While it is not possible to publish all the many fine words that are being said at those ceremonies, several excerpts can serve as a representative of the thoughts and emotions that go into such events. The following selections are taken from remarks given by three commissioning commanding officers in paying final respect to their ships.]
USS BATON ROUGE (SSN 689)
Remarks by Captain Thomas C. Maloney, USN(Ret.), 18 September 1993
It is a very special privilege to participate in this ceremony commemorating the service of BATON ROUGE and honoring all who served in her. As you can see in your programs, I had the honor of serving as the first Commanding Officer of BATON ROUGE. So Captain Kolbeck and I represent the alpha and the omega, the first and last skippers of this fine ship. Between us, five officers commanded BATON ROUGE; and I’m delighted that two of them are with us today: Captain Ken Karr, who relieved me in command and promptly took the ship around the world; and Captain Jack Davis, now Commanding Officer of USS L. Y. SPEAR.
It is exceedingly difficult for me and I’m certain for many others as well-to comprehend fully that 16-1/2 years have passed since BATON ROUGE first left her birthplace at Newport News Shipbuilding, and sailed down the James River on Easter Sunday morning, April 10, 1977. As the ship steamed past Old Point Comfort we could see the Easter sunrise service is held on the lawn at Fort Monroe. Great events have transpired in the intervening years; great events which have made our world a safer place for humanity; great events in which our Navy and our BATON ROUGE played no small part.
But before we get to the serious part, let me tell a couple of sea stories. Just before a new submarine goes to sea for the first time, an intense training period called a fast cruise is conducted for several days. During the fast cruise the ship is tied fast to the pier-hence, the name-and the crew pretends the ship is at sea while practicing the ship’s operating and casualty procedures. Following the BATON ROUGE fast cruise, I was meeting with the shipyard officials to review the ship’s readiness for sea, when a messenger informed me that I was to call Admiral Rickover immediately-this was about 10 PM. I did so and was asked by the Admiral what time the ship would sail on Sunday morning. I responded that the ship would get underway right at sunrise, 0540. I was then treated to a tirade regarding my inability to operate a ship during the hours of darkness, an admonition that he’d better not see any red lighting in the ship, and a reminder not to forget that he, Admiral Rickover, was in charge of the sea trial. I returned to the meeting, suitably chastened and as yet unaware that I was right in the middle of a fight over sea trial policy between Rickover and COMSUBLANT, the submarine force commander.
No sooner was I seated than the messenger returned to tell me to call COMSUBLANT at his quarters right away. Vice Admiral Joe Williams had a series of questions for me. The first was “What is the Submarine Force policy on leaving or entering port on sea trials?” “Only between sunrise and sunset,” J replied. “What is the force policy on red lighting in· the control room during the hours of darkness?” asked Admiral Williams. I told him that red lighting is required to protect the night vision of the navigation team. “Who is the operational commander for your sea trial?” was the next question. “You are,” I responded. “Who signs your fitness report?” was Admiral Williams’ final query. “You do, Admiral,” was my prompt response. “Don’t you forget that,” were Admiral Williams’ final words?
Well, the first thing the next morning I related these events to my Squadron Commander, then-Captain, now Rear Admiral Austin Scott, who was to ride BATON ROUGE on the sea trial as COMSUBLANT’s representative. Captain Scott, a Texan who can charm the skin of a rattlesnake, and who could deal with Admiral Rickover as well as anyone I know, advised me not to worry. He told me to concentrate on BATON ROUGE and the trials, while he would run interference with Rickover. So late that Saturday night, with the ship ready for sea, I wrote my night orders stating, “Continue preparations to get underway promptly at 0540. Call me at 0400.”
The weather that Easter morning was clear and crisp, and the skies brightened well before sunrise; it was a perfect day to go to sea. By about 0515 the maneuvering watch was set, the ship and crew were ready to go, and Captain Scott and I saw no reason to wait further. I went to the Executive Officer’s cabin, awakened Admiral Rickover, and told him that the ship was ready to get underway. He asked what time it was and, when told it was 0515, he yelled “You can’t go to sea yet-it isn’t sunrise!” I responded that I would be on the bridge and ready to sail at his convenience. Nothing more was said. It didn’t take Rickover long to dress and come to the bridge; and with the help of the shipyard tugs, the ship was soon headed fair down the James River, underway for a nearly flawless sea trial.
This initial sea trial was the first of many underways that BATON ROUGE would make during the 16·112 years of history that have raced by since that Easter dawn. During those years the ship made 14 major deployments to all parts of the world’s oceans. While deployed, BATON ROUGE was tasked with a variety of missions such as surveilling potentially hostile forces, collecting military intelligence, exercising with allied navies, conducting anti·submarine warfare operations, and serving as an ambassador of the United States’ goodwill and commitment in ports around the world. Although the details of the ship’s operations remain classified, their success can be inferred from the ship’s Navy Unit Commendation and Meritorious Unit Commendation pennants you see flying from the back of the sail, and from the numerous personal awards which have recognized the individu· al accomplishments of BATON ROUGE officers, chief petty officers, and sailors over the years.
Over the years, the hard work, sacrifice, and separation endured by the BATON ROUGE crew and their families continued, fully appreciated only by those that have shared the hardships and rewards of the life of military service to our country. It is sometimes difficult to identify that rewards-they are often well camouflaged-and they certainly aren’t financial! However, I believe that today’s event represents one of that awards-it certainly does for me. For we are gathered here today in a ceremony of thanksgiving and celebration for what I term a great Silent Victory. The inactivation of BATON ROUGE is a direct and proximate result of the end of the Cold War, of the dramatic victory of Western democracy over the Communist dictatorship that tyrannized its own people for 70 years, and threatened the free world with aggression and destruction for more than 40 years. Today we celebrate not a conquest won on the battlefield, but a triumph of Western spirit and ideals. Without the fanfare and parades that marked the end of the World Wars, we are celebrating the collapse of an evil and godless political system whose villainy rivaled that of Hitler and his Nazi thugs.
The Communists’ record of brutal repression and terror spans the entire seven decades of their rule. In the 1930s, at least 20 million people were executed or died of starvation during Stalin’s violent repression of political dissent, collectivization of the peasant farmers, and purges of the military and civil leadership. As World War D opened, Stalin divided hapless Poland with Hitler and absorbed the three small Baltic countries into the Soviet Union. At the war’s end, Stalin moved quickly to establish Soviet dominance of the countries of Eastern Europe; as Winston Churchill lamented in his famous 1946 speech in Fulton, Missouri, “From Stettin in the Baltic, to Trieste in the Atlantic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe.”
To one whose entire adult life and professional career were influenced greatly by the Cold War, the world events that have transpired since Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in March 1985 have been nothing short of astonishing. Once. General Secretary Gorbachev cracked open the Iron Curtain with his introduction of glasnost, perestroika, and democratization, there was no restraining the nearly explosive rush for personal freedom and national independence that followed; first in Eastern Europe, then in the Baltic states, and finally within the republics of the Soviet Union itself. We witnessed on television the total rejection of the Communist philosophy, and of the system of government its masters had imposed by force upon the millions of people imprisoned behind the Iron Curtain. In November 1989, we watched as the Berlin Wall-that ugly symbol of a corrupt government that walled its people in-came down stone by stone; and I’m sure that each of us offered a silent prayer of thanksgiving, along with tears of joy and relief. And finally on Christmas night, 1991, as the red hammer and sickle flag was lowered from a Kremlin tower for the last time and was replaced with the white blue-and-red flag of the Russian Republic, I think that we all began to believe, for the first time, that the Cold War was truly at an end; at an end without the cataclysmic World Warm that we had prepared for, feared, and labored so hard to prevent. This was our victory-our Silent Victory-a victory over an evil regime that had enslaved nearly half of the world and a victory over the war itself.
For those of us who built and sailed BATON ROUGE, there is a twinge of sadness as our ship is retired at mid-life, with many a nautical mile left in her. At the same time, we can rejoice that BATON ROUGE is no longer required on the front lines of freedom. As we bid farewell to a ship that represents a bit of each of us who went to sea in her, it is important to remember that we have much to celebrate and to give thanks Cor:
- The Cold War’s end
- The greatly diminished threat of a nuclear holocaust
- The restoration of liberty and freedom to the people of
Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union
- A growing quest for peace among the world’s nations no
longer captive to the deadly struggle between East and West
- And finally, the years of dedicated service and sacrifice
given by the men baton ROUGE and their loved ones.
May God bless the United States of America and keep her strong in peace. God bless the United States Navy and all who serve and support it. And may God bless each member of the BATON ROUGE crew, past and present, their families and loved ones. Thank you all.
USS SIL VERSIDES (SSN 679)
Remarks by Captain John E. Allen, USN(Ret.), 17 December 1993.
Thank you all for allowing me to return and stand one more time on the deck of this splendid ship that I once knew so well. It is a thrill and a great honor for me to speak to you on this sad but proud occasion.
I’d like to begin by recalling another day when I also stood here. The date was 4 June 1971. Before the beautiful but as yet inert hull of SIL VERSIDES slid down the ways into the Thames River, Senator John Chafee, then the Secretary of the Navy, gave us some words to remember-words that in retrospect capture precisely the essence of the mission and service that were to follow. After recalling the indomitable spirit and magnificent wartime service of our namesake, the first SIL VERSIDES, Secretary Chafee said this:
“Our highest hope for SIL VERSIDES is that she lives to retire in peace with her tubes unused except for the practice required to keep her sharp and credible. And if those hopes are realized, SIL VERSIDES by her mere existence as a fully ready warship will have done the job she was born to here, today. She will have kept the peace. We launch here today with the hope and the prayer that she will be successful in that truly noble task …
During the past week, I’ve read with fascination, satisfaction, and respect the official command history of SIL VERSIDES as she ran up a 22-year record of achievement. Even in the dry understatement of an unclassified summary, the diversity of her accomplishments and the sustained professional excellence of her long line of officers and crew shines out unmistakably. For those of us who have had the privilege of actually taking these marvelous ships to sea, the dedication and skill that went into making those achievements happen is unwritten but also clear.
By my count, SILVERSIDES has successfully completed 17 major operational deployments, the last ending only weeks ago. They spanned the whole range of attack submarine missions. She has been repeatedly honored with commendations and awards, at all levels and covers all the many functions and skills that come together in their maturity to make a great ship. She has demonstrated her mission effectiveness across a remarkable range of warfare and support tasks-a range that even today is, in my opinion, unexcelled by even our newest attack submarines. (We aging retired types are entitled to a little bias, and mine says that the long hull 637 class SSN is still the most ideally balanced design and most versatile submarine that ever put to seal).
Adding to her long record of success in more traditional SSN missions, SIL VERSIDES’ recent innovative accomplishments represent a real head start on today’s essential business of integrating SSNs into a new naval strategy built on the precepts of the white paper ” … From the Sea”. Your ship’s motto, “If you have a mission, we have a submarine”, is highly apropos to the future direction of our Submarine Force. It not only captures your range of demonstrated multi-mission capabilities, but it also shows that today’s innovative submarine people are in fact able to envision and master a broader spectrum of warfare skills than their predecessors of the Cold War era. In particular, your pioneering work in developing, executing, and training combined forces in naval special warfare concepts and techniques sets you among a small group of leaders in the vital process of once again validating the versatility and unmatched operational value of attack submarines.
Whether operating alone where others cannot or best not go, or integrated tightly with multi-service operational elements who until recently couldn’t imagine what a submarine could do for them but are learning fast to insist upon having SSNs on their team-whatever the scenario, our SSNs can make a unique and critical difference in resolving the inevitable situations of tension and conflict that we know the United States will confront in the years to come. But the job of going forward with this enduring but underappreciated truth, and pressing it home to our military and civilian leaders, will be largely up to people like you, the active professional submariners. You alone can combine the lessons learned from decades of Cold War experience with the vision you have already shown into the potential value of exploiting inherent, unique SSN capabilities in many roles across the redefined spectrum of conflict.
Despite the bittersweet feelings I have today as this beautiful ship is prematurely retired from a career she surely could have continued with distinction, I am filled with satisfaction and pride as I reflect on what she has contributed to our Submarine Force, our Navy, and our Nation. The credit goes to you and all your predecessors-with the essential support of your loyal families and friends-for keeping your ship, and mine, among the best of the best over these eventful years. I’m fully satisfied that you fulfilled that challenge that Secretary John Chafee laid down on June 5, 1972-you have in fact “provided the inspiration, deserved the gratitude, and earned the respect” that he foresaw. And I’m confident that you’ve felt that “excitement of excellence”, that “proud joy that comes from a job well done”.
Yes, SIL VERSIDES-our ship and all her family-has accomplished her mission with honor. Now you can, and I’m sure you will, move on to accept new challenges, those new, yet timeless, submarine roles and missions that will lead the force and our Navy to distinction and honor in the 21st century. Thank you all very, very much.
USS STONEWALL JACKSON (SSBN 634)
Remarks by Vice Admiral John H. Nicholson, USN(Ret.) 10 June 1994.
It’s an honor and a privilege to celebrate our ship’s honorable retirement and her contributions, which with other SSBNs, were largely responsible for the prevention of nuclear war and for the end of the Cold War.
I’m delighted to see Mrs. Julia Cissel, a direct descendant of Stonewall Jackson, here at the decommissioning, as she was the sponsor at the launching ceremony over 30 years ago and I have not seen her since. Her grandmother, Mrs. Randolph Preston, had been asked to be the sponsor but she wanted Julia to break the champagne bottle so she could enjoy the relationship with the ship for many years. Welcome Julia-what a thoughtful and perceptive grandmother you had. You honor us with your presence and we’re proud our ship bears the name Stonewall Jackson.
Participation in a decommissioning ceremony is one of the most difficult things for Navy men and women to do. Each ship and each crew has been an important part of our lives and continues to be even after we retire and after the ships are decommissioned. There’s nothing like it in the other services and there surely is nothing like it in industry, believe me. That feeling and bonding are particularly strong for those who were plank owners and who had the responsibility and privilege to help give birth to a ship.
For plank owners who arrive early, it is normally a particular treat and thrill to be able to ride the ship down the ways at launching and to participate in the celebrations immediately following.
Alas, such was not the case at the launching of STONEWALL JACKSON since President Kennedy had been assassinated only eight days prior to the launching. Accordingly, the launching ceremony was somber. The programs carried twin ribbons of black and the post-launching ceremonies were canceled.
Despite the difficult beginning, however, STONEWALL JACKSON proceeded to excel. Nine months after launching she was delivered a month early at a savings to the Navy of $1 million and both crews as well as the shipyard were praised for their performances. After successful shakedown cruises and missile firings by both crews, she proceeded to conduct 82 successful deterrent patrols.
Many of us here today were part of the rapid expansion of the Submarine Force following the successful operations of NAUTILUS over 39 years ago. We saw the ever-increasing capabilities of classes of submarines and missiles, and we saw the universal recognition that the attack submarine is the most effective weapons system to detect and kill an enemy submarine, and that the SSBN is the backbone of the nation’s deterrent. Then, largely due to the success of these submarine systems, came the end of the Cold War and the supposed end of the Soviet submarine threat. Suddenly the Administration and Congress have drastically cut back the submarine building program. There is a real concern that we could lose the industrial capability to build submarines in the future.
All of you here today are well aware of the stringent requirements to ensure the safety and reliability of the submarines and power plants. Loss of the highly trained, experienced engineering staff at the nuclear building yards, EB and Newport News, and loss of second and third-tier suppliers and subcontractors would be extremely difficult to reestablish and would, in fact, place us in danger of losing a national asset.
So, what does the future look like for submarines? As Yogi Berra said, “It’s hard to make predictions, especially of the future”, but I’ll try. Fortunately, the Navy with the assistance of the Naval Submarine League, the shipyards, and others have strongly expressed the need to retain a nuclear building capability and these efforts are beginning to pay off, at least so far. The recent Bottom-up Review of defense programs by former Secretary Asp in called for a third SEA WOLF submarine and the remaining four Trident submarines to be completed at EB and a new class SSN to be commenced in FY 98. Newport News will be building a nuclear carrier to retain its capability. The review states that about 45 to 55 SSNs will be needed in the post-Cold War environment necessitating the decommissioning of many SSNs from the current force level of 85. It is absolutely vital that we continue to build submarines even at a slow construction rate. We must maintain the capability and experience to build in the future.
In the strategic area, the current plans are to build up to an all Trident Submarine Force based at two excellent bases-Bangor, Washington, and Kings Bay, Georgia. All other SSBNs, including STONEWALL JACKSON, will be decommissioned except for two which have been modified to carry special forces. Many changes have been made in the strategic triad and more are planned to adapt to the New World order. For example, the U.S. and Russia no longer target their missiles at each other. Most notably a new command has been established, the U.S. Strategic Command which controls all of our strategic forces. This force is to be alternately commanded by a 4 star Air Force General and a 4-star Submarine Admiral. This force is now commanded by a submarine, Admiral Hank Chiles. As one who spent his last tour of active duty in Omaha working for the Air Force commander of SAC, I can assure you that this is a signifi~ant change and a significant improvement.
In the New World order experts including Ambassadors Linton Broolcs and Paul Nitze believe that nuclear weapons are likely to become more, rather than less, important to the Navy in the coming decade and that we must maintain overwhelming nuclear strategic capabilities. No one is advocating that the U.S. nuclear arsenal be scrapped. Even William Arkin, a weapons analyst for Greenpeace, concedes that the situation in the former Soviet Union is uncertain and that Washington needs some nuclear forces as defenses. Whatever changes are made, you can be certain that the Trident submarines will be the most important part of the forces. By 1997 half of the U.S. nuclear warheads will be carried in submarines. As General Colin Powell summed it up just before being relieved as Chairman of the JCS, “So, however, warm our relations might grow with the new former Soviet Republics-however close our friendships become-we will always, always place our faith in our boomers and not in anyone else”.
I believe it is vital that all of us continue to provide the capabilities of our submarines. Despite the end of the Cold War, the submarine threat throughout the world is significant. The Russian submarine fleet is huge-some 273 submarines and they are still building new, more capable ones as well as aggressively selling them to Third World countries. Additionally, there are some 39 other countries operating more than 400 submarines, many of them very modern with sophisticated sensors and platforms. U.S. submarines offer the best defense against these potential threats, yet there are those in the press and in Congress who call for even more cuts in the Submarine Force.
In conclusion, it remains to be seen what the new Administration and Congress will do to defense and the Submarine Force. I sincerely pray that we will not go through another fiasco such as Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson took us through after WWTI only to have the Korean War find us ill-prepared. Isn’t it ironic that once again with defense forces being cut back Korea is one of the most serious problems facing the U.S.? I hope that restructuring will be well thought out, retaining the significant capabilities we have built up and I hope that submarines that were so instrumental in causing the end of the Cold War will be included in adequate numbers as a vital part of the restructuring. As Secretary of the Navy Dalton said in a recent speech “I know that the importance of the Submarine Force to our nation is at least as great today as it has ever been since the Second World War”. And finally, I concur with General Colin Powell who said at the ceremony in Kings Bay for the 3000th SSBN patrol, “No one has done more to prevent conflict-no one has made a greater sacrifice for the cause of peace-than you, America’s. proud submarine family, you stand tall among all our heroes of the Cold War”.
God bless you and the United States of America.
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