Captain Golden was commissioning Gold Crew Electrical, Reactor Control and IC Division Officer on USS JAMES MONROE (SSBN 622), 1962-1965. An Olmsted Scholar. he later commanded USS TECUMSEH (SSBN 628), completing a career total of fourteen SSBN strategic deterrent patrols plus two tours of duty aboard SSNs.
Capt. Golden, his wife Jeanie, and their two miniature schnauzers, currently reside in Bloomsburg. PA. After his Navy career, Capt. Golden served as an engineering group supervisor and manager at the PPL Susquehanna Nuclear Plant until retiring in 2002. He now is a volunteer Naval Academy Blue and Gold Officer, and an Olmsted Foundation Liaison Officer.
The “Forty One for Freedom” SSBNs were being launched at the rate of one a month. The first launching I witnessed was that of JAMES MONROE (SSBN 622). L T JGs. Jim Patton and myself, Mark Golden, both stationed on USS SCORPION (SSN 589), had been invited by our former XO, LCDR (later V ADM) Ken Carr and our former Navigator, LCDR (later CAPT) Dick Lumsden. At the celebration following the launching, Ken asked us if we would like to transfer to his pre commissioning crew. Having spent almost all of the past year at sea covering both SCORPION and SHARK commitments, we both said yes. Soon thereafter, we both received orders. Jim, assigned to the Blue Crew, was sent to the pre commissioning course at Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory, while I, ordered to the Gold Crew, went right on shift work as an engineering officer of the watch, conducting cold and hot operations.
Our two skippers were in place, Commander Sandy Sande ford as Blue CO, and Commander Bus Cobean as Gold CO. The recent passing of Captain Cobean is what prompted this article.
I had not had much experience as an Engineering Officer of the Watch on SCORPION. A new submarine at the time, fresh out of new construction when I came aboard, most of my time on SCORPION was spent as JOOD/OOD. Typical of a new construction crew meeting newcomers, emphasis on SCORPION was placed on knowing details rather than focusing on operations of the power plant. Working through the test programs on MONROE quickly remedied that.
Several significant events took place during our construction period, plus myriad lesser occurrences.
One of the lesser occurrences happened during compartment testing. There were no standard procedures or lessons learned then, so we used our best judgment, which was not always good enough. The event in mind was the pressurization of the Operations Compartment. We all put our heads together, and thought we had covered every contingency, but we failed to consider the battery agitation system. As a result, all 126 of the individual cell ceramic domes got sprayed with battery acid. After the test was complete, as Gold Crew Electrical Officer, I set out to arrange using the shipyard’s ultrasonic cleaner.
You guessed it. Their ultrasonic cleaner was broken and out of commission. So I did the next best thing. Our galley had recently opened. Our cooks gladly provided three blueberry pies for the cause. Thus armed, I was able to acquire the ceramic domes for a downstream SSBN, which would get ours, properly cleaned, once the ultrasonic cleaners were restored.
At the end of cold and hot operations and initial critical testing, a team from Admiral Rickover’s Naval Reactors Office descended upon us. The NR Team conducted interviews, walk-throughs and operational testing of the crew, required for certification as ready for Sea Trials. I had had a chain erected across the entryway to the Maneuvering Room in an effort to control access. Mr. Pan off, the NR Team Leader, was rather short, and my engineering shift crew needled me saying that he could stand up to his full height and walk under the chain.
That was the least of our worries. There was a series of phone calls back and forth to Naval Reactors all afternoon. Then suddenly and with no explanation, the NR Team packed up their brief cases and walked out. As my shift got relieved, we were certain that we had dropped the ball and failed the examination beyond any hope of recovery. Being sailors, we all went out for a few beers, which I paid for in recognition of their great efforts. My crew dropped me off at home, where I fell into bed, sleeping deeply until the next morning.
The evening news and all the press clearly explained what had happened. On sea trials, one of our submarines had failed to resurface, apparently suffering a series of failures. THRESHER had been lost at sea with all hands.
Our beautiful submarine, almost ready to go to sea, was torn apart, with all engineering insulation tom off, all sea water piping retested, all waivers from construction pulled out and reevaluated. After assessing what had contributed to the loss of THRESHER, virtually all the Reactor Plant Manual procedures were revised with a new philosophy. Significant ultrasonic testing was done, and numerous system modifications were installed as part of the SUBSAFE program. In parallel, we had to retrain the entire combined engineering crew, both Blue and Gold. Once completed, we successfully passed the NR examination, a significantly safer submarine.
Let me describe another important event. I was catching up on paperwork in the work barge, and happened to look out and notice the shipyard’s flag at half staff. I called their administrative office, and learned that President Kennedy had been assassinated. The word quickly circulated throughout the command.
Since we were in a state of official mourning, our regular commissioning party was cancelled out of respect for the fallen President. Not willing to let our hard-working crew finish construction without recognition, the shipyard hosted a private party to quietly and privately celebrate the occasion of our commissioning.
After successful sea trials and DASO [demonstration and shakedown operations for the ballistic missile systems], JAMES MONROE sailed to her new home port of Charleston, SC, and my Gold Crew completed two deterrent patrols before I was transferred to NA THAN HALE as Engineer Officer.
No other Navy assignment short of my own command meant quite as much to me as my tour of duty on JAMES MONROE, completing all the testing, getting all our troops qualified twice, passing my Engineer examination, and getting an Engineer assignment. No other SSBN skippers stand out quite as much in my mind as Sandy Sandeford and Bus Cobean. May they rest in peace.