Jerry Guinn graduated from Davis County High School in 1964 at age 17. He recalls ranking 89th out of 115 kids in his class.
Looking back, he said, “I didn’t do much in school. I wasn’t going to tell anybody I knew anything. I was very shy and didn’t date. I think I was afraid of girls. Finally, when I was a senior, I began to come out of my shell, but it took the Navy to get me past this.”
Guinn took tests in Des Moines to get into the Navy at the end of his senior year at DCHS. When an officer called to inform Jerry of his score, he said, “Yours was the highest score I’ve ever seen.”
Guinn’s score on the test battery was 133, which is said to be equal to one’s IQ.
Guinn and two others who tested at the same time were asked if they were interested in nuclear power. “You had to have a score of 125 (or more) to get into nuclear power,” he said.
“If I wouldn’t have gone into the Navy, I wouldn’t have gone to college,” he added.
Because he was only 17 at the time, Guinn’s father, Walter, had to sign. “I remember putting up hay where the new ballfield is now. When the Navy representative arrived, we signed the papers on the hayrack.”
Because of the long training period for those going into nuclear power, those chosen had to serve in the Navy for at least six years. Jerry chose to serve for seven years as the seventh year allowed him to get proficiency pay of an additional $100 per month.
Guinn spent the first two years of service in school — boot camp, electrician’s school and 50 weeks of nuclear power school.
“I had the equivalent of two years of college math, engineering and physics. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “The first 25 weeks were spent in Bainbridge, Md., and the next 25 weeks at the West Milton site by Saratoga, N.Y. where we qualified to operate a reactor plant.”
Next came eight weeks of submarine school in New London, Conn., followed by orders to report to a sub in Pascagoula, Miss.
“Once our sub was commissioned, San Diego was home port,” Guinn said, “and we began chasing Russian submarines. The first Russian sub we chased was from Cuba to North Carolina in 1968. We spent New Year’s Day in Key West loading torpedoes.”
From there, the sub went to New London, Conn. where it was so cold icebreakers had to be used to get the it up the river.
A change in climate followed as the sub was assigned to exercises around San Juan, Puerto Rico.
To get back to the home port of San Diego, Guinn’s sub had to go through the Panama Canal.
“We were topside while moving; that was really cool,” he said. “We got lots of pictures.”
Guinn said 1968 and 1969 were spent either getting ready for or going on patrol. “We went all over the place to observe the Russians; the main place was the Sea of Japan where there were two ports — Vladivostok and Petropavlovsk.
“In 1969, we were off Vladivostok and got a message the North Koreans had shot down a plane. We stayed there and watched the Russians kick up parts of planes and bodies. We knew there would be no survivors. If there would have been survivors, we would have surfaced,” he said.
Guinn said when they returned to Vladivostok, the Russians had a whole line of submarines in the area. “If we got close to them, our sonar could pick up their noise,” he said.
Guinn explained that no two subs make the same noise. He and his fellow crew members recorded the sounds of different subs into their computers; then if they heard that particular sound again, they could identify the sub that was nearby.
“That was a pretty big deal for us,” he said.
After a seven-month cruise in the Sea of Japan, Guinn’s sub was delayed in Guam for 12 days while on its way to Pearl Harbor. “While there, we were tied by a sub tender and took very good workshops on repairing equipment.”
Guinn pointed out that not everyone is suited for work on a submarine. Even in boot camp, a psychiatrist evaluated troops to make sure they were not claustrophobic.
When in submarine school, the soldiers had to learn diving by going into a dive tank through a hole in the bottom. “As you move toward the top, you don’t hold your breath,” he explained. “You have to exhale to relieve the pressure as the air expands in your lungs.
“There were divers there doing the exercises, and if it looked like you were holding your breath, they punched you in the gut so you wouldn’t do that.”
Guinn said he was on the first sub — named the Haddock — for 3.5 years.
In 1970, Guinn contacted then U.S. Representative John Kyl of Bloomfield. “He helped me get on my second sub, the Halibut,” Guinn said.
“It was an older boat, and I didn’t know it at the time, but the CIA had invested a ton of money in the sub. In 1971, the Halibut went over and put wiretaps on the (Russian) cables going out to the islands reaching from Japan to the Kamchatka Peninsula.
“We knew we were going to get missile parts off the bottom, but we didn’t know about the cable (job). When we tapped the cables, we found the Russians wanted to protect their homeland, not attack the U.S,” he said
On the back of the sub was a “mini-sub,” which Guinn said was a decompression chamber for divers. “I went diving with them some,” he said. “They were underwater demolition people who had been in Vietnam.
“I just went diving for fun, however,” Guinn said, “snorkeling, spear-fishing, etc.”
Guinn said he did get certified for scuba diving to a depth of 100 feet, but had no official duties in this way.
Guinn appreciated the opportunities the Navy offered for seeing the world. He traveled to Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Philippines, Guam and other places he never thought he would see.
“In Hong Kong, I felt like John Wayne walking down the street,” he said. “They’re short.”
Guinn said his sub went into South Korea when the weather so bad it tore up the sub and they had to tie it to a sub tender for repair. “We were able to get Christmas cards while we were there waiting on repairs. I also remember Mom had sent a box of cookies. They were just crumbs when they got there, but we all ate them.”
Guinn remembers later going to the shipyard in Yokosuka for repairs. “Anything we needed done, they fixed it really good,” he said of the Japanese repairmen.
The last run for the crew on Guinn’s sub was a northern run to observe. “We had been in the middle of anti-submarine exercises and once in a while one submarine would be shot toward us.”
That run took Guinn’s sub to northern Russia, which is north of Alaska.
Instructions then came to go towards Seattle and locate one of Russia’s ballistic missile boats. The sub Guinn was on was one of the first boats using SOSUS (Sound Surveillance System), a passive sonar system developed by the United States Navy to track Soviet submarines.
“When we got a signal going into our computer, we knew from their sonar fingerprints what was there. We followed the Russian sub back to its own waters near Vladivostok. It was a missile sub. If it would have gotten a signal, the Russians would have bombed us. Their range was about 1500 miles.”
Guinn was discharged from the Navy in 1971.
He was decorated during his term of service with two Vietnam service medals, an Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, and a Good Conduct Medal. He was awarded dolphin military insignia and received his ICISS designation. The ICISS designation is given for knowing every system on a submarine and being able to operate it.
“It’s kind of a big deal. You don’t want somebody who can’t save your life operating a system on a submarine,” he said.
After his discharge, Guinn came back to Davis County to farm. “I was glad to get back to the farm, but life was different. I was used to going full blast and living on four hours sleep.”
Guinn decided to enroll at Northeast Missouri State University where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Botany and a Bachelor of Science Education in Biology.
Following graduation, he took a job as “the science department” at Moulton-Udell and taught biology, life science, earth science, physical science, botany, chemistry, physics, and pre-algebra.
“Kirksville (NMSU) gave me credits to teach all science courses based on what I had in the Navy,” he said.
“I had kids for four years and some for six years in grades 7-12. They were my kids. There is a real attachment in a small district, and I taught my whole career — 25 years — at Moulton before retiring in 2001.
“There are a lot of kids I’m sure proud of. In seventh grade I told them, ‘Like it or not, you’re one of Jerry’s kids. You had kids there before and after school who needed somebody to care. They’re all my kids. I still enjoy seeing them.”