I always thought that I had done my job well and ended my command tour with a proper although bittersweet gesture. After commanding my ship at sea for over two years and then supervising the decommissioning of this proud FBM submarine, I commanded a small task group comprised of several ocean going tugs towing decommissioned nuclear submarines and accompanied by two surface warship escorts all the way from Charleston, South Carolina, through the Panama Canal and to their final resting place in Bremerton, Washington.
Upon mooring at the shipyard in Bremerton, I helped tie up my former command alongside the other submarines awaiting dismantling. Among those once proud ships were all of the submarines on which I had ever served. They were all there, THEODORE ROOSEVELT, THOMAS EDISON, SARGO, and POLLACK. Now I was bringing in LEWIS AND CLARK to join them. As a final formal gesture, I had saved the last few items on the turnover checklist. I turned off the lights on LEWIS AND CLARK and was the last man off. I had said my last goodbye to a proud submarine. The darned thing is she followed me home.
Charleston at one time was a bustling submarine port. Submarine Squadron 4 took care of the fast attack end, shuffling ships around and training their crews. Submarine Squadron 18 handled the FBM side of the house running the FBM refit site. SUBARU SIX kept us all off each other, ran the training facilities and orchestrated one of the most successful submarine ports the Navy had ever seen. Then along came BRAC.
Charleston Naval Shipyard is now closed. The ominous economic predictions for the Charleston area have not come true; remarkably the economy of the area is booming. The Naval Base has been chopped up into private enterprise pieces. The Immigration and Naturalization Service is making good use of the old FBM training facilities and other companies and various government entities are involved in a bidding war to carve up these once excellent facilities. The warships that do arrive are all ex-USS something or other and are repaired in one of several local civilian yards before being transferred to another country. The only submarine overseeing Charleston Harbor is USS CLAMAGORE moored next to USS YORKTOWN at Patriots Point, South Carolina’s Maritime Museum. She now is getting ready for some company.
South Carolina has amassed a nice little flotilla in its Maritime Museum at Patriots Point in Charleston Harbor. YORKTOWN dominates the harbor and has become a landmark in its own right. Naval Air always needs a balance and CLAMAGORE does a fine job of representing the WWII diesel submarine Navy. The Surface Navy and the Coast Guard are represented by USS LAFFEY, a veteran of both the Atlantic and Pacific campaigns of WWII, and by the cutter INGHAM, the proud recipient of The Presidential Unit Citation for service in the Vietnam War. The Vietnam Naval Support Base exhibit honors the Vietnam War with its compound, 31 foot River Patrol Boat, bunkers, helicopters and facilities. The Medal of Honor Society with its museum has found a home here and has truly sanctified the name of Patriots Point.
With all this, the Cold War, an epic battle of nerves that cost the United States vast treasure and military effort and which dominated our foreign policy for nearly decades, is not represented. This, a war that we won without ever firing a shot at our main adversaries, nonetheless took its toll. The price was paid by the personal sacrifices of many servicemen and women and their families. The history of the Cold War will be written of those whose lives were put on hold by long deployments, and of those who never came back and whose loss will never be tabulated as contributing to the victory in some glorious single battle. Like it or not, we submarine sailors are part of this history, and before we become a faded part of that history, we now have the opportunity to leave a small legacy to stand alongside some of the truly great monuments to our Navy’s accomplishments. This is why my old ship followed me back to Charleston.
After eventually retiring and settling in Charleston, I, like many others, remained active in various organizations, remaining in some with a military affiliation and joining other strictly civilian ones. The Naval Submarine League being among these, I had the pleasure of getting to know fellow member Rear Admiral Jim Flatley, CEO of Patriots Point Development Authority. Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum made it possible for my ship to follow me home and be part of the Submarine Memorial at Patriots Point. What will constitute the memorial, how big will it be, where? The last part is answered: it will be ashore at the base of the pier facilities leading to YORKTOWN. How big-full scale 640 class SSBN. We have spent too much of our time hiding in the ultimate stealth platforms to keep on doing so. This memorial will be far more than a periscope sticking out of the background or a submarine sail by its lonesome in the middle of a parking lot. We are talking full size, full scale, riding on the surface.
The memorial will be for all who found the Cold War underwater. Charleston is the appropriate location for such a memorial since more SSBN crews deployed out of Charleston than from any other port. Charleston was truly a leader in the Cold War battle. It would be wonderful to be able to bring anyone of our decommissioned submarines next to a pier and open it up to the public. A training aid of this magnitude would be unsurpassed in educating the American public as to the complexity and difficulty with which the Cold War was fought underwater. For many reasons this is both impractical and unattainable. The rebuilding of the entire superstructure ashore is not. This is the hub around which the memorial will be built. While the sail, fairwater planes and rudder (those pieces of LEWIS AND CLARK which I discovered had followed me home) are from a specific boat, the goal will be to memorialize the entire Submarine Force with no specific identification being assigned to the hull form to be put in place as a memorial. While the ship will be representative of all the submarines that participated in the Cold War, the SSBN hull is considered appropriate for the memorial because of the unique role these ships played during that era. The scale chosen will allow for the incorporation or representation of the widest scope of participation possible and will provide an imposing central core of sufficient size for the memorial. We will be seeking individual contributions in addition to large corporate sponsorship. There will be room for the names of sponsoring individuals to be once again engraved on the plaques representing their ship, or as in the case of many of us, ships.
Trying to give the illusion of motion and magnificence to a static display is always difficult but from the initial architect’s plans we have shown that this can be done. The memorial will incorporate appropriate landscaping which will be designed and colored to represent the rolling of the bow wave and the foaming of the wash. The location immediately adjacent to the harbor will provide the view and the salt breeze with which many of our sailors are well familiar. The balance between a memorial and an interactive exhibit was crucial in the initial planning stages. The static display of the hull and superstructure will be balanced with contributions and displays representing the contributions of all those submarines and associated organizations that participated in the undersea effort of the Cold War
The location at the Patriots Point Maritime Museum provides all the facilities and associated support a project of this size needs. The land is available and more than suitable in both size and location. The museum facilities and all they entail already exist and do not need to be duplicated. Combining the Memorial with the existing ships and displays will so fully complement each other that the visibility we will receive can be duplicated at few other locations in the country.
Charleston also has one other draw for the submarine community that will demonstrate the history of submarines as not other locations will. Located due east of the Submarine Memorial, not much more that a long Mk 48 torpedo run away, lies the Confederate submarine H.L. HUNLEY-the first submarine to ever have sunk a warship. HUNLEY was officially identified in 1996 lying in 30 feet of water just outside Charleston Harbor. She will soon be raised and brought ashore for honoring and for display. The history of submarines will then be exemplified better no place in the world. Available in one location, the Charleston area, will be HUNLEY, the oldest existing submarine in the world; CLAMAGORE, representing the most successful submarine campaign ever conducted; and the SSBN Memorial, symbolizing the most powerful weapons platforms ever built by man.
There is still a lot of work that needs to be done but the parts are coming together. This is an opportunity in which all organizations wishing to support a submarine memorial are invited to participate. For those interested in participating, contact: Submarine Memorial Committee, Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum Foundation, P.O. Box 309, Mt. Pleasant, SC 29465.