August 28th 1996 marked the end of an era. USS SUNFISH (SSN 649) decommissioned and started the voyage to Bremerton, Washington for inactivation. Although 27 years young, SUNFISH bas seen long and hard duty to the fleet. More and more long hours each day were going to maintenance and upkeep of the boat, but instead of opting for the quick fix, the crew of USS SUNFISH came through for lasting repairs and preservation, putting 100 percent effort into everything they did.
It’s getting harder to find the right parts for the right job on these older boats. It’s getting harder to chip away the years of paint, and lay down a new layer. It’s getting harder to keep the edge on a boat that is slated for inactivation, but through perseverance, pride in our ship, and a continuous training program that prepared both junior and senior sailors for follow-on tours to other submarines and shore commands, USS SUNFISH shone through and made the best deal out of the hand dealt.
USS SUNFISH has a long and proud history. Coming full circle during her lifespan, SUNFISH made her maiden deployment to the Mediterranean, and ended with another deployment there, with Rear Admiral Mies from Group 8 in Naples riding the boat. Admiral Mies did bis junior officer tour on board and was present on 13 February 1996 for SUNFISH’s historic 1000th dive. A feat that few commissioned submarines hope to accomplish, SUNFISH and her crew completed a safe dive, and as Admiral Mies said, ….. Another safe surface.”
USS SUNFISH was commissioned on 15 March 1969 at the Quincy Division of General Dynamics. From that point on, the spirit of SUNFISH has shined in every ocean in the world. The early part of the ’70s was spent conducting various deployments and services for the fleet along with earning her first Meritorious Unit Commendation. Completing an overhaul in 1973, SUNFISH returned to Charleston and the period of June to December 1974 marked the first deployment to the Mediterranean. SUNFISH’s first Battle Efficiency E was awarded for 1976 along with her second Meritorious Unit Commendation. In February 1977, she left again for the Mediterranean, returning to Charleston in June.
In January of 1978, SUNFISH left Charleston for Pascagoula, Mississippi for her second overhaul, completed in February of 1980. In August 1981 SUNFISH again left for the Mediterranean returning in January 1982. This highly successful deployment netted SUNFISH the Navy Unit Commendation, The Battle Efficiency E, and her first Anti-Submarine Warfare A. SUNFISH then saw four deployments to the Atlantic from 1982 to 1986, receiving her third and fourth Meritorious Unit Commendations. After numerous tactics and training exercises, SUNFISH was awarded her second Anti Submarine A for 1987.
January of 1988 brought USS SUNFISH to Norfolk where she continued her proud history; she began her third overhaul in May 1988 at Norfolk Naval Shipyard and returned to the fleet in 1990 for a deployment to the Atlantic. Then in late 1991, she deployed to the Mediterranean for the third time. In 1993 SUNFISH provided services to the fleet and spent the remainder of the year in Newport News Shipbuilding for an extensive Selective Restricted Availability. January of 1994 took SUNFISH to the Caribbean Sea for a deployment, returning in March. In August of 1994, she deployed with a joint task force to Haiti and performed flawlessly earning the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal. Her fourth and final deployment to the Mediterranean began in November 1995 and completed in March 1996 with the 1000th dive. SUNFISH earned the Armed Forces Service Medal for her efforts there. July 1996 brought SUNFISH her final inspections prior to making the second homeport change to Bremerton.
Crew attitudes regarding decommissioning the boat varied. When all seemed to be working fine the notion of a few years more service to the fleet wasn’t out of the question. Most resolved themselves for a difficult yard period in a place that few have been. Many looked forward to the chance of going around to the West Coast and making their follow-on tours with Pacific Fleet submarines. Others left wives, kids and homes on the East Coast hoping for a quick return when the crew melted away during the yard period. Either way the officers and crew of USS SUNFISH continued to go the extra mile and made their time on SUNFISH effective and meaningful.
SUNFISH kept charging until the deactivation ceremony, then took her can,Jo attitude with her to the West Coast and performed the decommissioning safely in all aspects and phases. USS SUNFISH leaves a proud history behind her as the older makes way for the newer. It’s a history that past and present crewmembers challenge the re.st of the Force to match.