It was a peaceful Saturday afternoon with a warm sea breeze blowing. The sun was beaming down on my shoulders, pleasantly warming my hair. I walked solemnly toward the brow to USS WOODROW WILSON, the nuclear submarine being deactivated in dry dock #1. There was no one in sight, only the standard noises of fans, blowers, and venting pipes.
As I neared the safety chain at the edge of the dry dock:, my heart sank. The old sub was cut into two separate pieces from top to bottom, exposing her missile compartment. She was dissected, lifeless! Only a few years earlier we had given her a complete overhaul and refueling. In my mind I tried to recall if it was this particular sub or USS NARWHAL on which I had worked the most. Over the years, it’s easy to lose track of just how many boats had passed through the yard and the amount of time spent on each one. Now, WOODROW WILSON was destined for the graveyard.
Slowly crossing the brow, I felt the solemnness of the yard. How could we-the most efficient shipyard-be closing? Yet how appropriate that our last two boats had completed their last patrols. As I approached the aft hatch to the engine room it was as if an old friend was beckoning me to come aboard. After negotiating the curved ladder and stepping onto the deck, I was greeted by the lone, roving watchstander. I toured my normal working areas as if searching for something but not really knowing what. Passing through the machinery spaces I remembered all the work, surveys, and times spent on station for various testing evolutions. Now the empty, quiet of the compartment was as if the sub know she was history. I reluctantly departed from the engine room, said good-bye to the rover, a farewell to the sub, and slowly headed toward the adjacent dry dock.
One of the first subs I had ever worked on occupied dry dock #2. USS GEORGE BANCROFT was there to have her missile tubes removed; the defueling operation had been completed in previous months. Walking toward the brow, I could see familiar work buildings-the condos-as they were affectionately known. In past years they had been bursting with activity. This day, the quietness of the yard was eerie. It appeared as though all the inhabitants had just disappeared; a ghost town.
Overhead, a small Cessna flew by. There were a few white clouds sprinkled around the beautiful blue horizon. The sun was beaming proudly as it does after a brief thunderstorm. The warming rays felt so relaxing as I approached the gangway.
Crossing the brow, I could see the canteen while nearby two large, blue cranes were looming motionless as if frozen in time. The harbor water was being churned softly by the warm, spring breeze. Glancing downward, the dry dock bottom was so empty without the usual equipment or staging strung about. It even appeared somewhat clean. How perfectly aligned the keel blocks were as if standing at attention, but no pleasure in the thought that these blocks would never be used again. No more even keel!
Stepping onto the sub, I noticed that inside the topside watch’s shack, it was dark and deserted. The hatch leading to the sub’s operations compartment appeared to be somewhat open. Further investigation proved it to be locked ajar with an old gas-free tag still attached. Moving aft, the engine room hatch was secured except for various leads and hoses routed through the small opening leading to below decks. No entry today. I was partially relieved, after remembering my last entry aboard her. Deactivated boats are tom apart and not a pretty sight.
Retreating from topside, I momentarily stopped to peer into the only exposed missile tube. It was as if it had purposely been left open for me. What a long way down; what destructive power had lurked inside these walls; what an ingenious idea to place missiles inside a moveable, hidden fortress!
The dimpled, solid black, topside hull appeared as a freshly paved asphalt road. It was rusty in places and dirty in others. Several pi~ of equipment normal to ship wort were laying adrift, but no more repair jobs or fresh paint were slated for this hull. How sad I thought, while walking away. My heart was breaking. How silly, After all, these were just old, worn-out submarines, machines, pieces of metal welded together. Not sol Each one had bad its own life, history, and a story to tell if we would just open our eyes, ears, and our hearts.
Last year we were all saddened by the news of our shipyard closing. However, today, I realized that it was these boats that bad made the yard special! We will greatly miss these mighty undersea marvels. After all, bow many people report to work each day aboard submarines? How can one logically explain.
loving such a thing, a non-being? Well, I became attached to each and every one on which I had worked. Having seen one being tom apart was like saying so long to an old friend!
Stepping off the gangway, the sun was glaring in my eyes. The wind was effortlessly tossing my long hair about, partially blocking my view. I paused, then turned around for one last glance. My heart ached, my throat choked up, and I could feel tears welling in the comers of my eyes. I realized that she like so many others had done her duty; given many faithful years of service protecting our country while providing shelter and life support for her crews throughout her numerous patrols.
On a gloomy, fall afternoon destiny played her final hand with the farewell of these mighty submarines. A friend and I stood on the flight deck aboard the Carrier Museum YORKTOWN, anxiously awaiting them. I recalled events of that spring day when the boats were dry docked.
I thought about the bond which often occurred between the workers, the crews, and even with the submarines. Although shipyard workers were always left behind, this did not seem to diminish their feelings of pride and attachment associated with having worked these vessels.
I remembered how special it was to drive across the Cooper River Bridge and watch the submarines cruise in and out of the harbor. I wondered if the drivers on the bridge realized that history was being made; the last submarines completed by Charleston Naval Shipyard were being towed slowly through the harbor, out to sea, never to return.
A sadness came over me as they slithered graceful under the Cooper River Bridge one last time, marking the end of an era and the close of the final chapter of experiences and memories with these mighty undersea wonders. In my heart, I knew that I would never see them again nor be able to go-forward to aft-port to starboard-the sail to the bilges-topside to beneath the bull. Now they were a memory, gone forever, and greatly missed.
Can anyone understand my feelings for these magnificent machines? Machine-such a cold word to describe them. I wanted to tell this story for they and the brave crews of the silent service sailed the seas, performed their duty, and protected our freedom. For this, THEY SHOULD NOT BE FORGOTTEN!