I reported for duty on-board the U.S.S. Connole (FF-1056) around late January 1980. Captain Yonov assumed command February 1980 while docked in Catania, Sicily. The previous captain, kept to himself; he did not interact with the enlisted crew. This had been my first shipboard deployment, and I genuinely thought that was normal. Once Captain Yonov assumed command this all changed. True leadership creates positive change and a positive environment for change. Captain Yonov would speak with us not only about our duties on board the U.S.S. Connole, he would talk about family, hobbies, and things that were important to us. He understood the utmost importance of relationship and true team building. He understood that creating a closely bound community like the crew of a naval ship, depended on relationships forged in respect.
On a small frigate like the U.S.S. Connole you knew quickly who you liked or disliked, who you trusted, or distrusted. Captain Yonov encouraged trust built on relationships, from shipboard duties, to the ship’s softball team, and the daily news briefing we called Fish-Eye News. Fish-Eye News televised on the ship’s TV network; it was more crewmembers making fun of other crewmembers than real news. Sometimes very funny, sometimes not so funny. We worked hard and played hard and that was the Captain’s definition of ship’s crew. We spent a great deal of time at sea, and it seemed an equal amount of time on the beach in port somewhere. . . . When we ran into the Captain during liberty, he always did not want us to fuss over him. We would jump to attention or attempt to salute him, he would wave us off. One night on a liberty boat in Naples Italy, I had shore-patrol duty that night; we had a sailor stretch attempting to sleep across four seats. The captain came on board, when I attempted to clear a seat for the captain, he said do not bother, I can stand.
On U.S.S. Connole’s Bridge, you knew who was in charge; his leadership style was to encourage others to lead, from the officer of the deck to the enlisted crewmembers. During port entry and port exit, I was the Combat Information Center (CIC) Bridge Sound Phone Talker. My job was to take information from the radar operator in CIC and keep track of all surface ship contacts and yell out this information to the Bridge Duty officer and the Captain. Early in my career as a CIC Bridge Sound Phone Talker Captain Yonov told me it was not necessary to yell out all the surface contacts, he said, only tells us the surface contacts that posed a threat to our ship. The Captain’s request went against my training. What I did not realize until later, the Captain always encouraged his crew to think on their feet. He motivated us by trusting us. My memories of him asking me with his slight Russian accent, “What do you think Petty Officer Savo, should I worry about that contact?” One particular morning while transiting the Strait of Messina, I had just been relieved from the mid-watch, attempting to get some rest, and summoned to the Bridge once again. Captain Yonov apologized for waking me up; he said that not having me on the Bridge during the Strait of Messina transit made him uncomfortable. A good crew is a byproduct of mutual respect; our crew protected each other at sea, on shore and on the bridge of our ship.
Captain Yonov often discussed the importance of a sailor’s family and my family’s future in the United States Navy. He knew of my up and coming marriage, and my feelings towards the difficulties of Navy life on a marriage. My fiancée’s dad, a World War Two Veteran, Captain Yonov invited my future father-in-law to ride the U.S.S. Connole from Manhattan New York to Newport Rhode Island. Harold Gorman invited to the Bridge by the Captain, sat in the captain’s chair and Captain Yonov began explaining why it would be a fantastic career for Petty Officer Savo to stay in the Navy. A little background on Harold Gorman, he has never been shy or soft-spoken. Harold told the Captain that he was speaking to the wrong person. The person you need to have the Naval career discussion with is my daughter Patty. The Captain smiled, continued talking, and went on with his business of guiding his ship up the east river into Long Island sound and finally to Newport.
The last sea-story for this Blog, chasing a Foxtrot Russian submarine the ultimate sea going enemy, when this occurred I was on duty in CIC. I remember the Captain asking the CIC duty officer if he thought the Foxtrot we were tracking knew we were here. Absolutely said the duty officer. I agree, said the Captain. The Connole had an underwater telephone, and the captain went over to it and asked in Russian, that the Foxtrot surface and the sub did. That is where the famous U.S.S. Connole (FF-1056) shadows a “Foxtrot” class submarine photograph came from. Captain Yonov was not famous, and he was an extraordinary commanding officer, who leadership skill and honest belief in the power of his crew inspired us all, crewmembers and visitors equally!
U.S.S. Connole (FF-1056) shadows a “Foxtrot” class submarine, 1981.
Photo by: ET2 Bruce Chalk
Savo, P. (2009). Stories of Captain Serge A. Yonov. In W. Kaufman (Ed.), THE FABRIC STARTED HERE, Notes for the History Of The Last Senior Class of Sea Cliff School 1957 – 2009. Harrisburg, OR: Wallace Kaufman.