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  • One of the ways we passed time on sonar watch, besides actually listening for targets, was to spin the dial on the top secret safe. Over and over: Left, right, left and pull the handle. You would think we were in Vegas at the slots. We always had two men on watch at a time. One listening and the other waiting as backup. (You know that sounds like two men on a bank heist! A safe cracker and a get-away driver.) The backup sat in a chair next to the safe and absentmindedly played with the combination.

    I don’t know why they put the safe in the sonar shack, but it was like having a barker at the fair: “Step right up and take your chance at glory. That’s right son, you could be the lucky one.” We just couldn’t resist its pull.

    Patrol after patrol we tried our luck until one day the inevitable happened. That’s right, we pulled the handle and the safe opened. It was like opening Pandora’s Box. Once opened all of the secrets could have been looked at. There are some things that once done can’t be undone.

    Now, there was nothing in the safe that we hadn’t already been shown at our briefings, but that wasn’t the point. Unlawful access had been accomplished and we weren’t sure how serious the punishment would be. We mulled it over some and at first, decided to close the safe and say nothing. But, after a lot of discussion it was decided to leave a note saying, “Thanks for the information, Comrade” on top of the contents and then lock it back up.

    We had no idea what the combination was that opened it. We had always just spun at random. So, once we had left the note and closed the safe back up we were committed. No going back in when we started to get that uneasy feeling. No one knew when the next time they would open the safe would be, but I definitely remember all of us wiping our fingerprints off of the dial and handle. It became like a pariah. No one would even sit in the chair next to it for fear of forgetting and playing roulette with the dial.

    Finally near the end of the patrol our division officer opened the safe to get something out. We held our breath as he pulled out the note. He read it, closed the safe and locked it, and left the sonar shack. A few moments later the door opened and the XO and he came back in. He opened the safe again and they both looked at it for a long time.

    It was the strangest thing. Nothing was ever said to us about it. I mean they inventoried the safe and all but no one was questioned about it. It was like it never happened…and I guess they would rather sweep it under the rug than deal with the implications and fallout from above if it had ever been found out.
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