William “Buzzy” Oliver

QUESTION: Where were you born and/or how did you get to the SF Austin Area?
I was born in Orange, Texas. My father was working in Orange Oil Field as a driller. My parents decided to quit traveling from oil field to oil field and settle down, so we moved to 521 Woolworth Street in Denver Harbor off of Lyons Avenue when I was about 2 weeks old. We had a small four-room house and there was no air-conditioning. Our back porch was screened-in so that is where we slept. My father went to work for Wallace Plumbing Co. and eventually went to work for Goodyear Rubber Co. as a pipe fitter when they were building it out off of 225. I went to Elliot Elementary School on Kress Street through the fifth grade. My first grade teacher was Mrs. Egg, my second grade teacher was Mrs. Wolf and my third grade teacher was Mrs. McKinney, I don’t remember the other teacher’s names.

We left there when I was about 11 years old and moved to 7102 Fairway Drive in Golf Crest Addition in southeast Houston. I attended Golf Crest Elementary School off of Telephone Road during the sixth grade. Some of the people that lived in my neighborhood and went to Austin High School were Bobby McKinney, Ernie Lucas and Wanda Pasky.

I used to sell newspapers at the corner of Wayside and Telephone on Saturday nights. Bob and Dick Pennison, the twins, used to help me. We sold Sunday papers for 25 cents, so we made a 6-cent profit. I delivered prescriptions for Whites Pharmacy on Telephone Road out by Hobby Airport when I was a senior. I used to deliver the Chronicle on Fairway, Golf Crest and Roe Drive. I remember when Vince Mathews, who lived on Roe Dr., got a new ’55 Ford when he went to the University of Texas. I also remember Barbara McCauley practicing her twirling; she also lived on Roe Drive.

QUESTION: Tell about you and your memories of SFA.
I was in the ROTC. My best friends were Bob & Dick Pennison, Arthur Oswald, James Tullis, Bobby McKinney, Charles Piersol, Charles Jeffries and Tommy Traylor. The teachers I remember the most were Mr. Baker for Physics, Mrs. Ekman for Chemistry, Mr. Harper for Social Studies, Miss McLane for English and Mrs. Dyer for Algebra.

Mrs. Dyer, Mr. Baker and Mrs. Ekman were probably my favorite teachers because they were dedicated to teaching and making sure we learned what we were supposed to learn. I was talking to Carl Pfaffenberger at the last reunion and he said that Mrs. Ekman had a big influence on him going into chemistry as a profession. I got my first car when I was a senior. It was a black 1948 Kaiser. I enjoyed the football games and the half time performances.

QUESTION: So, what became of your dreams?
After I left Austin HS in January ’57, I went to Texas A&M. I rode back and forth from A & M with Charles Jeffries who had a 1955 Ford. I spent from January 1957 to January 1958 attending A&M and during that time my mother died. After I finished the one year at A & M, I came home and “batched” with my Dad and attended the University of Houston the next semester. I really did not like school and I felt like I was in the way since my Dad started dating other women, so I joined the Navy in June of 1958. I went to boot camp in San Diego. My pay was $78 a month. When I got out of boot camp the pay went to $90 a month.

Then I went to Great Lakes, Illinois to go to electrical school. The school was not available at that time so I spent several months driving a forklift truck in a warehouse. I remember that temperatures got very cold and there was a lot of snow and ice. We would have to get out in the mornings and shovel the snow so the trucks could back in so we could unload them. The trucks would deliver clothing for the recruits. It was really an easy job and the chief would usually let us go on liberty about three. I had to stand a fire watch in the
barracks every forth day. I finally got to electrical school and graduated honor man out of 41. I remember seeing a submarine coming across Lake Michigan. I thought it was a beautiful sight and I decided that is what I wanted to do so I applied for submarine school. I had to go through a psychiatrist’s test and then I was accepted. I went to submarine school in New London, Connecticut. I graduated fifth out of 180 in submarine school. I requested submarine duty on the east coast. I figured I could drive home from Charleston, SC, Key West, Florida or New London, Connecticut.

When I got my orders, I was to go aboard the SubBluegillUSS Bluegill, SSK 242 out of Pearl Harbor. The Bluegill was a World War II sub that was built in 1943 and converted to a “Hunter Killer” sub. It had a round, blunt nose with fifty-eight 8ft. hydrophones. It is the sister ship of the sub in Sea Wolf Park in Galveston
which is SSK-244. We could pick up sonar contacts as far as fifty miles away. There is a web site http://www.ussbluegill.com that shows pictures of the boat, tells the history and shows pictures of the Bluegill sunk off of Hawaii.

QUESTION: Did anything Mr. Baker taught you come into play?
Probably, I really didn’t think about it but there’s a lot of physics involved. The first six months on the submarine you had to get qualified. You have to learn everything about all 9 compartments, which included hydraulic, air pressure and electrical systems. After you get qualified you get to wear your Twin Dolphins. You have to earn your dolphins; you have to pass all the tests. You have to know about torpedoes, sonar, everything about the boat
even though it’s not your job, in case of emergency and you have to fill in. I spent two years right out at Pearl Harbor. We would go out and submerge and try to avoid detection from our anti-sub forces, or go out and shoot practice torpedoes at other subs or destroyers. The practice torpedoes had orange noses and green dye in them that were dispersed when they were fired. They were set at a depth to run under the target. The people on the ship could tell if we would have hit them by observing the green dye trail. Sometimes we would pick up a Russian Zulu class submarine contact and stop operations and track them. The Zulu’s had a distinct sound because they had 3 screws. We had a barracks on the base with our own swimming pool. We received $1.10 a day for commissary instead of the normal 75 cents a day, so we ate really well; sometimes steak and lobster.

QUESTION: Any kind of confrontation?
We were in dry dock when Kruschev stormed out of a UN meeting. We loaded stores and torpedoes and headed north.

After two years in Hawaii we went to the Far East, Okinawa, Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Taiwan. We were scheduled to go up the Mekong River into Saigon so we spent about a month in the Philippines practicing with small arms: Thompson machine guns, 45 pistols and M-1 rifles, since we would be going up that narrow river and the Viet Cong knew we were coming. We went up the river with gunboats on each side of us and nothing really happened. We really only went there on a goodwill tour to show support for the South Vietnam government. After 4 days we left. As we were leaving, we were supposed to dive and surface the boat for show. The problem was that we were compensated for salt water and we were 50 miles inland where the water was not as dense. As a result we went down rather quickly and hit the bottom of the river. The collision alarm went off, we shut all the hatches between compartments, blew the ballast tanks and surfaced. We tore up our sonar gear on the bottom of the boat and eventually went into dry dock in Japan for repairs. The newsreels showed us surfacing and said the USS Bluegill demonstrates ability to dive and surface quickly. There is a picture and story on the web sight.

We were in Taiwan for New Year’s. Then to Hong Kong. I remember that in Hong Kong people would wash the whole sub for the garbage to get cigarette and cigar butts and tin cans. I remember a lot of the shops were tin-can shops. I bought a couple of suits while I was there and had them sent home. When I was in Japan, I bought two sets of Noritake China and had them sent home. I ended up giving them to my sister and niece for gifts in about 1964; then I got married in 1966.

I remember one incident when we went from Pearl Harbor to San Francisco. We were supposed to go to the West Coast of the United States and protect the West Coast. The San Diego subs were to go to sea and be the enemy coming in. During this operation we were rigged for silent running. After the air in the boat got stale, the diving officer wanted to get some fresh air in the boat. So he came up to snorkel depth and opened the head valve and ran the supply blowers to get fresh air into the boat. The problem was that he did not go through the snorkel check off list and the electrodes that shut the head valve when a wave washes over were not energized. As a result we flooded the snorkel induction, main induction and part of both engine rooms. I was in the after-battery compartment getting checked off on hydraulics. The auxiliary man that was checking me off on hydraulics said “This old girl is making funny noises”. I opened a locker behind me that had a test cock of the main induction. Water was shooting out of it. The auxiliary man ran to the control room and I followed him. I remember going by the radio shack and seeing a radioman faint. He was supposed to be discharged when we got to San Francisco; his wife was waiting on him. After I got to the control room, the executive officer from Rosenberg came into the control room and ordered emergency surface. The collision alarm was sounding. We blew all the ballast tanks. The guys in the engine rooms had already hit the quick release valves that stopped the engine rooms from flooding. The guys that controlled the
propulsion went all ahead full and a couple of guys in the after battery compartment put mattresses over the battery well and laid on them to keep the salt water out of the battery well. Salt water mixed with sulfuric acid in the battery makes chlorine gas – which is deadly. After entering the control room, I could see the depth gage and we were below test depth. I stared at the depth gage and at one point I thought I saw it tic up but I was not sure and finally we did start coming to the surface. After we surfaced we opened the deck hatches to the engine rooms. We pumped the water out of the engine rooms with
submersible pumps.

We spent 36 straight hours getting the water out of the boat and cleaning all the electric motors. They were grounded out. We used carbon tetrachloride to get them all cleaned up. After we got everything in working order, Captain Roux said we were going to take her down again. Everybody was really nervous about that. We shut all the hatches and dove the boat. We also took on water a second time, but this time we were actually snorkeling and we had some speed and were able to hold our depth with the bow and stern planes. This time the problem was a solenoid that controls 225 lb. air to shut the head valve corroded up and did not open. I remember when we got to Japan, we left two men who went kind of crazy. One was seeing dogs in the after torpedo room, where I slept, and throwing wrenches at them and another guy put in for leave to go home and kill his wife. We got to Vietnam towards the end of 1961 and spent New Years Eve in Taiwan.

QUESTION: Did you feel like you were in unfriendly territory?
The U.S. was there just as advisors at that time so it was not bad. There were four Navy Chief Petty Officers. The streets had a nice French atmosphere, there were French type coffee shops and camera shops. Sometimes we would get to a street corner and there would be sandbags and machine guns and the soldiers would not allow us to go in certain directions. At the end of my service on the USS Bluegill my job was senior controller man and I stood watch in the maneuvering room. I controlled the speed of the main engines in the two engine rooms forward of the maneuvering room. I would shut down the main engines with a lever that would kick out the fuel racks with air pressure when the diving alarm sounded. I directed the electrical power from the three 1100 KW generators that the main engines drove. I could direct the electricity to either the main motors that turned the propellers or to the 252 tons of batteries that we used for power when submerged. I would also control the speed of the boat that was ordered from the bridge or conning tower.

QUESTION: When did you get out of the Navy? What did you do after that?
June of 1962. I was making $114 every 2 weeks with $50 a month hazardous duty pay before I was discharged. I had accumulated $1400 back leave money so I was going to party for about 2 weeks before I started looking for a job. I remember getting home on a Wednesday and all my stuff that the Navy had shipped was setting on the front porch. Arthur Oswald had mentioned to his boss that he had a friend getting out of the Navy. His boss said he wanted to interview me for a job. I interviewed on Thursday, took a physical on Friday and went to work for Pan American Petroleum Corp. on Monday. That was June 23, 1962. I was working in the warehouse, programming seismic data, and running
trans-corder tests. The office was located on O.S.T. and we could look out the window and see them building the Astrodome. When I went to work at Pan American Petroleum Corp., I started out doing seismic processing. At that time the seismic sub-surface coverage was 100%. We used a Western PB1 playback machine that plotted one seismic trace at a time. Then we advanced to processing 600% seismic data on a C800 analog machine. Basically, I spent 36 years processing seismic data all the way up finishing in the Exploration Technology Group which specialized in seismic processing. We did specialized seismic processing to detect gas in the ground. It was called AVO (Amplitude vs. Offset). I ended up doing seismic processing at a computer work station in my office so that’s how it kind of evolved over 36 years from one trace at a time to multi-fold, high-tech seismic processing in color.

I retired July 1, 1998 at age 59 ½. I took my 401k and my lump sum retirement money and invested it at Merrill Lynch and I live off of that and my social security.

QUESTION: Anything you would do different?
Finish college, that’s for sure.

QUESTION: Would it have made you any more money?
I wonder about that. I know some people who graduated from college that lost their jobs at
Amoco when I did not. I knew a guy when I attended the U of H who was married to my brother-in-law’s niece. He graduated and I thought he had a good job with a building and construction company. The company went broke and he ended up with no pension, no nothing. Last I heard he was still working at age 65 with no prospect for retiring. So I think you have to be kind of lucky and be at the right place at the right time. Pan American Petroleum Corp. changed its name to Amoco some time after I went to work for them. I met my wife in the file room at Amoco. That was the file room that I checked stuff in and out of. We started dating and got married in 1966.

QUESTION: How about children?
Had 3 children. The oldest one is Michael – William Michael is his name; we call him Mike. Mike was born on March 3, 1968. Three years later my daughter Julie was born on February 25th. Three years after that my youngest son Danny was born on January 16th, so I had three children, three years apart within about 6 calendar weeks. January 16th to March 3rd. It’s almost like clockwork. Mike is married to Tammy. They’ve blessed us with two grandchildren. The oldest is a girl, she’s 4-1/2 years old and her name is Autumn. My little grandson is 2-1/2 years old. His name is Hunter. We keep them four days a week – Monday through Thursday. We rented a condo on Lake Conroe, so we go there Thursday evening through Saturday night and we come back on Sunday, generally, unless we have something going on the weekend. Then we start all over again.

Mike works for Fisk Electric Company installing and maintaining building security systems, software, care keys, etc. The little one is 2-1/2 so we’re probably going to have to keep him until – I don’t know what age – another 4 years. Janet says how lucky we are to see them. When Thursday comes we are ready to get rid of them but come Monday, we’re looking forward to seeing them again.

My daughter graduated from Houston Baptist with a nursing degree. She then passed the state board and is a registered nurse. Her first job was at MD Anderson, then she took a nursing job in Dallas. After working in Dallas for awhile some of her friends talked her into becoming a traveling nurse. She went to work for an agency called American Mobil Nurses. She has worked in Albuquerque, NM, Stanford University Hospital, Seattle’s Children’s Hospital, UCLA Hospital in LA. We flew to California and drove across the United States with her to her next job at John Hopkins hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. Then she went from there to Honolulu. She was there a year and we went out for Thanksgiving because she was going to have to work during the Christmas holidays. We cooked a full course Thanksgiving dinner and she had two of her nurse friends and three sailor friends come over to eat. It worked out well since they were unable to go home for Thanksgiving. I don’t think she is going to get married. She loves to travel. She and several of her nurse friends travel to a foreign country every year. They have been to Ireland, Italy, Australia and are going to Greece this year. She went to Australia for two weeks before she
left Hawaii. She put on tanks and dove the Great Barrier Reef. She really enjoyed that and swears she is going back to Australia to do that again.

My youngest son Danny graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in finance. He is Vice President of his group. They restructure large loans that the borrowers are having a hard time paying back and if that doesn’t work, they do foreclosures and whatever legal stuff that is required to recover their money.

QUESTION: Will there be more grandchildren?
Danny is talking about marrying his secretary who is older than he is. She has two daughters from a previous marriage who are 9 and 12. Her name is Jenny and I think he is planning on marrying her before the end of the year. I really like her. She holds down a regular job at Wells Fargo and has her own landscape business that she runs after work and on weekends. She doesn’t weigh 100 pounds and she does all of that, plus raise two kids. Mike and Tammy don’t plan on having more children, although sometimes I think they would if they didn’t have to depend on someone else to take care of them while they work.

QUESTION: What would you and Nancy like to do the rest of your life?
I am not really sure. We are kind of stuck with taking care of grandchildren at this time and not sure how long that will last. Eventually, we would like to move out of Houston to the country or on a lake. My wife says she wants to live on a lake where she can see the sunset. I kind of prefer to be in the woods on several acres of land for the privacy. Right now we are planning on traveling as much as we can. We bought a timeshare in Fairfield in Sedona, Arizona. We get points annually that we can use at any of their resorts. So far we have been to Sedona, Arizona, Lake Fairfield in Arkansas, Lake Lure in North Carolina and Orlando, Florida.


Buzzy and Nancy Oliver