I made that. (Okay. I might have had some help) 6

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There was a change of command in San Diego California on January 24, 2014 onboard the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS San Francisco (SSN 711).  Cdr. Eric Severseike turned over command to Cdr. Jeff Juergens during the ceremony held at Naval Base Point Loma. Congratulations to Commander Severseike for a successful tour and best wishes to Commander Juergens as the 711 enters the next phase of her career,

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There is something that bonds men to their ship besides the fact that they are assigned by an order from some higher command to sail on her. Your fate is tied to the ships fate in both peacetime and war. How well you operate her and how well she responds to the demands made on her will ultimately assure your mutual survival or mutual destruction. Every warship built since the beginning of time has been purpose built to respond to the known threats and perceived challenges that she may face while on the oceans that range the face of the earth.

As a young boy, I developed an early interest in ships and particularly warships. I earned money cutting grass and as fast as I earned it, I spent it on building a world class fleet in my basement. In the early sixties, Revell was king of the models and the cardboard boxes filled with parts were regularly brought into my subterranean shipyard on Duncan Station Road.

From their Web Page: “Since 1945, Revell has been the leader in plastic model kits. Our designers are passionate about scale model authenticity and model building. Choose from our huge selection of accurately detailed cars, trucks, ships, aircraft, spacecraft plus much more and say “I Made That!””

Sure, I built a number of cars, planes and spacecraft, but by the time I was fifteen, my brothers and I had amassed a fleet that was absolutely incredible. In our fleet, the Arizona still proudly led the way as part of a battleship Navy that could withstand any attack from. New Jersey, Missouri, Iowa and North Carolina were all lined up in perfect battle formation to challenge ships they never saw; the Mighty Bismarck, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the Battle Cruiser Graf Spee were joined by the Monster ship Yamato to stare down the American and British Fleets.

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We had World War 2 carriers (Hornet, Wasp and Yorktown) alongside the most modern and fearful ships of our day: The USS Enterprise, bristling with F4 Phantoms and Corsairs. Destroyers screened the vulnerable carriers and supply ships. One of those was a model of the ship my Dad had sailed on during his trip home from the Philippines. We even had a couple of JFK’s PT boats and a gunboat or two from the Vietnam era.

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Submarines.

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Like most kids, I had a healthy curiosity about submarines too. That meant that we had to have a couple of U-boats and Gato class submarines lurking near the field of battle. But I did not have a nuclear submarine in the fleet until the very end. I’m not sure why but I suppose it was probably due to the lack of availability. It wasn’t until just about the time I discovered girls that our local toy store finally had a model of the USS George Washington. It folded open so that you could see the insides and even had a firing missile tube (launched by a small spring that needed to be inserted).

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Sadly, by the time this one came along, I was weary from the meticulous assembly, gluing, and painting that were required for the many ships that came before her. Also, I discovered that my new found interest with girls was all consuming and the fleet went into mothballs except for the times my younger brother Tom still put them to sea. Even Tom eventually lost interest since his war gaming did not require actual ship models and planes. The basement became a graveyard of sorts and when I joined the Navy in 1972, the entire fleet suffered a catastrophe of epic proportions in July when Hurricane Agnes roared up the middle of the country. The water backed up through the drainage system and floated the hapless fleet into history, damaged by the muddy water and mold.

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SSBN 598 – The real thing…

My first boat was the real USS George Washington and I was surprised to find that the interior didn’t match the model we had in our collection at all. I also found that the GW was already starting to show the signs of continuous operations on a boat that was put together in kind of a hurry. She had leaks were there shouldn’t have been leaks, much of the equipment was already out of date with the newer technologies and things broke a lot. Let’s just say that as a young submarine mechanic, I got a lot of chances to practice my skills and figure out a way to fix things that lacked spare parts.

Me second boat was the Halibut and she was ending her service life when I arrived. Again, many hours doing tasks that were not what I thought I would be doing during my early days of dreaming about being a sailor on the seven seas.

San Francisco Precom Crew

A _ 711 launch

The in the early days of 1980, I got a chance to actually build a real submarine. I had requested the Ohio Class boats but my detailer wisely knew that I would be better off on a boat that had just been launched and was rapidly taking shape as the newest Fast Attack Submarine in the Navy’s quickly growing Cold War arsenal. (Actually, I am pretty sure the guy was just filling holes and really had no idea of the favor he had just done for me).

When I arrived, the crew was still pretty small. Launched in the fall of 1979, she was in the water but still pretty bare inside. The big stuff was in of course since hull cuts are never a good idea if you can avoid them. But the ventilation, piping and electrical systems were not completed. There were holes where the galley and crews berthing would eventually be. Our days were filled with fire watches, training and more training. We studied diagrams and quickly became subject matter experts in systems that were not quite ready for business.

While the people from the Newport News shipyard worked very hard assemble our boat, others were in line behind us. They built the boat but we built the crew. Hundreds of hours watching and learning helped prepare us for the day we would sign the papers to take over this new weapon. Slowly over the course of the next sixteen months, we added machinist mates, electronics technicians, sonar men, radiomen, yeomen and many others as the shipyard finished the installation and testing of the equipment we would need. The work was hard and exacting but as the ship came together so did the crew.

For me this was a unique experience. My other commands were places I came to almost after the fact and fitting in was not easy. But being on board a new commissioning vessel is an experience unlike any other I had before or since.

What we were building was the heart and soul of that warship.

Newport News builds an awesome submarine. I have been able to see their work up close a number of times since the SSN 711 days but I can assure you that the country gets a good product for their investment. Just as important though were the Officers, Chiefs, Petty Officers and non-rates who poured their hearts and souls into that boat. I had no fear the first time we submerged the ship. Everything that could be done to ensure the physical safety of the crew had been done with meticulous attention to detail. Everything we could do to prepare ourselves as a crew had also been attended to with exacting purpose. I knew that Randy Simpson would do well on the planes and Nick Dalebout would perform his duties well. Bill Phelps inspired confidence and our DCA knew how to manage any casualty that we would face. We had the best torpedomen, radiomen, sonar operators and nuclear trained technicians that existed in any boat. Our Captain was a standup guy (still is) and I thank you Al Marshall for leading us to a successful start.

The San Francisco has had many miles under her keel in the ensuing thirty plus years. Some of those miles have been harder than anyone could have imagined when we built her. We have lost a few shipmates (tragically) along the way. But the ship that holds my heart still sails.

I wish the new Captain the best in his tour. I wish continued good fortune to my shipmates who now man the watch. There will be a few of us in San Francisco in September of this year and I will proudly toast the boat that represents one of the finer parts of my life. I have been blessed with many things in my life but one of the proudest moments of all comes when I can point to the USS San Francisco SSN 711 and with great honor say: We made that.

 

Mister Mac

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2014 National Convention

6 comments

  1. I was on the SSBN598 from 1976 to 1980 as an electrician and your description of the boat held true while I was there. It was a tired old boat coming out of the Mare Island yards and didn’t get better with age. I was glad to get away from her and the constant battles with equipment that was ridiculously out of date and could or would not be updated.

    • Dear Speight-
      I thank you for your service! I know she needed your expertise!
      Yes she was old, but she was a first! The first nuclear FBM Sub, and you are one of many to thank for her 77,000 hours underway time, 72,000 hours submerged, she travelled more than 420,000 miles and the first FBM SUBMARINE to achieve it’s hull number in dives! I’m proud of your service. I really want to thank you for the sacrifice it took to become a part of her history. I have a picture of where her hull lays displayed proudly. Thank you, again, she needed the great sailor I’m sure you were and still are!
      Remember this: The men who have served in USS George Washington, we are especially proud, because your labor, endurance on long patrols can never really be appreciated. Without those who served and with their irresistible spirit, the USS George Washington (SSBN-598) is a hull— with you and those who served her well, she’s a ship!
      Respectfully
      CDR JB Droste’s daughter,
      Kimberly

  2. I am not a writer but can’t hold back these words that came upon reading your story. You see, although your career began in 72 upon the very vessel I’m so proud of, your story “I made that” begins in 1979 (by building USS 711’s TRUE Heart and Soul) shortly after my fathers story (of a familiar vessel we share) ends in 1978. I hope you allow this proud Navy daughter to say what her heart holds dear, that the amount of pride, valor and honour in your story is as real as one could feel! So well written, as I felt the those very feelings in your words.
    If I may share this preceding the heart and soul that your team built ..
    As the daughter of Commander JB DROSTE of the real SSBN 598 USS George Washington (1977-1978), I would like to share that before CDR JB DROSTE assumed command of the Gold Crew in 22 Feb ’78 Commander Droste reported to the USS George Washington March ’97 and He and the other Officers and crew took the USS George Washington (18 years after her commissioning) and completed her 598th dive and she became the first FMB submarine to achieve it’s hull number in dives! Although I would only be 9yrs old at the time, I had no idea the amount of blood deep pride I would have as I learn just who and what my amazing Navy Father was and represented. I would, and continue now, to grow deeper pride and honor of the USN and all members of this fine Department of Defense. And now at 44 (Older than my heroic father was at the time) I still find myself fascinated at how marvelous a man and his crew was and still are.
    I love reading anything I can about my Fathers career as well as the many submarines he was a crew member of and/or Commanded. I have a soft spot for anything USN and am deeply in-love and so proud of my sailor, who currently engineers the USS Stout (DDG55) {whose guided class missile destroyer along with the SEAL team liberated a pirated vessel named the Morning Glory in March ’14} what a navy we have!!
    Recently I have begun to actively support any known or unknown USN personnel who are currently underway or on any deployment at all, by means of social media such as Facebook posts and Military support groups. I’m ashamed I’ve stared so late in life- but not ashamed of my Navy!
    Thank you for your story- I truly loved reading it! What a beautiful and proud moment it must’ve been as the USS San Francisco (SSN 711) had to be for you, “Mister Mac” and her crew as the papers were signed and she was your teams Warship. I can imagine how being a part of a newly commissioned vessel had to have been an awesome experience! You are correct, your team built the heart and soul of that warship!!
    Thank you for your amazing story because it inspired mine.
    Respectfully
    A US NAVAL CDR (CO)’s
    very proud daughter, and new fan of yours, Mr Bobby Mac.
    I hope to find out more about you because you exemplified her Commanders both old and new and it’s a fine example of Pride, Valor and Honour (USS Stouts badge) that you never revealed who you are? I find that I must know this great author whose memoirs I find fascinating.
    Respectfully to you Sir!
    Kimberly Droste
    “To be prepared for war is one I the not effective means of preserving peace”
    George Washington (1732-1799)
    (I’m not a writer, but could not allow this moment to pass to put these words down as they became inspired by yours and I apologize for any misspells)

    • Kimberly,
      Thank you for your story and for the kind words. TLS is my passion since it has allowed me to celebrate the wonderful parts of my life and purge a few parts that have not been so wonderful. God Bless you for a very nice way for me to start a day
      Bob (AKA Mister Mac)

      • You have a new fan in me Sir!
        I cannot effectively express what your blogs have done to my soul! Thank you for your service. (As tears fill my pupils) I shall call my dad today, thank you more than you’ll ever know.
        PS it was very early and I wrote from memory, any errors in my words are not intended.
        Life long subscriber your found!
        Kimberly

    • George Washingtons quote is in error and I’m deeply apologetic : corrected
      “To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace”
      George Washington (1732-1799)

      kimberly

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