Gary Slaughter - Author of Sea Stories
USS Cony

Naval Historical Foundation Review
Sea Stories: A Memoir of a Naval Officer (1956-1967)

Reviewed by Charles Bogart, December 2016

Gary Slaughter has crafted a fascinating book about his service in the U.S. Navy. The narrative starts with his life as a small town boy seeking greater opportunity than his surrounding area offers. His method of choice to escape his small town is to join the Navy. A scholarship to the NROTC program at the University of Michigan opens a new world to the author. The Navy was then his career choice until circumstances beyond his control led him to resign his commission. His seven years as a commissioned officer saw much of his Navy career revolve around the activities of Task Force Alpha, which was a U.S. Navy anti-submarine task force built around the carrier USS Valley Forge (CVS 45). The author's two midshipman cruises were on board Valley Forge while his two sea duty tours were on USS Cony (DDE 508) and USS Blandy (DD 943).

Slaughter provides us with 60 short stories which chronologically tell of his progression from civilian to the naval officer and from bachelorhood to marriage. The stories revolve around Navy social life, Navy home life, attending Navy schools, and life on board Navy ships. All of these stories make a fascinating telling of the Navy culture that existed in the 1960s. I doubt that the manner in which the author was qualified for OOD would happen in today's Navy. His tale of the $5 for $7 loan racket operator and the ship’s command buy into it, reads just like the $5 for $7 loan operation on my ship.

The two stories that were most interesting to the reviewer were the Slaughter's involvement in the surfacing of the Soviet Foxtrot Submarine B-59 while onboard Cony during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the boiler room explosion onboard Blandy. Both stories call for greater detail than that provided by the author in his account. In particular, the boiler room explosion is far too short in detail as this boiler room explosion would lead to the author's resignation from the Navy. The author faults the Navy's Personnel Department for failing to supply Blandy with qualified boiler room watchstanders, while the CNO expected Blandy to operate as if she had a qualified boiler room watch. The author notes with satisfaction and sadness that after the explosion, the Navy was able to deploy to Blandy the two qualified boiler room watchstanders he had been seeking without success during the previous six months.

After leaving the Navy, Slaughter went on to have a very successful career in management, working first for Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock and then AT&T, before founding his management company. The book is a great look back upon the Navy in the 1960s, if only more surface officers would write of their Navy careers.



Nashville Lifestyles Review
Sea Stories: A Memoir of a Naval Officer

Reviewed by Kate Parrish, November 2016

In Gary Slaughter's nonfiction debut, the Nashville-based author chronicles his 11 years of service in the United States Navy during the height of the Cold War. Originally from Owosso, Michigan, Slaughter joined the Navy in 1957. That decision would eventually land him aboard the USS Cony and in the center of the Cuban Missile Crisis in l962. In Sea Stories, Slaughter shares both the serious and lighthearted sides of life in the military during a critical time in U.S history.



In Homeland Security Review
Sea Stories: A Memoir of a Naval Officer

Reviewed by J. Thompson, October 2016

Did this US Navy Ensign Prevent World War III?

At the critical flashpoint of the Cuban Missile Crisis when President John F. Kennedy and Soviet President Nikita Khrushchev were deadlocked in a geopolitical military stare down with ominous consequences—all out global nuclear destruction—young U.S. Navy Ensign Gary Slaughter manned the bridge of the USS Cony. With tensions mounting, he confronted a senior adversary, the grizzled Russian Captain Vitali Savitsky whose Soviet Foxtrot-class B-59 submarine was forced to the surface by dummy depth charges dropped by the U.S. Navy, but which Savitsky thought were live.

The date was October 27, 1963, designated by Kennedy's White House as "Black Saturday," when two mistrusting superpowers teetered closest to the edge of World War III. And while the world held a collective breath as to which nation's leader would blink first, Captain Savitsky didn’t flinch. Neither did Ensign Slaughter.

Convinced war may already be underway, Savitsky had already armed a 15 kiloton nuclear torpedo, and was determined to launch, while Slaughter, the USN communications officer, was under orders to interrogate the hard-boiled Russian atop the submarine less than 200 feet away. How does one interrogate a senior-ranking enemy officer on an opposing vessel who speaks Russian while on the high seas? Slaughter could only use the ship’s signal light to transmit Cyrillic, International Signals Book, and Morse Code.

What Slaughter and his shipmates wouldn't know until 40 years later is that they were already in the cross-hairs. With further provocation, whether real or perceived, Savitsky might annihilate them both with a nuclear strike, less than 90 miles south of sovereign American soil, which would precipitate a chain reaction of atomic strike-counterstrike. The fate of human history was at hand, and it was up to Slaughter to communicate via "flashlight" across opposing military cultures, starkly different languages, political worldviews and conflicting missions. He had to ensure absolutely nothing was lost in translation. While this scenario resembles a critical plot ripped from the 1990 Tom Clancy blockbuster film, The Hunt for Red October, Slaughter’s story is 100 percent true, and told in his self-penned book, "Sea Stories: A Memoir of A Naval Office (1956-1967)," published by Fletcher House.

In this riveting, authentic retrospective of Slaughter’s military career, starting with his coming of age as a University of Michigan NROTC midshipman standout—Slaughter shares a refreshingly honest and straightforward account of pivotal life moments and the people that shaped his character. With a genuine tone, free from embellishment, but with an officer’s keen eye for detail and wry sense of humor, Slaughter carries the reader through his journey from mastering firearms with his uncle, to comical bar adventures across the border, to being a confined tourist in Guantanamo Bay ("Gitmo"), and to finding the love of his life, Susan Parker. All brought together through his Navy career.

Slaughter's unique and candid retelling of historical events, including the first time he and fellow personnel learned of JKF's assassination, are intertwined with whimsical accounts of O' Club pranks, and even an awkward session with a church minister lecturing, in painfully funny generalities, about the birds and the bees before Slaughter's wedding day. Combined together, readers are offered a distinctive, forthright tone that spans a wide array of human moments that create Slaughter's unique storytelling. If it’s political opinion or historical reinvention you're looking for, you won't find it here. Rather, you'll relish how efficiently Slaughter distills overwhelming historical events like the Cuban Missile Crisis into humanly tangible scenarios.

Case in point—just after President Kennedy delivered his famous October 22, 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis speech to the nation:
"It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union." — President John. F Kennedy

The following day, Slaughter wrote a personal letter to his fiancée, Susan, chronicled in his memoirs, that states (abridged):
"We are extended at sea indefinitely… there’s no doubt that this situation is for real… The information about my whereabouts is of course ‘For Official Use Only. Handle with Care.’" — "Sea Stories," by Gary Slaughter

Slaughter effectively transforms the global fears and uncertainty of the day, and personalizes them in his poignant and levelheaded letter to Susan, with no assurance they'd ever see each other again. And little did Slaughter know; only a few days later, he'd be squaring off, face-to-face, with Savitsky.

"Keep that Russian Bastard Happy!" Those were Captain Morgan's standing orders upon the USS Cony. Over the next few hours, Ensign Slaughter mustered all his fortitude and training to ensure the Soviet B-59 and its captain complied with U.S. Navy directives while deescalating a volatile situation during a long night when all signs pointed to war. How did he do it? The details are effortlessly described by Slaughter in "Sea Stories," in a rare style that would excite any military history buff and engage a casual reader alike.

In the end, like in all good human profiles, two enemies parted ways with respect, but still steadfast in their mission. The Cuban Missile Crisis wasn’t entirely over, and neither was the long Cold War to come.

"I was sad to see the submarine leave," writes Slaughter, "After all, B-59 was our catch."



Belle Meade Living Review
Sea Stories: A Memoir of a Naval Officer

Reviewed by Emily Grant, October 2016

Being from Nashville, we all have our stories about running into famous people. Whether it’s a country artist or a Hollywood star, we always have our eyes peeled. But would you be able to recognize an American naval officer who had a hand in diffusing the Cuban Missile Crisis? Probably not, but after reading Sea Stories: A Memoir of a Naval Office (1956-1967) you may want to keep an eye out for Gary Slaughter as well.

Gary Slaughter has lived in Belle Meade with his wife, Joanne, for 18 years, but before moving to Nashville, Slaughter served in the U.S. Navy for 11 years from 1956-1967, the timeframe of his latest nonfiction manuscript. Sea Stories is made up of 60 "vignettes" recounting Slaughter’s time in the navy. He chronicles his journey, each chapter describing a new experience or challenge he faced as a naval officer. His most notable story is his account of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The USS Cony was Slaughter’s first ship as a commissioned officer. This particular ship survived two Japanese bombs during World War II and was converted to an Anti-Submarine Warfare destroyer. Slaughter used his training to communicate with Soviet warships using the Cyrillic alphabet transliteration table, International Signals Book and Morse code; he was exceptionally qualified to command this ship during the Cold War. On what is known as Black Saturday, October 27, 1962, Slaughter came face-to-face with Vitali Savitsky, the commanding officer of B-59, a Soviet submarine.

The standoff lasted several hours with tensions high, but Slaughter was able to keep Savitsky happy long enough to prevent him from firing torpedoes at the U.S. ship. He even sent over some bread and cigarettes as a sign of cordiality. It wasn’t until later that Slaughter realized there were nuclear weapons on that submarine, and his actions prevented what would have been the start of nuclear war for the United States.

This part of history was kept secret from the world until Peter Huchthausen’s book, October Fury, was released in 2002. Slaughter’s handling of this dangerous situation was later featured in two documentary films on the 50th anniversary of the incident in 2012. The first was produced by Bedlam Productions, the same studio that produced The King’s Speech. Their account, however, did not accurately depict the Cony’s involvement, so Slaughter interviewed exclusively with BBC for their two-part documentary, The Silent War, offering a more in-depth discussion on the role of submarines during the Cold War.

Slaughter’s memoir offers more stories about his 11 years in the Navy, some humorous, some more somber, but the stories are real and give the readers a first-hand look at the immense amount of hard work and dedication it takes to be a U.S. naval officer. It is clear that Slaughter has used the same dedication in writing these stories that will educate and inspire all who read it.

Sea Stories: A Memoir of a Naval Officer (1956-1967) will be released on September 4. Slaughter celebrated his book release with a launch party and book signing on September 4, at 2 p.m. at Parnassus Books in Green Hills.



Naval Analyses Review
Sea Stories: A Memoir of a Naval Officer

Reviewed by D. Mitch, September 2016

Welcome to my first book review, Gary Slaughter’s Sea Stories - A Memoir of a Naval Officer (1956-1967)

When I got in my hands on the Sea Stories (released on Sep 4, 2016), my first thought was that this book was mainly about the Cuban Missile Crisis and the role of a former US naval officer before and after this dramatic event. But it wasn’t about that. More precisely, it was not only about that. The book was much more entertaining and interesting than I had in my mind based on the brief description on the book, the information available on author’s website or events that were highlighting this true episode. This is just one story emphasized in the book, one of the 60 (!) vignettes comprising the 298-page Sea Stories; motivational, uplifting stories and life lessons. Furthermore, stories that show new insights into everyday life on the Cold War front line and the life of a US Navy officer in the '60s.

But who is Gary Slaughter? Gary Slaughter served for eleven years in the US Navy as a midshipman (officer cadet) and naval officer. Following his distinguishing Navy service, he became an expert on managing corporate information technology. He traveled extensively, lecturing and consulting to clients in the United States and abroad. In 2002, he put his career on hold and began to write the Cottonwood series, five award-winning novels, depicting life in the US during World War II. During his naval career, he served aboard two of the three destroyers that surfaced soviet submarines during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The most significant moment during his naval career was his role in dissuading the Captain of a Soviet Foxtrot class submarine (B-59), from unleashing his T-5 nuclear torpedo which most certainly would have triggered a nuclear war between the Soviet Union and USA and their allies. This incident was the closest that the Soviet Union and the United States ever came to having an exchange of nuclear weapons. However, the event was classified as Top Secret under the terms of an agreement between Premier Khrushchev and President Kennedy that ended the crisis. ? dramatic story that was kept secret until 2002; thanks to the few men whose lips remained sealed for 40 years! The event was finally declassified when his story was revealed in Peter Huchthausen's 2002 book, October Fury. Since then, four documentary filmmakers sought Gary Slaughter's participation in developing a film to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis. He selected Bedlam Productions, whose movie, The King's Speech, won the 2010 Best Picture Academy Award. Fittingly, the Bedlam documentary was entitled The Man Who Saved the World. He was also interviewed and filmed for the BBC documentary, The Silent War.

As the author says in his prologue "becoming a naval officer was the best thing that had ever happened to me". He immediately fell in love with the Navy, a love affair that never ceased. The author worked hard to become the best naval officer he could be. He showed leadership skills, ethos, character, discipline, integrity and responsibility throughout his whole career. And the Navy rewarded him with rich experience, valuable wisdom, strong relationships and character development. Rear Admiral JohnBulkeley, hero and one of the three most highly decorated heroes of World War II, said about the author: "..His military character is beyond reproach and his personal character is outstanding. This officer will be a success anywhere he goes and in most any field of endeavor"! And Gary Slaughter did that with great success when he resigned from the Navy, proving in that way why US Navy is the greatest Navy in the world. Huge investment in training and education is the key to America's naval supremacy. As the author says "By reading this book, readers will learn two important things. First, being an exceptional naval officer is a complex, difficult, and often dangerous business. This is especially true for those who took their jobs seriously and worked diligently. Second, being committed to the Navy is like being committed to your spouse. Even if your relationship falls on hard times and divorce is the result, 50 years later you may still hold warm feelings in your heart toward that former spouse."

I could say that Sea Stories resembles strongly the White-Jacket; or, The World in a Man-of-War, a book by the American famous novelist Herman Melville published in 1850. As Melville’s book is based on the author's 14 months service in the United States Navy, aboard the frigate USS United States, Slaughter's book is based on author’s entire career (11 years) in the US Navy that includes his life aboard destroyers and aircraft carriers of the '60s. The Sea Stories, a book that was written to honor the hundreds of author’s navy friends and shipmates, has.. everything! Midshipmen cruise, hard training, studies, love, difficulties, accidents, significant historical events, dangers at sea, military exercises, friendships, disappointments, struggle, court martial trials, sports, funny stories, shocking incidents and much more! Moreover, in contrast to the aforementioned Melville’s book, in Sea Stories the author provides you with everything you need in order to understand basic naval terms and specific kinds of training or equipment.

Gary Slaughter is indeed an excellent and talented story teller. His writing is smooth, clear and charming. This is definitely a book that I highly recommend ; it is definitely worth reading not only by those with ties to the Navy and history!



War History Online Review
Sea Stories: A Memoir of a Naval Officer

Reviewed by Mark Barnes, August 2016

Time for something a little different with this memoir from Gary Slaughter. In it, he recounts his admission, training, and service as an officer with the United States Navy from the mid-1950s through until 1967. The book is made up of what the author describes as vignettes recounting episodes from his life serving on destroyers during the Cold War.

The book is similar in style to a number of books we have seen during the past year, but this one is helped by Mr. Slaughter's experience as an author by dint of his Cottonwood series of novels. I have to be honest and say I haven't read them, but his book has proven to be entertaining, and I detect a wry sense of humor on the part of Mr. Slaughter as he looks back on pivotal years of his life.

The vignettes take us from college where he encounters a particular piece of low life, who is dealt with most efficiently before things progress too far. We learn about drunken sailors, money-lenders, eating messy sandwiches in cars, flat hunting, Newport life, scary grannies and pugilistic Filipino stewards. All these encounters are given equal billing to an extraordinary event during the Cuban missile crisis when our hero had to face up to an emotional captain of a Soviet submarine armed with nuclear weapons. If the standoff between the Russian submarine and the destroyer USS Cony had turned out differently, it might well have changed history leaving me in serious doubt I would be writing this review. Not just because the author wouldn’t have been alive to write the book! But we learn how common sense prevailed.

This is heady stuff and one of those lost stories of the Cold War well worth knowing. These vignettes add up to a very real story that is neither gung-ho or shallow. The book has comedy, tragedy, and drama in equal measure.

The author was encouraged to finish his Navy career as a result of some pretty small-minded nonsense meted out by an at times heartless and brainless system many people have encountered in the peacetime armed forces. Mr. Slaughter headed off into the shiny new world of information technology where he had a very successful career. I wonder if he was one of the first people to ask someone if they had turned it off and on again? I like to think so as much as I hope that the red headed gardener was the person the author hoped he would be. Revenge is a dish best-served cold, and Mr. Slaughter knows this all too well!

Ok, I have been a bit flippant and mysterious there, but I am just joshing. This is a fun book. It won’t take you ages to read, and you can dip in and out thanks to the nature of the construct. The author paints a vivid and believable picture of US Navy life from the perspective of a young officer, and we get to travel to all manner of places from Cuba and Malta to Italy and across the deep dark Atlantic Ocean. If the episode from the Azores doesn’t make your bottom lip quiver a wee bit you really have no soul.



Foreword Review
Sea Stories: A Memoir of a Naval Officer

Reviewed by Pallas Gates McCorquodale, August 2016

Anyone with ties to the navy or an interest in the Cold War will want to experience Sea Stories.

Shedding light on some of the most infamous conflicts in United States history during the Cold War, Gary Slaughter shares his recollections of his direct involvement in Sea Stories: A Memoir of a Naval Officer (1956-1967), a gripping collection of vignettes fusing the optimism, morality, and patriotism of the era with hard facts and grim realities of naval warfare.

From his early years as an NROTC student at the University of Michigan, thankful for a monthly stipend of fifty dollars, through to an eventful rise to lieutenant with tours in Caribbean and Mediterranean waters, Slaughter details the highs and lows of life aboard naval destroyers, stateside and abroad, revealing formerly classified information while upholding the values and tradition of an officer and a gentlemen.

Compiled somewhat chronologically, with a few all-encompassing topical forays that jump backward and forward, each chapter paints a complete picture or slice of life during Slaughter’s twelve years of naval service. Subjects range from idyllic convertible drives along the west coast to up-close encounters with the severe poverty of the Azores in the 1960s. Using dry humor and tact, Slaughter recounts with equal aplomb tales of stumbling into a Mexican red-light district and playing a round of golf at the Guantanamo Bay Country Club, complete with sand trap land mines.

Reminiscent of the times, the language and tone are occasionally dated with phrases such as "whale of a time" and "ye gads" peppering the dialogue. A few black-and-white pictures, including of the submarines, warships, and a young Ensign Slaughter’s commissioning photo, are featured, although the colorful nature of the characters begs the inclusion of more.

Gaining notoriety, through recent publications and documentaries, is Slaughter’s role in preventing a nuclear launch during an exchange with a Russian submarine while aboard the USS Cony, which he describes in dramatic detail. The controversy surrounding the Bay of Pigs, as well as hot topics such as desegregation and Kennedy’s assassination, are explored from a unique perspective while maintaining an emphasis on respect, honor, duty, and friendship.

Anyone with ties to the navy or an interest in the Cold War will want to experience Sea Stories, particularly those familiar with the documentaries The Man Who Saved the World and The Silent War, both mentioned along with Peter Huchthausen’s October Fury as relevant and relating to Slaughter’s account. Taken as a collection of short stories or altogether, Sea Stories is sure to capture the attention of historians everywhere.