Today’s veteran: Jim Paulk, 85
Service: Navy 5 years active duty; Navy Reserve 5 years
Duties: Electronics officer; chief engineer; diving officer
Rank: Lieutenant in active duty Navy; Lieutenant commander in Navy Reserve
Recognitions: National Defense Service Medal
Duty stations: San Diego; New London, Conn.; Philadelphia; Baltimore and aboard APA Montrose and USS Redfin.
His story: Jim Paulk was enrolled at North Georgia College with many of his friends from Brunswick with plans to join the Marine Corps.
“I went there because all the other guys from Brunswick went there,” he said.
But during the end of his second year in college, Paulk decided to take a different career path from his classmates and was accepted in the Naval Academy with plans to serve aboard submarines.
“I loved North Georgia,” he said. “I read so much about submarine patrols during World War II, I thought it would be interesting hunting submarines.”
Paulk said he was aware of the dangers serving aboard diesel submarines, which had the highest casualty rates of any branch of the military during WWII.
“You don’t think about the
downside,” he said of the risks.
His first duty station turned out to be aboard the APA Monotrose, a surface vessel. He was on the crew when it took a Marine Corps task force to Kodiak Island in Alaska for a training exercise. The ship was later sent to Portland, Ore., to help bolster the local economy, which was struggling at the time.
His next duty station was aboard the USS Redfin, a diesel submarine that successfully completed six patrols during WWII.
The boat was cut in half and enlarged after it was decommissioned in 1946 and repurposed for radar picket duty in 1953. Paulk was part of the crew when the Redfin became a laboratory to test internal guidance systems for Polaris submarines.
Most of the crew was either officers or technicians from the companies designing the electronic equipment.
“We basically did everything first,” he said. “We took lots of voyages to test equipment.”
At the end of testing, the ship’s crew removed all the new equipment and the boat became part of the Navy’s fleet.
Shortly before Paulk decided to leave active duty, he said the death of a shipmate affected him greatly. The sailor was washed overboard by a large wave and was never found in the rough seas despite a day
searching for him.
Paulk also had several frightening experiences on the Redfin, including the time he was on the bridge during a storm when a large wave crashed over the hull. He estimated his was under as much as 20 feet of water from the wave.
“I thought for a while I was going to die on the bridge,” he said.
One sailor was washed overboard and rescued, while another one suffered a broken nose during the storm.
Paulk said he decided to leave active duty after five years to enter the job market. He had already spent two years in college, followed by four years at the Naval Academy, and he believed his education and experience would give him an advantage over a 22-year-old college graduate.
“Thinking strategically, I thought it was time to do it now,” he said of leaving active duty.
Paulk accepted a job in Baltimore and continued to serve another five years in the Navy Reserve.
His Navy career has had a lasting impact on his life that remains to this day, he said.
“You learned not to procrastinate,” he said. “We had our share of emergencies and problems. Everything you do on a submarine is rigorous.”
Our Veterans runs Wednesdays. Contact Gordon Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 912-464-7655 to suggest a veteran for a column.