After the upheavals in the Navy caused by the end of the Vietnam conflict, you can imagine how discouraged many people who wore the uniform were by the time the Carter years were at the three and a half year point. Blend in the miserable economy, high unemployment, interest rates never before seen and you can understand that the country in general was ready for a long stretch of misery.
The fleet was limping along with limited growth and some of the key programs that were in progress (Trident and the Los Angeles Class submarines) were behind schedule, over budget and on the congressional radar for supposed savings. The entire military was in a sorry state and maintenance and upkeep programs on all types of equipment were falling away.
Any hopes that the Navy would gain support by having the first Naval Academy graduate as President were swiftly dashed as the nation realized that Carter did not agree that communism was our greatest chief enemy. His policies were really directed to the arms race and support of NATO policies. The real vision for the Navy was to become nothing more than a bus service to troops that would be sent to Europe in case of an event in the central European countries. According to Nathan Miller, noted historian and writer “ Naval strategists charged with this plan meant the surrender of the Pacific to the Soviets without a fight. “The Naval equivalent of the Maginot Line has been constructed,” declared Navy Secretary Graham Claytor, Jr.” From Nathan Miller’s The US Navy, A History.
History is not kind to the remaining part of the Carter administration as the Middle east proved to be too surprising and too confusing for the hapless administration to deal with. The fall of the Shah in Iran, the rise of fundamentalist Muslim groups in his place, the invasion of Afghanistan and perceived weakness of the US in almost ever corner of the world destroyed most of the remaining credibility the United States had on the world stage. Much too late in the game, the affects of cutting the fleets growth was being felt all around the world.
Modern war ships are not built in a day. The logistics and planning for these vessels in peacetime are influenced by a great number of factors including politics. Vessels during that era were forced to undergo lengthy deployments with cutbacks in training and preparedness. Breakdowns and lack of crewmembers stretched the already meager resources to the breaking point as Carter was obsessed with the Iranian hostage situation. Morale was at a breaking point and so was the equipment. Neglect is a strategy that only pious old fools think will be successful.
Then came Reagan
Immediately after the inauguration, plans were revealed that would change the Navy back to a three ocean Navy, capable of defending the nation, ensuring freedom of movement in the world’s oceans, and check the growth of the Iranians and other rogue states that would challenge global peace. In the words of the Ronald Reagan, the vow was made to never again be humiliated by the Iranians or anyone else.
The pre-commissioning unit for the Los Angeles Class Fast Attack was informed that their commissioning ceremony in April of 1981 had just taken on a new significance.
Instead of the usual commissioning that would be viewed by Navy officials and family, the whole world was about to be treated to the ceremony. Two important guests were coming and the new location would be at the aircraft carrier piers in Norfolk Virginia in order to house the press for a special announcement.
John Lehman, Reagan’s new Secretary of the Navy and Casper Weinberger, Secretary of Defense would bear witness to this proud new ship’s introduction to the fleet. While there, they would announce the most ambitious and costly peacetime buildup of the military and the Navy in the nation’s history. Nearly 500 billion dollars was announced that would be used to build the Navy back to a three ocean Navy of six hundred ships by 1989.
As a crew member on the ship, I can assure you it was a powerful day.
The arrival of President Reagan in the white house reassured a nation that a new day had come. We would not just drift off into the night as another country without direction and purpose. The enemies who vowed to destroy us would have to face a protracted struggle with a determined nation and a Navy that was once again on the rise. I was proud to be in my dress blues that day. I can assure you that most that I stay in touch with from that time frame agree. Every year on July 11, you will see us in the submarine chat rooms and Facebook wishing each other a happy 711 day.
Many will say that the Cold War ended for any number of reasons.
My fervent belief is that the end of the Cold War started on that day in April 1981 topside on the deck of the USS San Francisco.
At one point in the ceremony, the Executive Officer is directed to bring the ship to life. The crew then runs across the brows, down the hatches and up the sail as the ship’s whistle blows. On that day, as we ran, we represented the hundreds of thousands that would follow us in all the uniforms of the services. America was back and we were going to retake our rightful place in the world. This was the turning point that spelled the beginning of the end for the Soviets and the Cold War.
This country has the resources to defend itself and protect and serve other nations that are not so blessed. We have the capacity to build the best ships (Like the San Francisco SSN 711 which is in its 32nd year of operations). When we have the right leadership, we can overcome any attack and any adversary. Most importantly, we have the right people to man those ships and face dangers from every quarter.
My prayer each day is that the Spirit of Ronald Reagan will speak louder than the people who want to surrender our moral imperative and authority. To assume that other nations will do well by us by out of the goodness of their hearts is ludicrous and flies in the face of history.
When I wish you a happy 711 day, it is with the wish that we do remember the goal of using whatever means needed to defend and protect this great land. The thought of living in a land of delusional fools who believe in the good will of our enemies is too hard to accept.