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Interview with Steve Clark Hall [7/27/2004]

Steve Estes:

I'm Steve Estes and I'm in San Francisco, California, and today, I'm interviewing...

Steve Clark Hall:

I'm Steve Clark Hall and it's Tuesday July 27, 2004.

Steve Estes:

Excellent. OK, So back to the beginning. When and where were you bora?

Steve Clark Hall:

I was born 9 November 1953 here in San Francisco.

Steve Estes:

What neighborhood did you grow up in?

Steve Clark Hall:

Well, I actually didn't grow up here. I spent a few years here when I was really young down in Daly City, and then I moved to the Pacific Northwest and went to high school in Eureka, California.

Steve Estes:

What did your parents do?

Steve Clark Hall:

My dad was in the paper business. The corporation headquarters were here in San Francisco.

Steve Estes:

What did your mom do?

Steve Clark Hall:

She was a housewife.

Steve Estes:

It sounds very fifties.

Steve Clark Hall:

It was.

Steve Estes:

What was high school like in Eureka?

Steve Clark Hall:

High school in Eureka was good. We didn't have a lot of outside influence. We were the biggest high school. It was larger than the other eight high schools in the area combined. So we were usually #1. It was low stress, walk-to-school type place.

Steve Estes:

Did you play any sports when you were in high school?

Steve Clark Hall:

I ran track one year. That was it.

Steve Estes:

OK, give me a little bit more about what life was like growing up in Eureka. What images come to your mind when you think about those days?

Steve Clark Hall:

What I think about was that Eureka was out in the middle of nowhere. So there was nothing to do. The city was only two miles by two miles; there was only something like 20,000 people living there. There just wasn't a lot that could go wrong as a kid.

Steve Estes:

But you're coming of age in the late '60s, right? Were you sheltered from that?

Steve Clark Hall:

We were pretty sheltered. This was before the days of cable TV. We only had two TV stations in town. The shows were delayed by a week. The news was delayed by a day. Because there was no live feed coming in at that point, so we were pretty isolated from the rest of the world up there.

Steve Clark Hall:

How did you decide to go to the Naval Academy?

Steve Estes:

I had an older brother who attended. I had no desire to go there until my parents went to visit him and brought back pictures. Having seen the UC-Davis campus and the campus at Humboldt State and Oregon State. I just loved the architecture of the buildings at the Naval Academy and said I want to go there.

Steve Estes:

Had any of your relatives served in the armed forces?

Steve Clark Hall:

My dad was in the Navy in World War II like everybody was.

Steve Estes:

Did he ever talk about his time in the Navy?

Steve Clark Hall:

Never. Not until after I became captain of a submarine did my dad ever talk about his time in the Navy.

Steve Estes:

Why do you think that was so?

Steve Clark Hall:

I don't know.

Steve Estes:

Is he not a very talkative guy?

Steve Clark Hall:

He's not a very talkative guy, and maybe it was just that he got to a point in life when he was more talkative.

Steve Estes:

What did your brother tell you before you went to the Naval Academy?

Steve Clark Hall:

Very little. I just knew what he was telling my parents, and that was what his life was like. When he got there three years ahead of me, it was very stressful, very physical, and so that's what I was expecting.

Steve Estes:

Do you have to get a Senator to nominate you?

Steve Clark Hall:

You have to get a Senator or Congressman to nominate you or some people qualify for a Presidential nomination if your father was in the military. There's also a few that the Secretary of the Navy appoints country-wide.

Steve Estes:

So what was your route?

Steve Clark Hall:

I was appointed by Senator John Tunney, who was a Senator here for just a short six-year period of time, and he was elected, I think, in 1970.

Steve Estes:

How did you get in touch with him?

Steve Clark Hall:

I just wrote: "Dear Senator Tunney, I'd like to go to the Naval Academy." Actually, I wrote, "Dear Senator Murphy..." George Murphy was the Senator I wrote to, and he gave me the nomination. After the election was when the appointment was made so it came out of Tunney's office.

Steve Estes:

What year did you go?

Steve Clark Hall:

I went in 1971.

Steve Estes:

What was your first day like at Annapolis? Do you remember?

Steve Clark Hall:

Pretty much. We all had a time of day that you were supposed to be brought in. I was one of the later groups to come in. Basically, people were yelling in your face, telling you to do this and this and this. Made you line up here and get your uniforms. It was a hot, humid, long day, but it was nothing traumatic. Of course, you didn't want to object to anything, and when they're handing you uniforms that are already too tight and your showing up at a place that's going to make you big. It was a bad idea not to object and say, "Hey, don't these need to be a little looser?" So I basically outgrew all of my uniforms within two months.

Steve Estes:

What were the kinds of things they were yelling at you? Do you remember?

Steve Clark Hall:

Just, "Keep your eyes in the_. Don't look at me. Only say this and this. Yes, sir. No, sir. I'll find out, sir." You have six standard responses and that was it. Nothing else. It was just like boot camp.

Steve Estes:

So after the first day, did you get a roommate or were you in barracks?

Steve Clark Hall:

There were two to a room in a dorm, Bancroft Hall. It could house 4200 people easily. I had a roommate, who was my roommate all summer long. We were on the top floor of a six-story building. It was the "Fourth Deck." There was a basement, there was ground level, and then zero level was the next one up. These were levels on a ship.

Steve Estes:

Where was your roommate from?

Steve Clark Hall:

He was from Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

Steve Estes:

Now, since you had had such a cloistered life growing up in Eureka, was getting to know someone from Tahlequah, Oklahoma, something new?

Steve Clark Hall:

Well, I think he may have had a cloistered life in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. There were people from all over the country. That's one of the neat things about the Naval Academy is that all fifty states are represented, proportionally in terms of population. There were a lot of people who grew up in Manhattan and New Jersey and other places, so yes everybody had different experiences growing up and they all sounded a little different too.

Steve Estes:

What was your biggest challenge that first year that you were at the Naval Academy?

Steve Clark Hall:

Probably dealing with my History and English classes, because there was so much reading involved and so little time to read. That was just-I didn't have time to do all of this stuff, because I was trying to do well in my engineering courses, which is where my interests were. Who had time to read, History of Sea Power, although I learned long ago that history turns out to be probably the most important course.

Steve Estes:

Damn right! So do you get to pick a major? Is it the same as every college?

Steve Clark Hall:

I knew from day one what I wanted to major in, because it was something that was right up my alley, Control Systems Engineering. But we had about twenty something majors that we could select from?

Steve Estes:

Was it heavier on the engineering side?

Steve Clark Hall:

It was clearly heavier on the engineering side. Ships are very highly engineered things, and it really helps to have an engineering background.

Steve Estes:

Can you say in lay terms what Control Systems Engineering is?

Steve Clark Hall:

Control Systems Engineering is basically anything that gets controlled. It involved quite a few different aspects, analog computers, digital computers, simulating things with computers, optimization was a branch, so a lot of it was doing mathematical models of things that move either electrically or mechanically or electromechanically and design. It was the new thing back then. Now, your home computer does all of that.

Steve Estes:

Had you had any exposure to that in high school?

Steve Clark Hall:

A little. My high school teacher took us down to Berkeley once and we got exposed to different science things, like the Wang computer, which was really cool. We're talking about a long time ago. That was before the PC existed.

Steve Estes:

Now your brother was still there your first year?

Steve Clark Hall:

Right. I was a freshman when he was a senior?

Steve Estes:

Was that tense? Did you ever see him?

Steve Clark Hall:

I rarely saw him. Bancroft Hall is quite large. It has eight wings, which was way up this way, and I was in the seventh wing, which was as about as far apart as you could get.

Steve Estes:

Was that a good thing or a bad thing?

Steve Clark Hall:

I don't know. If I had seen him much more, people might have thought I was trying to ride on his coattails. But most people didn't even know I had a brother as far as I knew.

Steve Estes:

Now, I grew up in Charleston, South Carolina and the Citadel is in town. I know that at the Citadel your first year is pretty hellish.

Steve Clark Hall:

Some people my describe it that way. It's a plebe year? A lot of people probably would have thought that, but I was too busy worrying about my grades. I also picked up rowing, and was on the freshman rowing team. That got me out of some of the stuff, because we had our own special table to eat dinner. So I didn't have to eat with the upper classmen. So life was a little bit different. I didn't have to march on the parades every Wednesday. We were out rowing in the river, which was a lot of work, but lower stress.

Steve Estes:

Not psychological.

Steve Clark Hall:

Well, it was different.

Steve Estes:

For the students who weren't in a sport or doing rowing, how did they handle the stress?

Steve Clark Hall:

Some of them handled it well. Some of them didn't. We started with 1300 people in my class and we were down to 815 by the time we graduated, although the bulk of those left after February of 1973 when Nixon did away with the draft.

Steve Estes:

Was that an incentive for people to go to the Academy to avoid the draft?

Steve Clark Hall:

Yes.

Steve Estes:

How many people, just guessing, did you know like that?

Steve Clark Hall:

I would say probably at least 40 percent of my class and the class after mine.

Steve Estes:

Was there any thought in your mind about that?

Steve Clark Hall:

There was some thought, but that wasn't the primary motivating factor. My motivating factor was that I loved the architecture of the buildings.

Steve Estes:

Are you the only Naval Academy alum who wanted to go for that reason? [He laughs.]

Steve Clark Hall:

I never talked to anybody else who wanted to go for that reason, but I certainly liked it.

Steve Estes:

The Naval Academy is known as being academically rigorous and you were saying that's one of the things you remember from that first year. Did you acclimate to the rigor over the next four years?

Steve Clark Hall:

Oh definitely, and I didn't have any more English and History courses, so that made life a lot easier. SE Now, during the summers, do you actually go out on ships?

Steve Clark Hall:

Right. So what they did was they split my class of about 1200 or so that were left into four different ships. Each of us went on these big, amphibious transport docks. Two ships left for San Diego and two left for Norfolk, Virginia. We just did a cruise around the Pacific over an eight-week period of time and then came back to San Diego.

Steve Estes:

What was that like, your first time out on ship?

Steve Clark Hall:

Well, it was interesting. Of course you were there with 300 of your classmates. The food was horrible. The enlisted men on the ship who were all in the Navy to avoid the draft had really bad attitudes. Every so often, you would find one who didn't, but for the most part they had pretty bad attitudes.

Steve Estes:

Now, were you below them in rank?

Steve Clark Hall:

No, as a midshipman, you're above the enlisted and below the warrant officers. You're actually between warrant officer-1 and warrant officer-2. But the purpose of this cruise was to serve as an enlisted guy and to see what it was like to be enlisted. So we lived in enlisted berthing. We wore dungaree uniforms, which are similar to the enlisted dungaree uniforms. We did a list of jobs like chipping paint, working in the boiler plant and standing on enlisted watches.

Steve Estes:

One of the other folks that I interviewed for this said that it was those summer cruises that made him want to become a Marine.

Steve Clark Hall:

I could see that.

Steve Estes:

Because that was not what he had pictured when he went to the academy. Doing the chipping paint, and basically being treated like an enlisted person. But it sounds like you did ok in that environment.

Steve Clark Hall:

Being the enlisted guy? I definitely could see what it was like. But I'm certainly glad that I-your lifestyle is not-I can't imagine chipping paint for the rest of my life. Being that limited in scope, because enlisted people focus on only one area until they become more senior.

Steve Estes:

Is there any memory from your days at the Academy that stands out more than the others?

Steve Clark Hall:

Most of my memories of the Academy revolve around the rowing team, because that's where I led my life. It was kind of like our "frat." And so, life at Bancroft Hall, which is the dorm where everybody lived, I was kind of disassociated from that. All of my closest friends were my rowing teammates. If I wasn't studying or sleeping, I was thinking about rowing. It was a different lifestyle.

Steve Estes:

How did your team do while you were there?

Steve Clark Hall:

We did the second best year ever until now. They did very well this year.

Steve Estes:

So did you row against other mid-Atlantic schools?

Steve Clark Hall:

Harvard, Perai, MIT, Cornell, Dartmouth, Georgetown. Basically, the Ivy League, us, and a few others.

Steve Estes:

I feel like that was an important part of your life, but I'm having trouble digging in with questions.

Steve Clark Hall:

It was an important part, and a lot of it revolved around our coach. You'd think that the Naval Academy was this place where they're supposed to be forming officers, but where I really got my formation was from my crew coach. He was the most important development figure for me.

Steve Estes:

What was his name?

Steve Clark Hall:

John VanAmering. He was a Yale ROTC grad. He was a surface ship driver, and he was fairly brilliant. He rebelled against authority. He was like screw 'em. I'm doing the right thing because I want my team to do well, and not because of this military stuff. That played out in my whole career later on. I know what the rules are, but this isn't the best thing for my team, so I'm going to do it my way. It all really goes back to my days with Coach VanAmering.

Steve Estes:

Was that esprit de corps on the team, did you try to model that also?

Steve Clark Hall:

Yes, Yes.

Steve Estes:

What were some of his strategies to get you guys together as a team?

Steve Clark Hall:

He was just basically good at being a coach, a typical good coach. He was on our cases all the time and you know: "Pull harder. Do this better." Never a bad thing came out of his mouth. So accenting the positives, and doing everything that he could to make sure that we did well. That's the kind of thing I really admired in him.

Steve Estes:

When you first got out of the Naval Academy and got your commission, where were you first stationed?

Steve Clark Hall:

Other than a summer job teaching sailing at the Naval Academy, I went right into the Nuclear Power training pipeline. So I did sixth months of classroom training over in Vallejo. Then I went to the Idaho desert for six months where they have a bunch of prototype reactors built in the middle of the desert. Then after that I reported at my first ship in Hawaii.

Steve Estes:

What was your first ship?

Steve Clark Hall:

The USS Haddock.

Steve Estes:

And your job on that ship?

Steve Clark Hall:

Well, I had various jobs. We were there for three and a half years. They had just recently replaced the Captain, the executive officer, and were in the process of replacing the engineer, because the ship had been broken, tied to the pier. It had horrible crew morale problems, and it just couldn't get under way. They replaced the top management, and all of the junior officers were hand picked. So I get to the ship, and here's all these really sharp junior officers. I was like "Wow!" This was a really good environment. It's kind of like going to a special school for gifted kids. Everybody feeds off everybody else, and you all do well.

Steve Estes:

What were the morale problems? Was this still residual stuff from Vietnam?

Steve Clark Hall:

A lot of the enlisted guys were from the Vietnam era. The bad leadership causes problems in that people don't get motivated to do their job and things slide. In preservation of a ship, things roll down hill rather quickly. That's why they brought in a captain who was known as being the best captain of the fleet. Within three years, we were the top ranked boat in the Pacific, based on one of our exams. No other boat did as well as us within three years. So my period on that ship to be clear, was that only spent two months underway in Hawaii, and then we went to Vallejo and refueled it with a new reactor. Rebuilt the ship again, basically an all-new boat, an all-new crew, and it did well again.

Steve Estes:

What made you go into submarining right after that?

Steve Clark Hall:

That was a submarine!

Steve Estes:

Oh, that was a submarine.

Steve Clark Hall:

I don't have a picture of Haddock here.

Steve Estes:

Let's back up a little bit. First of all, why did you decide to become a submariner instead of a surface ship person?

Steve Clark Hall:

Well, it was really kind of two reasons. We talked about my first summer cruise. It was on amphibious transport dock. The second summer we spent one week as a Marine, one week as a surface ship guy, one week as a submariner, one week as a fly guy. So we went down to fly planes in Pensacola. The next summer we got to choose. I thought, "Well, the submarine thing seemed to be a little interesting." Sol chose to go out on a submarine, the USS Pintato. The thing I noticed there was that the enlisted guys on the submarine were a totally different group of people than the enlisted guys on that first surface ship.

Steve Estes:

How so?

Steve Clark Hall:

They were pretty smart kids. Basically, and I've learned this later. The majority of them would have gone to college if they had had the resources to go. Basically, when a guy walks into a recruiter and he's really smart, they just grab 'em up, and do one of two things with them. Either they make them a linguist or they send them to submarine force. So you're dealing with a totally different category of person. You could see, even at my level as a midshipman. These guys aren't going to be a disciplinary problem. They're going to be really easy to work for. They're good guys, and I'd much rather work with these guys than work with others. That kind of made up my mind. Plus, you also knew that submarine officers ran the Navy.

Steve Estes:

This is a completely unbiased perspective?

Steve Clark Hall:

It's pretty much an unbiased perspective. As a typical example, I have seven classmates of mine who were submariners who are all Admirals right now. One of them just got his fourth star. The percentage of the officers that are the submarine corps, the submariners tend to run the Navy.

Steve Estes:

I think I had this on here. What's an average day like on a submarine or an average trip out from port? You're isolated and in a small area for a long period of time.

Steve Clark Hall:

Your average day, well it depends. Your enlisted guys, if you have enough people to cover all of your watch stations, then that's basically about it. So for an enlisted person, he's going to be on watch for six hours, off for twelve, on for six, off for twelve, on an eighteen-hour rotation. Officers were generally on a twenty-four hour rotation. You'd stand watch from 6 pm until midnight. Then you'd go to bed, get up in the morning. You'd have training to attend to-somewhere between 2-5 hours of training every week with your people. You'd have maintenance. You'd have to do your own qualifications, because you're always studying for the next level that you're going to go to. Between that and any kind of mission stuff, you're just very busy from the time you get underway until the time you get into port.

Steve Estes:

You said that you get up in the morning, but is there a sense of "morning"?

Steve Clark Hall:

Well, it depends, if you're the guy on the mid-watch that goes from midnight until 6 am, you probably went to bed at 6 am, and you don't get up until noon. But you had a sense of day and night, because the people in the control room had to be light adapted. We'd go to dark lights in the front of the ship during hours of darkness outside, so you could kind of keep track of when things were light outside and when they were not.

Steve Estes:

In reference to missions, I was wondering if you remember any particular missions that were dangerous or interesting for you?

Steve Clark Hall:

Well, I definitely remember them, but talking about them is a different matter.

Steve Estes:

Oh, you can't talk about them?

Steve Clark Hall:

They're basically classified. I could tell you about missions when I worked out of Cape Canaveral, Florida taking midshipmen on cruises, but other than that...

Steve Estes:

Can you speak in general about what a Cold War submariner mission would do, if not a specific mission.

Steve Clark Hall:

We'd get underway for the purposes of training and come back about two months later, and that's all we can talk about. [He laughs.]

Steve Estes:

[Laughing] Here's where the media training is coming into play. Ok. That's very interesting. So what's the statute of limitations on the Top Secret or Secret nature of the missions.

Steve Clark Hall:

You mean the classification stamp on the mission. It's OADR, which means that whoever classified it decides when it's unclassified, but it's basically not talked about.

Steve Estes:

So you'd get your mission. You'd get your orders. They'd say classified. Then you'd tell your crew, and do your time out?

Steve Clark Hall:

Generally, we were always training to do our job. So what you did was generally more or less a matter of routine. It was where you went that was the variable. Yeah, you got it kind of right.

Steve Estes:

So what about rising through the ranks? How did that happen? Was it just a matter of course?

Steve Clark Hall:

Well, everybody's always preparing to go to the next highest level. So when you're a junior officer on a ship, they're supposed to be training you to be the engineer. When you're the engineer, in addition to you training everybody below you, they're training you to become executive officer. When you're executive officer, you're training everyone else to do your job at the same time that you're aspiring to become the next one up. You're constantly working to make sure that everybody below you can take over your job and that you can take over the next guy's job. It's very structured and a matter of routine.

Steve Estes:

But clearly, not everybody becomes commander of a submarine.

Steve Clark Hall:

No, there's wickets, so that by the time that you're done with your first tour, you have to go back to Washington, DC to take a big engineering exam, to make sure that you can really be engineer of a submarine, and only maybe 50 percent of the people pass that. The rest of the people are therefore weeded out.

Steve Estes:

When you say "weeded out" do you mean they leave the Navy at that point?

Steve Clark Hall:

Well, basically, they're careers are done in. But every place in the Navy, they're all feeding up from wardrooms with tens of junior officers feeding up to one guy at the top. So there's a weeding out process. There's also a little bit of competition, because people get ranked among they're peers, and when it comes time for the promotion board, if you're the top guy among your peers, you're going to get promoted whereas the guys at the bottom are not going to get promoted. That basically weeds you out also.

Steve Estes:

Did that competition breed tension?

Steve Clark Hall:

For some people it did. I never felt like I was in competition. This all goes back to my coach days. I just wanted my team to do well. I never really felt like I was competing with my peers. It also feeds into my first captain, who was pretty brilliant and was another big influence on me.

Steve Estes:

Talk about him a little bit.

Steve Clark Hall:

Among the other captains I had observed and the other captains I knew about, he seemed to be more concerned, as my coach was, with his crew. I didn't see any apparent competition of him amongst other captains. I did not see, and so what I'm saying is, if he did it, he covered it. I did not see him trying to look good in front of the commodore, so we felt that his priorities were our careers and not his career. He also left the Navy at the end of his time as captain, and I also pieced together that that's why he was concerned about us, because he knew that he was not going to be staying around.

Steve Estes:

Do you know why he left?

Steve Clark Hall:

I think he-I don't know the exact reason why he left. I would only be guessing.

Steve Estes:

So how would you describe your style of command?

Steve Clark Hall:

Well, I kind of say that I took from those two role models. I was going to get out at the five-year mark and become an architect, but they kept throwing good jobs at me and I kept staying in. I really at the point leading up to the twenty-year mark, I really wasn't planning on staying around, so I had the attitude of "I'm going to do what I want to do for my team, because I don't really care what the Commodore thinks or what the Admiral thinks about me. And I will speak my mind, and I will tell the Commodore what I think and not what I think he wants to hear." I kind of took that attitude throughout my career, and it turns out that it always paid off.

Steve Estes:

Can you give me an example of that?

Steve Clark Hall:

Well, when I was on the aircraft carrier over here in Alameda, I had no qualms about telling the Admiral what I thought was going on. There were times when I marched into the Admiral's office and said, "Hey, this is unsatisfactory, what's going on. Captain Jones down there is going to do this, he's going to screw all of this stuff up, and we've worked too hard." He'd come up to me and say, "Let's go down to see Jones." It turns out that the bosses like being told the truth. They don't want to hear what you think they want to hear. They want to hear reality. A humorous example is that when I was captain of the ship, I always biked to work. I was taking my bike on the pier, and some sentry said, "Sir, you can't take your bike on the pier." And I said, "Why not?" He said, "Sir, the Commodore has forbidden bikes on the pier." I said, "Well, I'll take it up with the Commodore during the Officers' Call this morning. So I biked down the pier anyway, and I thought, "If he shoots me, it'll be his problem." [He laughs.] So we have the Commodore's meeting that morning and we get the briefing on who's doing what, what's broken that needs to be fixed, and then he goes, "Do you guys have any questions?" I raised my hand and I said, "Yes, sir! I'd like to know how come you're forbidding bicycles on the pier?" He was like, "Who said that?" And I said, "The sentry said that you were forbidding bikes on the pier. I want to know how come I can't ride my bike down to the ship." He was like, "Where'd that come from?" Next thing you knew, there were bike racks in front of every one of the piers so that everyone could have their bikes parked right at the ships. But that was the kind of thing that the bosses liked. You know, I thought, "I'm unhappy about this, and I don't care if he doesn't like my objections." And it turns out that 99 percent of the time, the truth was the best thing.

Steve Estes:

Did that ever come back to bite you, being so outspoken?

Steve Clark Hall:

Not really. Because the things I was complaining about were for the betterment of the quality of life for everybody, and nobody really objected to bettering the quality of life. I had breakfast with the Chief of Naval Operations once, and I pulled one of those things, and my peers were just shocked that I was telling this to the CNO, and of course, the next day the CNO was implementing a new policy based on what I had said, but it was skewed. It was something about future jobs for submariners, because once we're captain of a hip, there's no place to go compared to aviators that get to be captains of all these oilers and things. Why don't we get to compete with everybody else, since we're just as good-not just as good, but better than the rest of these officers [laughs], but we don't get to have these oiler jobs. Next thing you know, they are starting to put more surface guys-the Chief of Naval Operations was a surface guy. They're trying to open up more of these jobs to surface guys. He got my point, but not my point.

Steve Estes:

I'm imagining that when you command a ship or a sub, you kind of become attached to the vessel. Did you feel that way about the USS Greenling!

Steve Clark Hall:

Totally.

Steve Estes:

You're ship was the Greenling. I don't think we've said that on the tape.

Steve Clark Hall:

Well, there's several things. Greenling was this class formerly known as the Thresher class, then known as the Permit class. The Haddock was of this class. The ship that I was executive officer on was of this class. Then, when they made me captain of the Greenling, this was a ship that I knew every pipe and valve and switch. My whole career had been learning these things. I knew what could happen and what could go wrong. I show up as captain, and most of the other captains had never been on these things before and many of the enlisted people had never seen these things before. So it was kind of an unusual thing that would happen when I first showed up. Someone would tell me that something was broken, and here's what they're doing to fix it, and I'd think, "That's not the right answer." But they don't know that I'd know the right answer, because why would the captain know this little integral piece of minutia about the ship. But I did. It wasn't long before the crew knew that I knew this type of boat, unlike other people. What was the question?

Steve Estes:

I guess I was asking about your relationship to the Greenling.

Steve Clark Hall:

Your relationship to the boat is one thing, but your relationship is really-what really brings the boat to life? It's really your crew. I definitely did things that-this is again something that I didn't know until I was captain. On your way to becoming captain, you're told, "You can do with your boat whatever you want to do." It's like, "What?!" "Yes, if you want to go somewhere, just go ask the Commodore." It's like, "Has it always been this way? How come my former captains never got to do this?" "Well, they were afraid to take the ship into a new place, because if anything goes wrong, their career's over." Well, it's like I'm not going to have anything go wrong to start with. My guys are really well-trained, and I want to go see the world, which I hadn't gotten to do on other submarines, because we'd just go to ports that we were familiar with. So I was like, "Hey, can I go to Bermuda?" And the Commodore was like, "Sure." So we'd go to Bermuda for Memorial Day Weekend. The crew started to appreciate these things that you'd do for them, just making sure that the quality of life, looking out for the sailors was important. Because they're quality of life is good, they feed it back and their performance goes up. Things stayed fixed better, and everybody's more happy. Basically, my objective was to have riders on the ship think that my whole crew was on drugs, because they were so happy when it was just basically the fact that it was a good boat. But yes, apparent to me until I got to my first boat that out of the college setting environment, hanging out with a bunch of my peers in the real world, you know, I'm not like these guys. So that's when it became apparent that all of these things that I was hearing behind my back and times before that maybe there was some truth to that. Everybody else figured it out before I did. So I just kind of thought, "I'll pretend it doesn't happen and keep working hard and doing my job." So I guess what you could say was that a lot of it resulted in me working harder on the boat, spending more time on the boat to have an excuse of why I wasn't out doing what everybody else was doing.

Steve Estes:

Now, at the Naval Academy, and I'm going to fall back on my knowledge of the Citadel, at the Citadel there's a lot of open homophobia in the hazing process. Is there that kind of yelling and creating of the corps...?

Steve Clark Hall:

I wouldn't say that there was a lot of it. I didn't see a lot of it. Every so often, you'd hear something, but there just wasn't a lot of it. In the hazing process, I never really heard too much hazing being about putting down other people, even in the early '70s. I even was aware of very little. I mean, you'd hear someone yell, "Faggot this, faggot that." That's not that different than it is today inn the regular old outside world.

Steve Estes:

I can speculate and you can comment on this. It may be both geography, where the Citadel is located in the South.

Steve Clark Hall:

Maryland is the South.

Steve Estes:

That's true, but Annapolis is a special place. Like you said, it brings people form all over the country. And it's not just people, it's some of the smartest and most driven people. Not to put the Citadel down, but I don't think it has that caliber of folks.

Steve Clark Hall:

And they tend to be more geographically from the South.

Steve Estes:

It might be that. That could be part of it. So there had been whispers behind your back. [Audio tape ends.] Let's flip that over. This tape recorder is crap, but it does the job. When people look at this later on, I hope they use the video tape. Audio tapes are going the way of the dodo bird. So we talked about sexuality and the service, Annapolis, your first boat, and working hard to avoid the: "Why aren't you going out on dates? Why aren't you going to the bars?" Etc. Etc. Does that continue throughout your time in the service or do you come to terms with that separation?

Steve Clark Hall:

Off and on it does. My next job, after my first boat, I went to be chief engineer of a Trident submarine, and you have to go through a six-month school on route. It's in New London, Connecticut, and there's a three-hour train ride to New York City. So on Friday afternoons, after class, I'd hop on the Amtrack at 8:30 on a Friday night, arriving at Penn Station at 11:00. I'd go out and see what was in town. I became very aware of what was going on, and I'd spend every second or third weekend down in New York City, Friday and Saturday nights. I had this other life that developed all of a sudden, and when I'd get to work, I'd leave it behind me.

Steve Estes:

Were there questions asked by other folks that you served with?

Steve Clark Hall:

This was a place where people really didn't talk. You don't have that close environment that you have when you're on a submarine. When I was on shore duty and in new construction, people kind of stuck to themselves. I didn't feel that there were a lot of questions being asked. I could do this and remain pretty anonymous about it.

Steve Estes:

Did you see other sailors or officers who were gay, or did you know of other sailors or officers who were gay?

Steve Clark Hall:

I knew of some, only because they'd come out or somebody would tell me about them. It's like, I had one enlisted guy when I was actually on the ship we were building as the engineer, we had one enlisted guy who was fairly out of the closet and the whole department knew about him It wasn't an issue until he decided that he didn't want to be on the ship anymore, and he pulled the gay card out. We had to get rid of him.

Steve Estes:

So as long as he hadn't made it an issue, it was understood but unsaid.

Steve Clark Hall:

Well, in this era, it was understood and said.

Steve Estes:

What era was this?

Steve Clark Hall:

This was 1982. I'll give you an example. It was 160 people in a combined blue-gold engineering department. I was up there talking and we had a few minutes before class, so I was talking about when we get to Seattle, here are all of these things to do. And of course, this guy raises his hand and says, [high pitched voice] "Where are the bars that I would be going to?" I said, "Well, the bars for you are on Capital Hill." So you look at this bar, this bar, and this bar. And of course, I knew the names of the bars. So not only was he totally out. I was pretty open to my department in the early '80s.

Steve Estes:

Did that change over time?

Steve Clark Hall:

Yeah, as I got more senior, my third job was being on the flag staff over here in Alameda. I bought this house in San Francisco in the middle of the Castro. Everybody on the staff knew it. At this point, I wasn't planning on staying in the Navy. I was going to be an architect. But I had this great job working for the Admiral. I was really enjoying it, and this is another case where I knew that there were twelve officers I was going to be ranked with. I was the submariner, sol was going to be the bottom ranked guy. Sol just did my own thing. And it turns out the Admiral loved it. I was always the top ranked guy. And it didn't trash my career like I thought it was going to. And going to a fun job like that. I didn't hide anything on that staff. I had a staff party here with other officers in my house in the middle of the Castro. There were a lot of jokes about stuff and where I lived. But I didn't really have to take my career and put it in the closet until I went to be Executive Officer of the Permit down in San Diego, where I felt that it was not cool to be gay anymore. I hid everything again, and had no gay friends. Didn't do any gay things. I basically just worked hard, but unfortunately, I had to work hard, because I had to make up for a lack of people on critical positions on the ship where I had to fill in. I had to do other jobs.

Steve Estes:

Was that hard for you to leave all of that behind. I mean, you'd come here and had this pretty great life and then had to move to San Diego.

Steve Clark Hall:

I have to say that I was working so hard down in San Diego, that if I had had a gay life there I might have found it frustrating that I would have been working so hard that I wouldn't have been able to experience it. I wouldn't go out in my own town. If I would have gone out, I would have had to drive to LA, and I didn't have time to do that. It was too hard.

Steve Estes:

Were you aware of the-I don't know if celebrity is the right word-but the more famous cases of people challenging the ban. Copy Berg, etc.

Steve Clark Hall:

Well, Copy Berg was a friend of mine, and I have a book here somewhere that he borrowed. His senior year, he took History of Sea Power, borrowed my book and filled it full of art and poems, so it's like, I'm hanging onto this. But I was very aware of the Vernon E. Berg case, which happened just after I graduated. I read Copy's book, and I learned a lot from Copy's experience. I also had a guy who was sharing-in the old officer's quarters for bachelors on bases, you had two rooms that shared one bathroom I noticed that the guy who was sharing my bathroom didn't get underway when his ship left town, and I asked him what happened. He said that he had gotten caught. So I heard his story. The way that he had gotten caught, was that he played with the help. Don't play with the help, and you'll be ok.

Steve Estes:

You were saying that when your superior officers brought you in or called you in, there was always that moment of uncertainty. Could you talk about that?

Steve Clark Hall:

That happened, I would say that was with me from probably my first boat, but more and more towards the end. Every time I got a call saying: "The Commodore wants to see you" or "Your captain wants to see you," it would go through my head: "Oh no, somebody has seen me out some place and has turned me in." Often, that's not at all what it's about, but all the way through my last day in the Navy, it was like "Buzz. The Commodore wants to see you." Oh, no. Somebody saw me some place and they turned me in for being gay. But it was always, "Oh, hey, we got the approvals for you to go to Bermuda." And it was like, "Whew, good. Thank you. So it was always a relief to find out that that's not what I was getting called in for.

Steve Estes:

So let's use that as a jumping off point to talk about, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." It was implemented right at the end of your career.

Steve Clark Hall:

While I was Captain of the Greenling.

Steve Estes:

So what did you think of it first of all?

Steve Clark Hall:

Well, it caught me by surprise. I took over as Captain of the Greenling two weeks after Clinton won the election, and I was getting ready for gays in the military. So I started from day one on my ship, preaching, "It's ok to be different. Not everybody's the same. Don't be afraid of things that aren't like you." I had two black officers in my wardroom of officers. I could disguise this as being about being a minority when in reality it was about being gay. I was sensing that my crew didn't seem to object to what I was saying. They seemed to be soaking it in. I never felt any kind of strange feelings from my crew. I have sense been told that my entire crew knew I was gay. I don't know when they found out or how they found out. I guess that'd be good to know, but I didn't sense a problem with that with my crew. So along comes "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" after these horrible hearings that went on in the summer of '93, and they come up with this policy of ""Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which was cut short from "Don't Pursue, Don't Flaunt." And it's like, this was a step backwards, I felt. I was basically coming out to my crew at the time I took over as captain, letting them know that it's ok to be different. Don't be afraid of me because I happen to be gay. I'm not going to be trying to get into your pants. You're not my type, which is something a lot of people don't seem to understand. Then this policy comes out, and this isn't making it easier; this is making it more difficult for me, because I already didn't flaunt too much. I didn't want people telling me, "Hey, I'm straight." It's like why do I care. I don't care if you're gay either. Just do your job. I didn't have the problem on my ship where they were pulling the gay card to get off the boat. You do that when you hate where you are. But you could see that coming. It's going to be abused more than used. A lot of this also comes from the feedback I got-the thing that we needed before we have gays in the military, we had women in the military. There are some people who don't like women in the military. It became very apparent to me that young people have a very different attitude than older people, especially when I started doing midshipmen cruises, taking out a group of male midshipmen for an over night. When I did the women midshipmen, I had to take them out from the morning to the evening. So when I'd take out the women, they were only allowed on the cruise for informational purposes, since they weren't allowed to serve on submarines. The questions that I kept getting asked as a Captain was: "Why does the submarine force have this policy?" It's like, "Well, it's because some people don't want women on submarines." That was all I could really say. They'd say, "We don't see a big deal with this. We go out on a cruise-four guys, four women on a sailboat. There's only one restroom. We all sleep in the same area. There's not a problem with this. Why is it a problem with the senior people?" It was like, "Yes, that's where the problem is." It was the same thing with gays. The officers who were significantly senior to me were the ones brought up to think of homosexuality as this deviant behavior that causes loss of morale. Young kids these days grow up with kids who are gay. They know that they're real people. They know that they're not "deviant" people who have always been portrayed as being bad for morale, etc. In fact, I think it's quite the opposite. And the younger troops didn't have a problem with the gay thing. That's another issue of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Because when I was a young junior officer and you got kicked out for being gay, you got a dishonorable discharge, you were thrown out with shame. Now, who cares if you get kicked out for being gay? It's kind of hip to be gay in some people's eyes. Well, he got kicked out for being gay. So what? There's no stigma to it. The military is really hurting itself. When you spend several hundred thousand dollars training people to fill a job on the submarine. Not only that, it takes a year and a half to get him to the position where he can fill that billet. When you lose him because he's gay and you have three guys who were on a watch rotation of six hours on twelve hours off, now, you're missing a person so they're on six off six, on six off six. And it takes months to get a replacement. Talk about something that's bad for morale. That kills morale to lose one of your team members because they happen to be gay.

Steve Estes:

With the women comparison, you felt like you couldn't say, "I think this policy is a bunch of horse shit. I think you should be able to serve."

Steve Clark Hall:

I said that. I just didn't use those words.

Steve Estes:

Well, one of the arguments in fact during that summer of the hearings, what they did-what Senator SamNunn did, was that he went to a submarine, because a submarine is the nightmare, right?

Steve Clark Hall:

Right, down in Norfolk. And I was so disappointed that Sam Nunn didn't come to my boat. Unfortunately, I was up in New London, but had Sam Nunn come to my boat, I was a little bit more compact. He was on a 688.1 can't remember which boat it was. With the TV cameras running, I would have said, "Senator, it's not a problem About ten percent of my crew is gay, sir, and it's not a problem down here."

Steve Estes:

Could you have said that?

Steve Clark Hall:

I would have said it. I think that the three star at the head of the Atlantic fleet at the time knew I was gay based on a few private conversations that I had with him where we didn't bring up the topic, but he just made some snotty remarks to me. I don't think they would have brought SamNunn down to my boat.

Steve Estes:

Well, it was clear that they had had media training. It was planned, right. But how do you address this privacy issue that people who oppose lifting the ban raise? You talked about the women who already serve in that way.

Steve Clark Hall:

Well, how do you deal with the privacy issue at the gym? I don't get the difference. On a submarine, let's talk about women on subs. Yeah, probably not a good idea to have berthing spaces where people are getting dressed. You don't want to have same sex locker rooms like some same-sex dorms in the seventies. But like the restrooms on the submarines, give me a break. There's only one officer's head on a submarine, and if you want to make a women's restroom, you flip the sign outside so that it says women over it. How is that so difficult? Only one person can fit in at a time. So to hear that, "We have to spend millions or billions of dollars configuring a head to handle both men and women." So I think that there's been some progress there in the last few years. A lot of it was just justifications of trying to keep women out. It'll be the same thing with trying to keep gays out. But the problem is that the gays have always been there, and it's not a problem or it shouldn't be a problem.

Steve Estes:

Let's talk about after you get out. What have you done since leaving?

Steve Clark Hall:

Well, since I retired, I basically got a state general contractors license. I always wanted to be an architect, but by the time you're 41, it's too late to go to school and get your degree in architecture and get 8000 hours of working for someone before you can be a licensed architect. So I got a contractor's license, and can basically do the same type of work for single or two family houses. So I guess you could call me a developer or a designer type guy. I can't tall myself an engineer, because I don't have a PE in the state of California. I do that kind of stuff. It keeps me busy. I thrive on it. I have more work than I can do before I die.

Steve Estes:

Is it only on your own houses.

Steve Clark Hall:

Yes, and of course, I get involved with the community in city planning issues. I haven't turned into a big gay activist. The days of those are-basically to be honest, I'm not the right guy to be doing that.

Steve Estes:

But you are involved in veterans groups. Is that correct?

Steve Clark Hall:

That's basically just trying to break ice. One of the ones I'm involved with is a gay alumni association. It's a group of gay grads who are trying to nudge up our recognition, the fact that we were there and we want our own group. And of course the alumni association on our first try didn't know how to deal with it. We're talking about a group of people who cannot say, "homosexual." We're talking about people who cannot recognize that there are homosexuals in the Navy. The name of the chapter was the "Out" chapter. They all can use the word "out." So they can say, "Let's talk about the 'out' chapter." But not the homosexual chapter. They can't say the word. They can't get it out of them that there are homosexuals in the military or homosexual graduates at the Naval Academy. Getting the feedback from some of the people who attended the Board of Trustees meeting a year ago back in November or December, it was hilarious. The fact that it was called the "Out" chapter allowed them to talk about it amongst themselves to figure out what they were going to do, and how they were going to deal with this issue. But if it had been called a homosexual chapter, they wouldn't be able to talk about it because they can't say the word homosexual.

Steve Estes:

How old are these trustees?

Steve Clark Hall:

Some of them are quite old. They are typically fifty and up a group that still feels homosexuality is a deviant behavior.

Steve Estes:

What's the relationship between gay veterans and the rest of the gay community? Well people like you. How do folks react, activists, club kids, whatever?

Steve Clark Hall:

Well, you have all kinds of veterans. Veterans are the same cut of Americans as everybody else. How do gay veterans interact with whom?

Steve Estes:

With their own community.

Steve Clark Hall:

Well, I basically know officers and Academy alumni. That's where my social links have been. I think that for the most part, we blend in totally. You wouldn't know somebody had a former military background unless they said, "Hey, I went to the academy too." I don't see there being a big difference on the outside. A lot of gay veterans do quite well, because they had pretty structured time in college and after they got out of college. It really kind of set them up in life to be an achiever. Most of the people I do know are doing quite well.

Steve Estes:

I think that the reason that I asked this is that I'm used to interviewing a lot of Vietnam vets, and when they came back from Vietnam there was this tension between people in the peace movement and gay liberation and them And they were seen as the "other."

Steve Clark Hall:

For both sides, they were seen as being "the other." By either group.

Steve Estes:

Maybe that was something that was gone by the time you got out.

Steve Clark Hall:

I think now-of course, my view of the world living here in San Francisco is quite skewed. It's very skewed. I don't know where reality is, living here. Because here, there's no problem being gay. People don't care. It's not an issue.

Steve Estes:

Maybe if you had retired to San Diego or Norfolk?

Steve Clark Hall:

I think even in those places there isn't really an issue. This is 2004. You have to retire to some place like Idaho or Bend, Oregon to sense anything. And then, of course, maybe it would be a good thing to be there, because the people who are there would then see someone who had this image who happens to be gay, and not the other way around. It'd probably be good for gay veterans to retire in places where people don't have the right perspective of what gays are really like.

Steve Estes:

You don't have to live your retirement as a mission.

Steve Clark Hall:

You're right. You're right. It's not a mission. I don't think that I would ever have any concerns living any place. I think that I have enough confidence in who I am that if I wanted to get a ranch in Idaho, I could move to Idaho.

Steve Estes:

So the question that I always ask in summation is just if you could sum up how you think the military and the Naval Academy affected your life, what would you say?

Steve Clark Hall:

I'd have to say that it maybe was my life, and I'm still very deeply entrenched in it. Even though it's been almost nine years since I retired. From the time I was 17, my whole youth was basically spent in the Navy. I'd have to say that all of my success and personality all revolves around my experience in the Navy. I can say that for everybody I know too. Annapolis is not like any other college. And your first four years after Annapolis are not like any other job, maybe with the exception of a residency after medical school. It's very intense and all forming you as a person, a manager, a people-skill guy. I'll go to my grave, being very much entrenched in the Navy. I still look out for it. I respect it. And I'm still tiying to form new relationships with other people of the same background.

Steve Estes:

Is there anything that I didn't ask you that you want to talk about?

Steve Clark Hall:

You were going to ask me if I had ever been discriminated against.

Steve Estes:

Oh yeah, I kind of asked you if other people had, actually, but I didn't ask you if you had.

Steve Clark Hall:

Well, I thought that was coming. I think that almost all of my bosses knew. I had one boss, this was when I was executive officer of a submarine down in San Diego. I had one boss who was a poor performer on his own. Unfortunately, he was an alcoholic, and this is why I ended up having to spend two times as much time on the ship. I was kind of making up for him not being around. I was missing half of my staff the whole time the whole time and he didn't do anything to get them for me. But he I think I'm only perceiving this, but I think he was trying to blame some of the failures of the ship on my homosexuality. His immediate superior would ride our ship quite frequently and would start making these homophobic comments to me over dinner in front of all the other officers and directed directly at me, which everybody else knew what was going on. I basically got fired from that job. They fired the captain, and I was out the door three weeks later. I totally recovered from that within a year. Not many people get fired from executive officer and go on to a command.

Steve Estes:

How did that happen?

Steve Clark Hall:

That happened because the other people I had worked for knew me. They knew who I was. I had a pretty good reputation. When I got fired it was kind of like, "Woah! Steve got fired? How did this happen?" They basically all went in and went to bat for me and undid all of the damage that had been done. And I got right back on track. But this one captain. I don't even think I want to say it on tape. I'd get up and leave the movie and he'd say, "What's the matter, not enough dick in this movie for you, XO?" Basically, this went on day in day out. Any opportunity he had to throw a jab at me: "Hey, you going to go on leave to see your boyfriends up in San Francisco, huh?" It was pretty demeaning, and it was blatant sexual harassment, but of course, I can't turn him in for sexually harassing me. That would have trashed my career too. It was a bad experience, and unfortunately, there were two years of that. And of course, I got through that. And I had one other little run in with a rider who rode my ship from the Western Pacific back to San Diego on Drum, and he made a few homophobic comments directed kind of out in general, but everybody knew that they were directed at me, and they didn't go over too well.

Steve Estes:

With your crew?

Steve Clark Hall:

With other officers in the room. They'd both basically-we'd have a movie every day after dinner. I'd say, "Who wants to pick the movie?" And I'd be, "I want to see Philadelphia" And this guy goes, "I don't want to see a faggot flick." And just walked out. Of course, when somebody says something like that, and everybody knows that the captain is gay, talk about something that doesn't help morale. That didn't help. It really put a damper on people when things like that come out. Those are the only two incidents I really had to deal with. One was a two year one and the other was two weeks long.

Steve Estes:

Well, two years is more than an incident. It's a series of basically hellish harassment like you said. Well, I usually ask if there's other people I should interview, but you've already told me that you've got a lot of folks I should talk to, so I think I'll say, thank you.

Steve Clark Hall:

Ok, you're welcome.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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