Thanks, Tim. Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, shipmates, it’s an honor and a pleasure to be with you today to observe Memorial Day here in Norfolk. Being pretty much a Pacific Fleet sailor, I never shipped out of Norfolk, but I’m most appreciative of the unmatched contributions th is port and this community have made to our Nation’s defense, since our very inception.
I’m always moved by our solemn ceremony of tolling the boats. It reminds us of the legends who forged our Submarine Force’s legacy- who led the way and who gave much- many who gave all. In particular, we remember those 52 boats still on patrol from WWII – plus THRESHER, still on patrol these 45 years- and of course, SCORPION, whose loss will be commemorated tomorrow at the very piers here in Norfolk where her families waited 40 years ago for their boat … still on patrol.
As we begin this Memorial Day weekend, let us be mindful of that legacy- and of its cost. We do know that “Freedom isn’t Free” . Our Armed Forces’ men and women have paid the price of our freedom for over two and a quarter centuries now, and some are sacrificing today while we gather here, they continue to preserve our precious freedom.
I’m honored to represent the crews of USS PARCHE, the boat I was privileged to command. I’ve been asked to talk about the boat today as she’s inducted into this Submarine Hall of Fame. That could be a little tough to do. She was a truly unique boat, a magic boat- literally in a class by herself, one of a kind. So much to cover, so much could be said … but very little of which I’m at liberty to recite in public. So what I’ ll try to do is
- First, establish a context by recounting our Submarine Force ‘s remarkable ascendancy to take our place as a unique and critical element of our Navy
- Then with that historical backdrop, zoom in on PARCHE and her crews. Both PARCHEs, in fact- SS-384, CDR “Red”
Ramage’s legendary WWII Fleet boat that showed us the way and SSN-683, our own nuclear powered Attack and Special
Missions submarine that established an unparalleled record of success during her operational service from I 97 4 through 2004.
First, the context- the evolution of our Submarine Force as a crucial clement of the Nation’s scapower and security:
Our Navy’s origins coincide with our Nation’s origins. Our Founding Fathers, in their wisdom, included in the
Constitution the words, “Congress shall maintain a Navy.” Maintaining a Navy is vital to the United States. It was vital in 1789, and it’s just as vital today, for two fundamental and timeless reasons:
- Number one: ships take a long time to build- a navy is a large capital investment. You can’t just build a navy
when you realize you need one. It either exists, and is ready, or it’s too late. That’s true today, more than ever
before, with the complexity and cost of modern warships.I think we’re all aware of significant concerns for our
Nation’s ongoing shipbuilding prowess and capacity.
- Number two: America is a maritime nation. That hnsn ‘t changed. Geography is a simple fact- the rest of the
world is literally oceans away. Our economic livelihood and our security rely on our Navy maintaining our sovereignty in those oceans, and on law abiding ships of all nations being able to move freely along the ocean
highways. Always has, always will.
Our fledgling nation did build a capable Navy to secure our interests in the world and since the mid-1800’s, we’ve maintained deployed warships in all parts of the world. The world continues to change- but our need for forward presence persists. It’s kept us strong and it’s been there when we’ve needed it, time and time again.
In just a little more than a century since our inception, the Submarine Force has emerged as a crucial and irreplaceable element of that capable Navy. Ours is a legacy of adaptation through technological, strategic and tactical innovation.
- W c came into being in 1900 with the delivery of USS HOLLAND by her inventor, John Holland. Beginning with a limited submarine and a limited vision of shortrange submarines, principally assigned harbor and coastal protection duties we evolved substantially in the first 30 or 40 years of our existence, developing our submarines and our submariners.
- Some recognized the tremendous potential of these new platforms and we improved them to become longer range, offensively oriented.
- We gave them new, more reliable diesel engines, better batteries, more fuel, and more payload volume, improvements that would ultimately enable us to capitalize on their inherent stealth to go where our other forces couldn’t go … and to take the fight to the enemy.
Long-range Fleet boats began appearing in the late 1930s.
- In the nick of time to step up to a WWII mission that surpassed anything anyone expected – when our heroic submariners held the line in the Pacific.
- Now, this WW(] part of our legacy is particularly important to us: it was then that we learned our trade &
developed many of the strategics and tactics still in use today
- For sure, it was the crucible that forged our character because it was then that our submariners were presented, virtually overnight, with a 11ew mission and said simply, “We can do that.” They had to … there was no one else.
The war in the Pacific began with the crushing surprise attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor- a devastating blow. Following this surprise attack and for many months afterwards, I think many today may fail to fully appreciate- the Japanese were winning.
Our Submarine Force survived the blow and immediately took the fight to the enemy. Then and there was born the principle that, to a submariner and his boat, there is no such thing as enemycontrolled waters. Our submarines hounded the Japanese Empire, holding their forces in check until our Nation could recover and mount the effort that turned the tide and won the War in the Pacific.
Admiral Chester Nimitz later said, When I asmmed command of the Pacific Fleet 0n 31 December 1941, 011r submarines were already operating against the enemy. the only un1its of the Fleet that could come to grips with the Japanese for months to come. It was to the Submarine Force that I looked to carry the load . . . . It is to the everlasting honor and glory of our submarine personnel that they never failed us in our days of great peril.
Submariners represented less than 2 percent of Navy personnel during World War II, but accounted for more than 55 percent of our enemies’ maritime losses.
That war produced legendary heroes. Submariners- that small 2 percent – were awarded seven Medals of Honor, and scores of Navy Crosses and Silver Stars. Our submariners today still recite their names and their exploits.
Names like Denley, Morton, Street, O’Kane, Fluckey (Admiral Fluckey was our last surviving Medal of Honor winner, whom we lost last year) … and Ramage, our WWII Parche skipper, for whom Ramage Hall here is so appropriately named. Our WW ll Submarine Force did “carry the load,” as Admiral Nimitz said, and they gave us our great legacy to carry forward.
Our post-WW II diesel and unclear-powered submariners carried our legacy forward, playing a singular role in the Cold War. The Submarine Force’s role in the Cold War has become known more and more to the public, including some aspects of the critical role PARCHE played.
Our attack submarines carried out hundreds of difficult, daring missions- providing our national leaders and military commanders solid, often sole-source information on the capabilities, intentions, and activities of the Soviet Union and her surrogates. True to a maxim stated centuries ago by the Chinese warrior and strategist, Sun Tzu: the U.S. k11ew ourselves and we knew our enemy.
- Our attack submarines held the Soviet Submarine Force- and her other very capable forces- at risk. Those
guys- the Soviets- k11ew they could never quite count on being alo11e.
- Our ballistic missile submarines- the “41 for freedom” launched in great numbers in the 1960s, and the Tridents
that replaced them- were the one truly survivable leg of our strategic triad of bombers, land-based missiles and
the boomers- the deterrent for which the Soviets had no answer
- With each of these Cold War missions our submariners simply stepped up and did it- just like in WWII. They had to …
- Submarine technical superiority was the muscle in that victory but our submariners’ ca11-do spirit was the heart, overwhelming the Soviets’ calculus of numerical superiority.
And post-Cold War:
- Our 14 Tridents patrol in their vital strategic deterrent
role, even as we’ve reduced the numbers of ready bombers and the missiles in the silos. Tridents are carrying an
even greater share of that load.
- 4 Tridents have been converted from ballistic missile shooters to multi-mission SSGNs. They’re deploying
today with Special Forces, large volume Tomahawk cruise missile loadouts and tailored Command & Control modules configured to operate from agile, covert forward locations
- They’re doing a lot of their work directly under Strike
Group and Joint Force commanders, providing remarkable eyes and ears through the instantaneous pipes of
Once again, they’re stepping up, tackling twice the mission tasking with half the boats, and doing it well. Because they have to … There aren’t a lot of liberty days on today’s deployments, folks.
And of course, our new VIRGINIA class submarines arc setting new standards in all areas of performance. USS HA WAii just completed a South Atlantic deployment and is receiving finishing touches from Elcclric Boat before she transfers to Pearl Harbor next year. NORTH CAROLINA was commissioned earlier this month and arrived in Groton this week lo begin operating.
I visited USS HA WAii in the dry dock in Groton yesterday and walked the boat with her skipper. What a boat and crew! These new boats are terrific; they’re being built on time, effectively and more and more affordably. Our Chief of Naval Operations and our Congress arc pressing to step up the build rate as soon as feasible.
They know we need submarines in sufficient numbers to maintain our Navy into this 21″ century- that charter from our Constitution I mentioned earlier.
Now back to the part where we zoom ill on how the old and the new PARCHES feature in that story of our Submarine Force.
- First, the WWII PARCHE- one of the long-range Fleet boat design. She was built at Portsmouth Navy Yard and
commissioned in November 1943, two years into the raging war. She arrived in the Pacific and commenced the first of six remarkable war patrols in March 1944.
- During her second patrol, on the night of July 31, 1944, PARCHE single-handedly engaged a Japanese convoy on
the surface at night. In a 46-minute melee of savage combat, she shot 19 torpedoes from her forward and after
tubes, sending over 20,000 tons of enemy shipping to the bottom.
- CDR Lawson “Red” Ramage, the skipper, had sent below to comparative safety all personnel but himself (to direct the attack) and a lookout to assist him. Parche was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation and CDR Ramage the Medal of Honor for this action
- Later questioned as to how he mustered the courage to do what he did, he stated simply, “I got mad.”
1 never had the privilege to meet Admiral Ramage, but I spoke with Captain George Street and had several interchanges with Admirals Dick O’Kane and Gene Fluckcy- all Medal of Honorawarded WWII skippers. Over the years, I’ve spoken with a lot of our WWII submariners who came to grips with the enemy, and I have to tell you that, to a man, these heroes maintain that they were just ordinary me11 who did what was required when they were called upon in extraordinary times.
Men who, like our young submariners today, didn’t set out to be heroes. But not quite ordinary me11, I’d say!
Their story is our story. We stand on the shoulders of these heroes, we can never lose sight of that fact- it’s our legacy.
The exploits of the Submarine Force in World War II arc legendary. Think a moment, though, what life was like for those submariners, like those in Ramage’s crew.
- Loading out for war patrols, in lines on the piers in Pearl Harbor, or Midway, or maybe Frcmantle, Australia
- Sweating in the hot sun, passing down the bags of flour and cans of food, the spare parts, loading aboard all the provisions that would be needed to sustain 80 men for up to 8 or 10 weeks
- Knowing full well that much of their time would be spent deep inside enemy-controlled waters, without contact or support from anyone but their shipmates.
- Writing what too often turned out to be last letters to loved ones, then getting underway, not really knowing
when, or even if, they would return, anxious … even scared, but ready.
- Moving around the boat among those provisions, stacked and stuffed into every space- but stuffed carefully, so as not to make noise at the wrong time, that could give away the boat to a deadly, listening enemy- and cost the loss of the ship
- Cramped spaces, 80 or so men in a living area the size of a small house, living on top of the very torpedoes that would pay back the enemy for what had been started at Pearl Harbor
- In a hot, foul, humid atmosphere that reeked of diesel fuel, day after day – working, drilling, sweating – precious little fresh water, not enough for showers or laundry
- surfacing when it was safe, under cover of darknessgasping for fresh, cool air when the diesel engines finally
started, circulating the life-sustaining atmosphere from the outside world
- And the raw, gut-wrenching savagery that permeated each engagement with the enemy
Yet those elite, submarine heroes stepped up amid these tensions, adapting to this mission- using good old American ingenuity to make it work.
- When facing a protected, numerically superior enemy, PARCHE charged right into the convoy’s midst on the
surface at night, gaining an edge by creating havoc, disruption and chaos- and torpedoed the ships the Japanese depended on for sustenance.
- When the enemy thought he was in a protected harbor, far into shallow waters, our WWII heroes boldly slipped in
on the surface, past the heavy harbor defenses- and exploded the precious cargo within.
- When the enemy was anchored inside an uncharted harbor, our guys made their own charts- from an old geography book, on one occasion- then went in submerged, in broad daylight, and destroyed yet another vital
concentration of enemy ships.
They used every available means to gain an advantage, to try to turn the tide against superior odds. They somehow always found a way, because they’d determined, “We can do this.” “Red” Ramage’s PARC HE emerged from the war victorious- 6 patrols, 5 battle stars and 2 PUCs to show for it. Decommissioned in March 1946, her sail now stands at the Submarine Memorial Park at Subase Pearl Harbor, ever a monument to that ship, those crews and that Submarine Force that held the line.
Now to the second PARCHE – SSN-683:
Our USS PARCHE was built in Pascagoula, Mississippi at the Ingalls Shipyard, commissioned in 1974 and operated out of Charleston for a couple of years until she was selected for a set ofspecial mission taskings.
She transferred to the Pacific Fleet in 1976 and was specially configured, operating out of Mare Island Naval Shipyard for the next 11 years. During that period, she deployed nine times, conducting highly specialized, classified missions.
From 1987 to 1991, the boat was again reconfigured in a fivcyear conversion at Marc Island. The reactor was refueled and a I 00- foot section was inserted into her hull forward of the sail, as Mare Island transformed PARCHE into its own class of boat- just over 401 feet long!
After nearly two years shaking down and learning to operate the new systems at sea, the boat deployed again in 1993, returning 4 months later with another complete success, accomplishing the missions she’d been configured for.
With the closure of Mare Island Shipyard slated in 1995, PARCHE changed homeport to Bangor, Washington, to have her
special operations gear tended by the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in nearby Bremerton.
Even the homcport change was a special event. Conventionally, submarines change homeport with a reasonable gap in their deployment cycles, to include time to move families and support functions over several months of transition.
PARCHE departed on her 11 ‘h special projects mission from Marc Island in 1994, returning over 3 months later to her new homeport in Bangor and moving directly into an intensive drydockcd repair period within 2 weeks of reaching port- beginning the familiar high paced cycle anew! The boat deployed 9 more times from Bangor, about annually, before her decommissioning in October 2004.
Without discussing the specifics of PARCHE’s classified configurations or tasking, I’d like to talk a little about that operating tempo and, in turn, the type of crews, that characterized the boat.
PARCH E’s crews were some of the most successful submariners ever assembled. I don’t mean to brag by saying this. To the contrary, I think, our crews were comprised of sailors who, as individuals, were like our WWII forebears – quite ordinary. It was as a team, though, that these crews shone.
I think it was simply because they “had to”. They consistently performed missions they alone could accomplish- over a 30-year lifetime that included 20 deployments. While we struggled as a Navy and a Submarine Force to limit our yearly operational at-sea days to approximately 50%, PARCHE routinely operated 200, 250 or more days, year in and year out – save that lengthy refueling period in the late 80s. When the boat was11 ‘t at sea, it was usually in an intensive shipyard maintenance period. There wasn’t time to afford a more balanced tempo, due to the critical and unique nature of the ship’s taskings.
In many senses, I guess our crew’s operating lifestyle resembled the WWII submariners I talked about earlier.
- When we deployed, we went out, did our 3-4 month missions and returned.
- We were under radio silence for most of the deployment, receiving messages, but sending virtually none.
- We didn’t visit liberty ports and we didn’t replenish, except by covert rendezvous when mission success required a fix for some reason.
- We did deploy with food and supplies crammed into every space and when we left, there were cans of food stacked three deep on the deck outside my stateroom- meaning it was like that everywhere!
And there was a degree of legitimate concern for safety, for being discovered, for a tell-talc dropped wrench or slammed hatch giving us away to the bad guys. Frankly, we didn’t know for sure what they’d do if they found
us – even more so if they found we were PARCHE. And it wouldn’t have been too hard to figure out who we were if we were somehow seen- those of you who have seen the boat know what I mean! Like no other!!
Our boat was uniquely configured, tough to operate (particularly at periscope depth), tougher and tougher to maintain (as the last of the 637-class, when parts and experienced maintainers became
more scarce every year). And I know SSN means “fast attack”, but I can’t honestly say that to you people- I can settle for attack – PARCHE was a nuclear powered attack submarine- but we weren’t very fast.
Our crews learned to operate our special systems and did it expertly. We couldn’t tolerate less. At the same time, they maintained their proficiency as sonar operators, auxiliarymen or similar submarine technicians – in addition to their “PARCHE quals”. They just did more, because they had to.
This intensity brought our crews together quickly. Contrary to widely held belief, most of our crews were comprised of submarine sailors assigned like everyone else’s. There was some screening, but more for security liabilities than any performance cut. So PARCHE’s draft picks were pretty much the same as other boats got. The difference came about on board. As each man reported to the boat he’d heard only vague rumors about- the boat’s mystique building throughout her service yearshe quickly ascertained where he was needed and fell into step.
Each became more capable and more multi-tasked- because we had to. That’s the mark of many successful businesses, blue chip sports franchises and other endeavors of excellence. Consistent with the boat’s motto, engraved on our seal (both PARCHEs’ seals, in fact- SSN-683 drew our motto from our predecessor), the crews- all the crews, down the years, lived up to
the credo: Par Exce/le11ce. I don’t know who chose 1t, but its
simple elegance and charge to just do it and do it well made it fit
just right for the two PARCHEs.
I don’t know what else to say about it, but that these shipmates were the finest teams I’ve ever served with, before or since. Several years after I’d left the boat, while I was a Squadron Commander headquartered in San Diego, I embarked in PARCHE for a week and a half of training operations to share experience and special operating techniques with the incumbent skipper. The crew I’d commanded had since rotated off the ship- though a few had
actually returned after an interim tour of duty elsewhere. I have to say that the crew I saw underway was every bit as good- in some areas, better, than those I served with first hand.
It’s the legacy passed from our WWII predecessors and the tradition of unmitigated, unrelenting excellence, handed down crew member to crew member, that made the boat do so well for so long. And I have to acknowledge Marc Island and Puget Sound Naval Shipyards here- the Special Projects organizations in those yards- when I talk about our teams.
Others that have to be included are the boat’s bosses and their staffs- Submarine Development Group ONE and its later evolution, Submarine Development Squadron FIVE- and a number of planning, authorizing and coordinating organizations throughout the Navy’s chain that kept the boat and the operating program focused, supported and on track.
I’ve steered clear of citing the boat’s leadership, but with the benefit of comprehensive hindsight, I found myself in a forum with all 10 of PARCHE’s Commanding Officers a couple of years ago, where we recounted a highly classified version of the ship’s history. I was impressed, honored and humbled to be in that number- not
because of a brash or swashbuckling atmosphere, or even an offthe-chart cerebral quality- though I’ll tell you, some of them arc among the sharpest I’ve ever met.
The main thing I noted, is that though we were different from one another in style and experience, each of us had a sure and well developed sense of operational priorities and decision-making processes. We faced unique challenges during each of our command tours and to a man, had devised unique- sort of extraordinary, even unconventional- approaches to achieve success. We found a way … we had to … And I’d probably follow any one of those guys, if he said “let’s go”. I’ll say the same for most of the boat’s Executive Officers and Chiefs of the Boat, down the years, as well. Two of the COBs are here with us – Dick Witte and Mike Kaufmann, the boat’s 2″d and 3’d COBs. Thanks, shipmates. A truly phenomenal group.
Speaking as an outsider if I may for a moment- an admirer and supporter of USS PARCHE, I’ll state that I think the record stands for itself. Over 30 years of sustained, superior service, the boat was awarded 9 Presidential Unit Citations and 10 Navy Unit Commendations- the most highly decorated warship in the history of the U.S. Navy … period. It’s with considerable personal humility- fired by an unavoidable pride in our team – that I’m honored to count myself among that number as a PARCHE sailor.
Similar to “Red” Ramage’s sail, our PARCHE’s sail now stands as a memorial, too- this one in the Puget Sound Maritime Memorial Museum park, situated adjacent to the ferry landing in Bremerton, not far from her final home port Shipyard. A commemorative room in the museum with a window that looks out on that proud sail provides the public an unclassified glimpse into the remarkable performance record of our boat.
One final observation. I would note that though USS PARCHE is the most highly decorated U.S. Navy warship, the boat isn’t a national celebrity. If this sounds like my feelings are hurt, they’re not … it’s perhaps most fitting that a flagship of the Silent Service, with a mission of stealth and classified secrecy, carry off that mission without undue fanfare or notoriety. So that’s in a sense, sort of a final mission accomplished” and I thank many of you here for participating and keeping it that way!
Thank you for your attendance and attention. Thank you to the Submarine Learning Center and Submarine Veterans for hosting this event and honoring my shipmates and our boat in this fashion. God bless our Nation, our Navy and God bless you all. Please bear in mind as we depart here today, what and whom we honor and remember- this and each Memorial Day.