I pay special tribute to Mike McQuown, the commissioning Engineer Officer whose enormous energy and dynamic capability was an inspiration to all who served on the commissioning crew. Mike went on to be the Officer in Charge of NR-1 and bad reported to relieve as the Commanding Officer, USS GURNARD when he lost his life in a tragic automobile accident.
Admiral Mies, Admiral Campbell, Captain Hutton, distinguished guests. crew members of FINBACK past and present, wives, families and friends.
What a great honor to once again stand on the deck of this magnificent submarine. I had the opportunity to visit her yesterday, and, Admiral Mies, I am sure I beard her murmur .. I’m not ready to be retired”. If material appearance inside her hull is any indicator, she looks as ready as she did on the day we commissioned her. With 750,000 miles having passed beneath her flood grates, I think she is straining at the bits as much today to show her prowess and excellence as she was on commissioning day. It makes this occasion one of mixed emotions. One of sadness to see this grand cold warrior no longer called upon for the readiness and service and naval influence which she projected over the past quarter of a century. At the same time it is a day of true gratitude and admiration for all who have been wed to FINBACK in one way or another. Included in this gratitude, for their effort and dedication, are the craftsmen at Newport News who built her, the tender crews who helped maintain and sustain her, the shipyard personnel who overhauled her, the squadron staff who assisted in her readiness and training, and most especially the wives and families who sacrificed and bore the responsibilities of the home front while their submariners were off to sea. Above all, must be the nation’s gratitude to each and every FINBACK sailor whose talent, hard work, and devotion created this submarine’s spirit and emboldened her performance.
My visit to FINBACK reaffirms the marvelous strength of our Submarine Force that is embodied in the small group of young Americans in their late teens and early twenties who devote enormous energy, time and effort to muter the extremely technical details of these most complex and lethal of modem warships, while developing the highest standards of accountability in fulfilling extraordinary responsibilities u crew members of a submarine. I am sure that some today would question if it is possible to find people committed to diligent work, continuous study and training, qualification and re-qualification, zero drugs, and meeting exacting standards of performance and readiness. Ask FINBACK and she would reflect over her years and say “‘You will find them here and it has been every thus”. She might add “‘It may seem astonishing to some, but my missions and my safe operation demanded nothing less and these great Americans who were my crews understood and made it so”.
FINBACK’s namesake was USS FINBACK (SS 230) which was commissioned at Portsmouth Navy Yard on January 31, 1942. The United States had been at war for two months. The commissioning was secret, no ceremony, and after a brief shakedown and training period at New London, she sailed to the Pacific. Enroute to the Panama Canal, Admiral King’s intelligence provided the approximate location of 20 German submarines along her track, an indication of the submarine war that ravaged the Atlantic. FINBACK fought gallantly in the Pacific, claiming her share of the tonnage. Not the least of her exploits was to save a downed young naval aviator, George Bush, from a loss at sea.
Allow me to reflect. I first stood upon this submarine a little over 27 years ago, with her bow dome pointed slightly skyward on the building ways at Newport News. The year was 1968 FINBACK was to be the first Navy ship to be launched on the day of December 7th since the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, 27 years before. The first cadre of the commissioning crew were assembled as a most gracious sponsor, Norma Baird, the wife of the Under Secretary of the Navy, pronounced, “‘God bless FINBACK and all who serve in her”. With the crack of a champagne bottle the ship majestically glided down the building ways. What followed was the frantic pace of construction. Within a year we took over each piping system, component and piece of equipment, checking each against building specifications and testing their operability while proceeding smartly through reactor plant testing and the ensuing five sea trails. It was a period of enormous intensity, working days, nights, and testing on weekends until FINBACK was ready to join the fleet. As the last 637 class on order that was being built at Newport News, she had already made a contribution to that fleet, 13 torpedo tube to SP ADEFISH, her clutch to SEA DEVIL.. and her diesel blower to LAPON with their refurbished components now installed in her. Such was a necessity with the construction pace supporting five to six deliveries a year from the nation’s shipyards. A snowstorm coated the pier and sub-freezing temperatures greeted the guests at the commissioning. A few days later breaking ice in the James River, she tied up at Pier 23 and joined Submarine Squadron Six where she hu been assigned to this very day. From a better cold start, she quickly warmed during the next two years as she engaged in almost every aspect of submarine operations, not as a novice, but much more as an accomplished and seasoned veteran of plying the ocean’s depths, thanks to a tireless and talented crew who made ready now their hallmark. From SSBN security to advanced ASW exercises, to testing new development towed arrays, to tiring countless Mk 48s during this new torpedo’s operational evaluation, to major exercises with the fleet and a deployment of great significance to our nation, FINBACK proudly began its service. What followed with successive crews was a continuum of operation that mirrored and expanded upon these early beginnings. FINBACK had its equipment modernized, its vital systems overhauled, and became even more capable. Until this day, she remained a formidable redoubt of our security on and under the seas.
When I stood on her bridge on the day of launching, I vividly remembered that very day 27 years before. As a 10-year-old boy in Madison, Wisconsin listening to a Green Bay Packers football game on the radio, the only electronic device in our house, we paused in shock as did the nation with the broadcast interruption that announced the attack on Pearl Harbor. The entire nation went to war in a manner that only those who bore witness truly understand. A year and a half later, I stood on a barren sand dune at Virginia Beach. Tall watch towers stood every couple of miles, a barrier of barbed wire lined the beach and oil, a life raft, and other debris from sinking ships wallowed in the surf. As I looked seaward, I witnessed a column of smoke and flame from a distant torpedoing off of these very shores. That war engulfed the oceans as it was fought from the seas, on the seas and under the seas. United States submarines were instrumental in the victory, most especially in the Pacific. The first FINBACK contributed her vital effort. Clay Blair entitled his book which chronicles that submarine war Silent Victory’· At the war’s end, this nation resolved-never again. The Cold War years followed and this submarine, as all of the submarines of the United States Navy, deterred and influenced the outcome in profound ways, much of which will remain untold. If a book could be written today, it might be entitled Stealth Victory. Americana are now content that their nation’s security is not at risk. That content in large measure is owing to those who assemble on this pier today and at like ceremonies scheduled at a rate of seven a year. With one a year commissioning to replace them, the Submarine Force is rapidly downsizing. What is the right size force to insure this content, which I speak of, is not misplaced? Time will judge and it will be the awesome responsibility of Admiral Mies, of our national defense leaders, and the sustained impeccable performance of our submarine crews. May God bless them, bless the United States of America, and all those who served in FINBACK.
Captain Hutton, I want to personally thank you and the members of your crew for allowing me to briefly serve once again on this marvelous submarine. Thank you.