Dave Seavey – Deep Sea Cold War

Dave Seavey served for 20 years in the Navy, much of which was spent either on or under the deep sea.

By Lura Jackson


Often referred to as the top 1 percent of the top 10 percent of the Navy, those that serve in the submarine corps handle some of the most sophisticated technical systems in the military. While he downplays the requirements of serving on a sub, asserting that he knows of many in the Washington County area that would flourish in such a capacity, Dave Seavey’s nearly twenty years in and on the deep seas were filled with challenge and adventure.

Seavey considers himself to be from Woodland, though prior to moving there in the 6th grade, he lived all over the world as a result of his father’s service in the Marines. In 1975, he graduated from Woodland High School. His early experience living abroad contributed to his desire to enter the service. “By the time I graduated, I was ready to head out into the world,” Seavey said. His older brother had joined the Navy and entered the submarine corps, and Seavey made the decision to follow in his footsteps. He was in boot camp in San Diego fourteen days after graduation.

While Seavey’s older brother influenced him to join the submarine corps, both of them similarly influenced their younger brother – all three would wind up in the same branch of service in the Navy, a situation that Seavey jokingly implies bedeviled his father. “Dad was a Marine, he could never figure out what he did wrong.” His father’s background in the service made the transition into military life more comfortable for the young Seavey, who said that boot camp proved to be no significant challenge. 

After boot camp, Seavey went to school for additional training at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. He had the opportunity to select where he would like to serve, and he picked the submarine corps. Unfortunately, his paperwork was misfiled, and he received orders to serve on the USS Independence, an aircraft carrier based out of Norfolk, Virginia. 

With no other options than to take the two-year assignment, Seavey made the most of his time on the massive ship. He served as a machinist mate, maintaining the turbines and boilers and whatever other duties were required. “I didn’t mind doing it, but it was a lot of work,” Seavey recalls. At the time, in the post-Vietnam era, all branches of military were undermanned, and the shifts were often long and the breaks were few. He was assigned to “port and starboard duty”, which entailed one day of 24 hours on-duty and the next day of working until 4:00 p.m., and then repeating the cycle. 

Though not the submarine that Seavey had anticipated, the carrier – which housed 4,500 people – was a unique experience in itself. “It was like a floating city,” Seavey recalls. He remembers enjoying watching the planes perform operations at night.   

After two years, he reapplied to serve on a submarine, and successfully passed the psychological exam – a feat that very few in the service accomplish. He was sent to New London, Connecticut, for submarine training. The initial two-month training involved a basic introduction to life aboard the deep-sea vessels, but once on-board, the real training began.

All submarine corps members have one year to qualify for further service once they are stationed on a ship. “To get your insignia, you have to learn every aspect of damage control. You have to learn how every system works on the ship, from the nuclear power plant, sonar, the torpedo room, the ventilation system, every system on there.”

Seavey was assigned to the USS Glenard P. Lipscomb, a nuclear-powered fast attack submarine designed to sink other ships. He reprised his role as a machinist mate, which included caring for the auxiliary system, diesel power, and hydraulics.

The submarine was constantly out at sea. “We were a hot-running boat,” Seavey said. “This was the Cold War era, and the submarines were out in force.” The Lipscomb would become a decorated ship for its role in gathering intel on the opposing naval forces and ships of the Russian fleet. 

Being on a submarine did not cause issues for Seavey, who admits to being claustrophobic. “It’s not like being on the World War II-era submarines like you’d see in Das Boot. These are big ships, 3-4 stories high. You don’t even know you’re underwater most of the time.” Along with his fellow shipmates, Seavey was kept busy all the time with the various duties of keeping the sub running, and as a result, he had little time or desire to reflect on being submerged to 5,000 feet or standing watch within 100’ of a nuclear reactor. “It was mind over matter in many ways,” Seavey said. 

After three years, Seavey received an assignment to serve on the USS Benjamin Franklin, a nuclear-powered submarine carrying as many as twelve nuclear missiles at any given time. Such ships were used for deterrence, Seavey explained, “with the theory being that knowing these ships were out there and that they could rise up to periscope depth and launch nuclear missiles without the enemy even being aware would be an effective deterrent to attack.” The tactic and similar strategies were clearly successful to the extent that no nuclear missiles were deployed in the Cold War.

Two years later, Seavey received his only shore duty. He was stationed in Calais as a Naval Recruitment Officer, a role for which there was constant need. Based on the population of the area, Command initially recommended not having either a Naval or Army recruitment officer in Calais; however, both Seavey and his Army counterpart were named Recruiter of the Year for New England as a result of their high numbers of recruits. “This has always been a really good area for joining the military,” Seavey said.

Seavey enjoyed his time on shore as a recruitment officer, though it involved steady travel. His assigned territory included Washington County and an area that nearly reached Ellsworth in one direction and Houlton in the other.

Three years later, in 1985, Seavey was back on a sub – this time it was another fast attack vessel, the USS Olympia. By this time, Seavey was a senior enlisted sailor, carrying the rank of Chief Petty Officer. He was in charge of “A Division”, overseeing ten machinist mates that maintained the same systems he once worked on. The Olympia was a brand-new ship, and it spent its first six months getting its feet wet as a vessel and a crew in Norfolk, Virginia.

“It was one inspection after another,” Seavey recalled, referring to both the Olympia and, at times, the other submarines he’s served on. “It was an unbelievable amount of work.” Once the vessel and crew qualified, it was stationed in Pearl Harbor. His assignment of being in charge of A Division was a “pretty hectic, high pressure job” due to the systems the division was in control of. “But I had some really good people working under me,” Seavey said.

Being in Pearl Harbor had its benefits. “Every day in Hawaii was a good day for me,” Seavey said. The situation was made better by the presence of his future wife, Lisa, whom he’d met while in port at Washington during a previous assignment. The pair would later have four children together.

After three years, Seavey qualified as an officer and was assigned to a surface ship, a floating drydock in New London. “It was completely different than anything I’d done,” Seavey said. The drydock would lift up submarines and other vessels to enable the repairs of one ship after another. “That was a real busy job. A lot of ships needed to come in for maintenance and get back out on the water.”

Once his three-year tour was completed at the drydock, Seavey was assigned to a surface repair ship, the USS L.Y. Spear. As the Main Propulsion Assistant, Seavey oversaw the running of the ship, a task made more difficult by its age. After the second Gulf War ended, the repair ship was sent to the Persian Gulf to provide power to nearby ships. “It was challenging to take a ship that hardly went out to sea and all of the sudden be told, ‘You’ve got to go over to the Persian Gulf and stay running the whole time,’” Seavey recalls. The ship was decommissioned soon afterwards.

For his final assignment, Seavey was assigned to an unusual vessel, the USS Dolphin. It was a deep-diving research vessel powered by both diesel and electric engines. Built in 1962, it was the only diesel sub in the Navy. As a research vessel, it carried no weapons, but rather bore scientists interested in conducting experiments at significant depths. The ship had its own special docking area at a Naval Research and Development facility in San Diego. “It was almost like McHale’s Navy – nobody bothered us and we had our own port,” Seavey said, though he clarified that his crew was more competent than that of the lampooning television series.

In 1996, his 20th year in the service, Seavey retired from the Navy. He and his wife raised their children in Olympia, Washington, where they now spend half the year. The family returns frequently to Washington County, maintaining a home on Crawford Lake and making investments in the future of downtown Calais.