerto Rico to rejoin HMCS ONONDAGA, or by being posted to another submarine. However, as a floating radioman without a ship or submarine, I was now a prey for the general service. I was going to learn that the Navy had other plans for me. The general service was going to grab me before I had time to submit my request to return to submarine service.


Late one night, as I was lying in my bunk in HMCS STADACONA's "A" Block, someone came to my room to deliver an urgent message. I dialed the phone number given to me and I was told that I was being deployed immediately to the staff of the Commander of the Fleet operating onboard HMCS PRESERVER out of Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. The deployment was effective for two months and was to expire atl the end of exercise MAPLE SPRING. I was ordered to report to HMCS SHEARWATER at 0500 the next morning for a flight to Puerto Rico. I quickly packed my kit bag and I spent the night drinking coffee and unable to sleep. Transportation came to get me during the night and my military flight took off on schedule from the Shearwater runway. I slept all the way and woke up as we were landing at Roosevelt Roads. Upon landing, I used US Navy ground transportation to proceed to the jetty where HMCS PRESERVER was tied up, and reported to the Commander of the Fleet for duty.


This short deployment with the Commander of the Fleet was actually a nice change. Here I was stuck in Puerto Rico during the winter season. My job was essentially the handling of radio messages from the Commander of the Fleet to ships and submarines participating in MAPLE SPRING as well as to CANMARCOM in Halifax. So I had to work closely with the radio sparkers of HMCS PRESERVER who handled the radio traffic on the HF bands. My work days were short and I had lots of time to spend in the sun, on the beaches or at local bars.


Here are a couple of incidents I had while in Roosevelt Roads.



One day, I went onboard a Canadian destroyer which had come into Roosevelt Roads the night before. I am not sure which destroyer but I think it was either HMCS KOOTENAY or HMCS NIPIGON. I was visiting a friend onboard and I was down into his mess when the ship sailed without my knowledge. I soon felt the motion of the ship and took off right away for the upper deck. You can imagine my distress as I emerge from the ship and saw the jetty half a mile away. I reported immediately to the bridge and I was told that the ship could not return to drop me off. The Captain of the ship drafted a message to the Commander of the Fleet, advising him of my situation, and I still remember the subject of the message which said: STOW AWAY. The Captain was smiling so I didn't think I would get into trouble for this incident.


Since I was stuck on the ship, I decided to proceed to the radio room and to offer my services while onboard. They were fully staffed so I spent the next 2 days as a "tourist" onboard the destroyer. On the third day, the Captain was transferred to another ship by jackstay and then flew back to Roosevelt Roads onboard a Sea King helicopter. I hitched a ride with him and finally made it back to the Commander of the Fleet. Everyone was laughing about my "stow away" incident and I was never reprimanded for it.



There were a few drinking places on or near the US Navy base at Roosevelt Roads and I must have tried them all. One evening, I was sitting quietly in one of the drinking establishment, sipping on a Heineken beer. I was feeling quite good after drinking rum all day but I was causing no trouble. The fact was that, the more I drink, the quieter I get. I was not the type who fights or looks for trouble when intoxicated. To the contrary.


Suddenly, the US Navy Shore Patrol entered the premises and upon seeing me, decided to arrest me and throw me in jail. I protested to no avail. I ended up spending the night in the local US Navy jail, not knowing what I had done or what my crime was. The next morning, a Lieutenant from HMCS PRESERVER showed up with an escort to pick me up and bring me back to the ship. The lieutenant was quite "pissed off" and was looking at me as if I was a trouble maker. As I was being escorted back to the ship, the Lieutenant told me that I was being accused of fighting with a US sailor and causing injury. This was quite a shock to me. I knew I could not have done this since I had no memory of such an event and no bruises on my body.


Later on that morning, I was hauled in front of the Executive Officer to face the charges. The US sailor who had suffered injuries showed up to testify but, as soon as he saw me, declared that I was not the person who had attacked him. I was therefore dismissed on the spot. I found out later what happened. The US Navy patrol was looking for a sailor with a beard and fitting my description. I was the only one in the bar with a beard so they assume that I was the person they were looking for. Although I was innocent, I nevertheless spent a night in jail in Puerto Rico... an experience I will always remember.



While enjoying my deployment with the Commander of the Fleet in Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, I was longing for a return to the submarine service. I had never requested to get off submarines. The only reason I was back in the general service was the fact that my 5-year term was coming to an end when HMCS ONONDAGA had sailed for the Caribbeans in January 1970. Now that I had signed up to stay in the Navy, my desire was still to return to the submarine service as soon as possible.


I was going to prepare a formal request and present it to the Commander of the Fleet at first opportunity but there was no guarantee when my request would be processed since the Commander of the Fleet was very busy. After further thoughts, I decided to proceed in a different manner and take a shortcut. Each day, I was submitting a large number of radio messages to the Commander of the Fleet for his signature before transmission by radioteletype. So I was very familiar with message formats and I knew how a request to Headquarters in Ottawa would look like. So I drafted a message to National Headquarters requesting that Leading Seaman Radioman (LSRM) Donald Courcy be posted back to submarines. I inserted the message in the pile of other messages and I presented the pile to the Commander for his signature. The signed messages came back two hours later. I went looking in the pile and there it was. The Commander of the Fleet had signed the message I had drafted. The message was sent that day and a reply from Headquarters was received a few days later confirming that I was posted to submarine HMCS OKANAGAN upon my return to Halifax ! ! !


At the end of exercise Maple Spring 1970, I stayed onboard HMCS PRESERVER for the return trip to Halifax. We stopped in Fort Lauderdale, Florida for a few days and then proceeded up the eastern coast of the United States and entered Halifax Harbour in March 1970. It is with great joy that I packed my kit bag, said goodbye to the surface Navy, went ashore and walked over to submarine HMCS OKANAGAN. After almost 3 months of absence, I was finally back in the submarine service !!!



I joined the crew of HMCS OKANAGAN in March 1970. OKANAGAN was my second submarine, and what a beauty ! She was called the"show boat". I knew right away she was different as I went down the hatch. She had something that the other two submarines did not have; a cafeteria for the men below the rank of Petty Officer 2nd Class. On ONONDAGA and OJIBWA, men ate anywhere where they could find a spot; on a small table in the forward mess; sitting on the edge of their bunk; or somewhere in the forward torpedo room. Space in the after torpedo room was even more restricted. On ONONDAGA, those living in the after ends had to travel through the control room with their food and drinks. On OJIBWA, it was those living in the forward mess who had a similar problem because the galley was located further aft. It was quite a challenge when there was action going on in the control room or when we were snorkeling or on the surface in heavy seas. But on OKANAGAN, we had the luxury of a cafeteria.


There were also other differences between ONONDAGA, OKANAGAN and OJIBWA. Although they were all Oberon class submarines, they were not "exactly" the same. So the first priority when transfering to another submarine was to familiarize ourselves with these differences. It was vital, for our own safety as well as the safety of our shipmates. Qualified on ONONDAGA did not mean qualified on OKANAGAN or OJIBWA. We did not loose our status of "qualified submariner" and we still had the right to wear our dolphin while learning the differences between our former submarine and our new submarine.


Soon after arriving onboard HMCS OKANAGAN, we left Halifax for a number of exercises in the North Atlantic. HMCS OKANAGAN along with HMCS OJIBWA participated in exercise STEEL RING from 20 April to 8 May 1970. During the summer of 1970, HMCS OKANAGAN exercised with US, British and Canadian aircrafts. Aircrafts flew 21 hours per day with rotating crews, trying to find the submarines. A number of ports were visited by HMCS OKANAGAN during 1970, including St. Georges, Bermuda, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.





I was not an avid photographer during my years in submarines. I regret it very much because I have very few photos of that period in my life. What a surprise this week, October 27, 2011, when I received an email and a photo of me from old shipmate Brian Lapierre who served with me onboard OKANAGAN. Brian took a photo of me on the submarine's gangway carrying a dog in my arms during a port visit in St. Georges, Bermuda on October 1, 1970. I don't remember what happened that day but I must have picked up the dog on the jetty. Being a dog lover, I was probably bringing him onboard the submarine to feed him.