NORTH ANDOVER — As a U.S. Navy submariner during the Cold War, Frederick Pietrowski encountered three Soviet subs in New York Harbor, stared into the mouth of a 35-foot Great White shark and survived a collision with a huge oil tanker.
He also worked in temperatures as hot as 140 degrees and cold enough to freeze his clothing solid.
Pietrowski, of Lawrence, has written a book about his experiences in the submarine service. Titled “De Profundis,” Latin for “From the Depths,” he said he expects his story to be published within the next few months.
Pietrowski shared some of his adventures recently with members of the Merrimack Valley Tea Party at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2104. At such a venue and among such a group, accounts of putting one’s life on the line for the United States are very well received.
“I’ve always loved to swim underwater,” Pietrowski told his audience — so after graduating from Central Catholic High School in 1959, he enlisted in the Navy and volunteered for submarine service. After taking several psychological tests and enduring rigorous physical ordeals, he was accepted, he said.
The diesel-powered subs on which he served were 16 feet wide and 305 feet long, with a crew of 125 sailors — and 66 bunks. A military submarine works 24-7 so the crew works in shifts.
When a sailor stands watch in the colder climates, “the ice burns through your face,” Pietrowski said.
Often a sub goes on secret missions and “not even the captain knows where we’re going,” he said.
It was during a goodwill tour that Pietrowski had his close encounter with the Soviet Navy. He was blessed with keen eyesight, he said, and while observing the Statue of Liberty, “I see a Russian periscope pop up.”
He passed this on to the captain, who contacted the high command. The order came back: “Chase him out of there!” Pietrowski’s shipmates then spotted a second Soviet sub, this one armed with two missiles, he said.