Twenty-five years, three months, and eighteen days ago at a ceremony at the U.S. Naval Submarine Base in New London, Connecticut, I bad the honor of becoming the first Commanding Officer, USS SEAHORSE. With no small sense of pride, awe, and accomplishment we, the first crew of the ‘HORSE, broke the commissioning pennant and the in port colors, set the in port watch, and opened the log to start the record of the life of this ship. We are assembled here today not only to mark the closing of that portion of the log that represents this ship’s active service but also to celebrate more than a quarter century of distinguished service and significant contribution to the defense of the United States.
While the ship’s log will never reveal it to a researcher or archivist in the future, she was not born on 19 September 1969. The most important period in the ‘HORSE’s life-truthfully in the life of any ship-began fully three years before that date, when her keel was set on the north building ways at Electric Boat and she began to take shape at the bands of the artisans and craftsmen, who had given us so many fine boats. It was not until early ’68 before a glimmer of life could be perceived as the first members of the commissioning crew began to report.
I think a few words are in order to describe the American scene at that time, which, I suspect, occurred before some of you were born. The Cold War was at its height; social disorder and riots racked a number of major cities; the Vietnam War was escalating beyond anything imagined a few years before, draft cards fed the bonfires at countless demonstrations on the campuses of universities and colleges across the country; and the terms counter-culture and anti establishment were the working buzz phrases of the news media. We were launching and commissioning a 637 boat every three to four months; the missile boats were moving from the Polaris to the Poseidon systems; and the 688 class was in final procurement and construction design. The pace of life in the Submarine Force was frenetic. We seemed to move from one boat to the next as we tried to accommodate building and operating schedules that strained personnel resources to their limits-and sometimes beyond.
In the midst of all this, 114 officers and enlisted men began to assemble on a living barge at Electric Boat. We came from all over the force-some from boomers and other attack boats, some from advanced schools, even a few from a rare shore duty assignment. A number came directly from Submarine School starting their first tour, while at the other extreme there were many more of us starting our fourth or fifth consecutive tour of sea duty. The ranks of those who had first qualified in diesel boats were thinning. As we pored over service records, I recall remarking to our XO, Lieutenant Commander Rich Enkeboll , that if we were successful in organizing and preparing this collection of strangers to produce the kind of synergism necessary to operate and maintain a ship like SEAHORSE, it would dwarf in significance anything we had done or would do in the remainder of our careers.
We first found the ‘HORSE high and dry on a building way in the north yard. At first glance, she seemed to be a disorganized collection of steel shapes, platforms, pipes, cables, and insulation. Every equipment panel was unrecognizable behind protective coverings. She smelled of cutting torch, weld rod, of oil, grease, paint, and sweat. She seemed to exist in a cacophony of chipping hammers, metal grinders, and the clash of steel on steel. Through it all we could just make out the lines and arrangements of a submarine. The scenes of apparent chaos produced in all of us doubts, of one degree or another, that we would ever be able to get from that point to an operating boat in the time left to us.
Before we had even formed up and within a few days of launching the ‘HORSE into the waters of the Thames, we were hammered with the knowledge that SCORPION would never return to Norfolk. We paused. We did what pitiful little we could for those left behind. At services in Dealey Center we mourned our shipmates, our classmates, and our friends and we returned to our tasks with a sense of rededication that was almost palpable.
Gradually we began to see her-and us-coming together. Strange faces were connected with names, the senior petty officers and department heads stepped up and took charge, recognizable divisions and departments were formed, and lines of communication and leadership were established. We climbed the boat from sail to keel, from bow to stern. To a man, we walked the pipes, touched the valves, and traced the circuits. We overcame the uncertainty we felt at seeing systems and equipment we had never seen before. We inspected everything and we watched everything. We complained, when necessary, and we applauded, when appropriate. It was a period of eight-day weeks and forty-hour days. It was a period that added stark meaning to the irreverent observation that the hull designation SSN meant Saturdays, Sundays and Nights. Small success and frustrating failure seemed to go band in band. Training was incessant. Plant manuals, equipment manuals, and our Mickey Mouse books were our constant companions. We shamelessly picked the brains of the crews and wardrooms of every 637 boat in New London. It was a time when every member of the crew was called on to give more than be ever thought he had to give and to give it freely and willingly.
Suddenly, we were there. We went in service and ran a test program the likes of which I had never seen before. We wrung out every single system in the ship and then we did it again. If anything escaped our attention, I cannot imagine what it was. The engineers walked through the Naval Reactors Readiness Exam with no open items-unheard of in those days. All of the training and exhausting hours bore fruit as sea trials went like clockwork and that crew looked like they had been working together for years.
With a clarity as if that event were yesterday, I recall my remarks at the commissioning ceremony. While I recognized the contributions of every organization in bringing SEAHORSE to that point, I reserved my special salute for that first crew, while I told the assembled guests, “The officers and men who stand here today have done an outstanding job. They have put a heart in this ship and in the months to come will complete the fashioning of a soul on which she will depend in no small measure for the rest of her life.” When I hear the record of the ‘HORSE recounted, I believe that that prediction came true. That first crew set a tone and left a legacy from which all who followed them have profited.
Now it is time to close the log. Perhaps the ‘HORSES’s time has passed-but I don’t know. Perhaps the economics of advancing technology and budget restraints have made this ceremony necessary-but I don’t know. Perhaps she simply deserves a rest-but I don’t know. I do know that this ship and all like her and the hundreds of crews that took them to sea time and time again have contributed to producing a world order that was unimaginable in 1969. They have won a truly Silent Victory for which every citizen of the United States owes an incalculable debt.
To you, the last crew of the ‘ HORSE, I will close with this observation-offered from the perspective of 25 years. As you disband and each of you goes to wherever it is that fate will take you, you should go with the knowledge that you have just completed one of the most unique experiences of your life. You have been a valued member of a submarine crew. You have been
a shipmate-a term that is little understood by those who have never shared or participated in any association founded on exclusive professionalism and mutual dependence. In all probability you will never again experience a culture so dedicated, so qualified, and so selflessly focused on the mission and well-being of the group as the one you are part of today. You will come to treasure this experience. As I do.
I wish you all the best of fortune in the future. You have done an outstanding job.
I thank you for that job and for these moments.
LT Matthew Kosnar
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
77 Massachusetts Avenue, Room 20E-125
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307