Mrs . Talmadge, your presence with us today adds great dignity and grace to this ceremony; Mr. Robinson and Mr. Finn, great-nephews of Senator Russell, a special greeting to you as representatives of the Russell family; COMO Elliott, CAPT Cavener, CAPT Boyer, CAPT Brons, CAPT Stanley, distinguished guests, current and former crew members of USS RICHARD B. RUSSELL, ladies and gentlemen. It is my distinct honor, while at the same time my sad duty, to address you today as we witness the death rattle of a valiant and respected Cold Warrior.
As I begin it is only fitting that something be said about the namesake of this great ship, Senator Richard Brevard Russell of Winder, Georgia. During his long and distinguished career in the U.S. Senate, a career that spanned the years from 1933 until his death in 1971, he was nearly always to be found at the very center of power of that institution. He was the first senator to become the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, a position currently held by another senator from Georgia, The Honorable Sam Nunn.
It was not only longevity and its attendant seniority that made Senator Russell such a force in the Senate; it was his leadership and behind the scenes work on policy and steering committees and what he himself referred to as doing homework. He served in the Navy for a brief period during World War I and had a real grasp of our nation’s defense needs. During the 1930s, while serving on the Committee on Naval Affairs, he remarked that the United States “should go right ahead and build the biggest navy in the world” . Historians in attendance will be able to put his position in its proper perspective.
During the 1950s he fought against the tide of change that demanded reducing our nation’s defense. His argument centered on the fact that in 1918 and again in 1945 the United States had dismantled, and I quote, “the mightiest fighting machine ever known on earth, before it had been assured of peace” . I trust that all of you can understand that statement in today’s context.
Senator Russell favored negotiating, but negotiating “from strength rather than weakness”. He said that the only way this country could avoid atomic warfare would be to stay “ahead of Russia in the matter of armed might”.
Once when chided by Senator Milton Young of North Dakota about his southern democrat, pro-defense views he replied, quote “Milt, you’d be more military minded too if Sherman had crossed North Dakota”.
Senator Russell once remarked that he would never live to see the end of the Cold War. As in most things he was right in this, also. But this ship, our O:Jid Warrior, that so proudly carried his name and his legacy of military preparedness, did live to see it. This ship not only saw it, but contributed mightily to its end. The Senator would have been pleased.
Our O:Jid Warrior is really an Amazon Warrior, if you will, because we who go down to the sea in ships traditionally refer to ships as ifthey were of the female gender. It is not without some thread of truth that submarines such as this one are thought to be the mistresses of their crew members, especially the mistresses of their Commanding Officers.
On more than one occasion, my own wife, Bonnie, refereed to the RUSSELL as my mistress and even professed some degree of jealousy at our relationship. She was right and we both knew it, but fortunately Bonnie was able to share my time, commitment and affection with what she considered a very worthwhile and interesting, as well as a very demanding mistress.
Since we often attach a less than positive connotation to the term mistress, let me draw the analogy of the men and their ship, particularly the CO and his ship a little further. Who among us has not, upon attending a Change of Command ceremony, been struck by how much it was like a wedding …combined with a divorce? The relieving Commanding Officer was very much like the bridegroom, eager in the anticipation of the wonderful relationship that he had sought so long and hard to achieve. The ship was his new bride and his love for her was real then, but would most assuredly grow during the years of marriage that lay ahead. The out-going CO, on the other hand, looked, acted and spoke like a devoted husband who was being divorced from the love of his life through no fault or desire of his own.
Now we must watch Steve Stanley participate in a ceremony that is even harder for him than that which his predecessors had to endure. He must take part in a ceremony more like the funeral of a spouse rather than a divorce. We, the former COs of RUS-SELL, share his grief and his loss, just as if she were ours; because in truth, none of us from Jack Brons to Steve have ever really left her or stopped loving her.
During my career in the Navy, I have been blessed with many great and wonderful commands, some of which I was even fortunate enough to have been their first lover; but when asked which was best, I, like most all who have been so blessed, have said with all sincerity that the first command was the best.
So today we are gathered to acknowledge the untimely passing of one that so many of us hold very dear. And we who have had the honor of being crew members of USS RICHARD B. RUS-SELL (SSN 687) thank you for honoring this great lady with your presence.
The Cold War is over, so we are told. And it really is, but the need for this country to maintain the finest, most capable navy the world has ever known remains. Not withstanding this truth, however, we must reevaluate our missions, we must right-size our forces and we must live within the realities of our budgetary constraints. Some missions are not as vital as they once were, as they were when RUSSELL was commissioned in 1975, as the last of the 637 class . Surely they did save the best for last. This then accounts for her untimely passing after but 18 short years of commissioned service. She did not get to exhibit longevity as did her illustrious namesake, who at the time of his death had served in the U.S. Senate longer than any other.
While we mourn her passing, we must temper our grief with the knowledge that she led a full and productive life, one blessed with many significant accomplishments and much recognition. Just look at the commendations flying from her pigstick. Her life was one full of the satisfaction of being loved by many. Her passing today, while noted by us, wilJ not be long remembered nor will any marble monument be built to her memory. But let us who care take heart in the words of Nathaniel Hawthorne who said that “the marble keeps merely a cold and sad memory of [one] who would else be forgotten. No[one] who needs a monument ever ought to have one” . RUSSELL needs none!
While 18 years doesn’t seem long, Gabriel Heater said it best when he stated that “mere longevity is a good thing for those who watch life from the sidelines. For those who play the game, an hour may be a year, a single day’s work an achievement for eternity”. Theodore Roosevelt might have added that “no[one] is worth his salt who is not ready at all times to risk [their] well-being, to risk [their] body, to risk [their] life in a great cause”. USS RICHARD B. RUSSELL did accomplish much in her short lifetime and she certainly was oft times in the most challenging of arenas fighting to retain our hard won freedoms. Her accomplish-ments will long live in the annals of Cold Warrior exploits and will be always with those who crewed her, even though details of many of those exploits must remain a closed book to most even today.
This ship was an unthinking, unfeeling conglomeration of steel and technology, the work of human hands and minds; she will not take note of her own passing. The life, that she had, coursed through veins of those who designed, built, maintained and especially those who crewed her. These are the true Cold Wa”iors whom we must pay tribute to today. The best tribute that I can give is just to say that each of them, each of you, did well. They and you accomplished assigned missions with style and grace. Our nation, indeed all nations who have sought our aid, comfort and leadership during the long Cold War, salute you and wish you continued success and happiness as you continue to contribute to the great work of maintaining freedom.
Just about one year ago, RADM Austin B. Scott, USN(Ret.), a wordsmith of the first order and former Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, when speaking at a similar ceremony inactivating the Fleet Ballistic Missile submarine LEWIS AND CLARK (SSBN 644), said some things about submarines and submariners that bear repeating. Permit me to quote some of them.
“Unfortunately, history will miss us. There will be no victory parade, neither will there be a wall with our names written on it. Few of us died in action, and for us to have told our story would have worked against our reliability and it would have violated the principle of reticence which we as submariners have always valued and respected. ”
“No, we did not lay down our lives for our country, but we certainly laid down a portion of them, you and I. When there were more lucrative things we might have done, things that would have kept us closer to our families, we chose instead to bring fine ships such as this to life and through doing so allowed our civilian leaders to count on us.”
In other words, we did our part.
At the recent launching of the Arleigh Burke class Aegis destroyer, LABOON, named in honor of the great Navy submari-ner chaplain Father John “Jake” Laboon, our former Chief of Chaplains, Cardinal O’Connor stated that “I have never known a commander or a ship’s company that wanted to do battle, to kill or destroy. I have known thousands who have spent their lives in deterring aggression, in preventing war. For all of this, as a churchman and as a citizen, I am grateful.”
So let us, too, be grateful as we respectfully and thoughtfully mourn the passing of our great Cold Warrior mistress and move on to further service to our great country and its ideals. She and
the Senator would have wanted it that way.
May God bless you and the United States of America.