USS KAMEHAMEHA (SSBN 642)
The very first thing that hit me when I got off the plane in Hawaii is the humidity. Back in the day, we were told to wear dress blues for travel when we traveled (or at least that is what I remember the Chief saying as I left my last school on my way there) and the first rush of island air convinced me that they may not have included Hawaii in that thought process. There was a slight breeze but even with as open as the Honolulu airport was, wearing wool was not the best plan.
The second thing I was hit with was the smell of the plumeria flowers in the many leis that adorned both natives and arriving visitors. The smell is one that was so powerful and so distinct that I can still imagine exactly what it was like as I sit here in my office. I was on a plane that had a tour group on it and they were greeted by lovely young girls wearing the most amazing outfits and covered with multiple leis. I was not included in that friendly greeting (the uniform kind of revealed that I was not a welcome visitor to the islands but just another Navy boy on his way to work). I will admit a kind of envy to see the balding middle age guys and their annoying children being fawned over by beautiful girls that gave them fake Aloha kisses and flowers.
It wasn’t long before I ditched the uniform and found my way to the Naval base. I had my orders in hand but I had been bumped from my first flight a few days before in California by an Air Force General and his family who made a last minute decision to vacation in the islands. (A sympathetic airman revealed this to me after the plane was already headed down the runway and I was sitting in the terminal wondering what happened.) The resulting delay meant that instead of flying to Guam for the first patrol I should have made, I would spend the next few months living in temporary barracks doing rehabilitation work on the main barracks at Sub Base.
Not exactly a glorious way to start my submarine journey. But the free time in the evening would allow me to learn a little bit more about the Island and its people. A few things I learned pretty quickly was that the Aloha spirit was pretty selective back in the early seventies. Hawaii had been the launching point for many soldiers, sailors and airman since the attack on Pearl Harbor and to be fair, the word Haole was not exactly an endearing term. We were foreigners and there was an unpopular war in progress. There were probably too many of us running around consuming resources and beer so that certainly did not endear us to the locals.
Waikiki was still pretty small compared to the size it is today but it was our playground. It too had limits. There was plenty of alcohol and plenty of shore patrol and MP’s to keep an eye on us. But getting to know the people was very very difficult. So difficult that in my case I just gave up trying. I was too young to know the history of the islands and its people. I made up for that in later tours and have since begin to really understand why there was a generational distrust of all things American. Despite the fact that they were “encouraged” to become a state, Hawaii had a proud history that needed to be subjugated for the good of the relationship.
I am glad that I had the experience. I still love the islands and have some friends who helped me to understand the true nature of Aloha later in life. The beauty of the islands and the kindness of the people is truly a joy. Our visits to the other islands beyond Oahu were the most enlightening since we met people who were not so jaded by the overwhelming presence of the US Military. There are many days that I miss the soft breezes and the smell of the flowers. But I will always be a foreigner visiting.
I learned about Kamehameha in my first trip to the island and built on that knowledge later in life. His fierce loyalty to the people of Hawaii is captured in story and song. I am sure he must still weep when he sees what has happened to his little paradise. That is why I am still a little puzzled why his name was used for a nuclear submarine. Yet it is the warrior spirit that the men carried that helped her mission to be successful. And he had a bit of sailor in him. Maybe it was a perfect match after all.
USS Kamehameha (SSBN-642), a Benjamin Franklin-class ballistic missile submarine, was the only ship of the United States Navy to be named for Kamehameha I, the first King of Hawaii (c. 1758–1819). She is one of only two ships of the United States to be named after a monarch. She was later reclassified as an attack submarine and redesignated SSN-642.
The ship’s motto was Imua, which roughly translates (from the Hawaiian) as “go forth and conquer.” Another motto used by her crew was Kam do
Namesake: Kamehameha I (c. 1758–1819), King of Hawaii (c. 1795–1819)
Ordered: 31 August 1962
Builder: Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Vallejo, California
Laid down: 2 May 1963
Launched: 16 January 1965
Sponsored by: Mrs. Samuel Wilder King
Commissioned: 10 December 1965
Decommissioned: 2 April 2002
Reclassified: Attack submarine (SSN-642) in 1992
Struck: 2 April 2002
Motto: Imua (Hawaiian for Go forth and conquer)
Crew’s unofficial motto: “Kam Do”
Fate: Scrapping via Ship and Submarine Recycling Program begun October 2002; completed 28 February 2003
Class and type: Benjamin Franklin-class submarine
Displacement: 6,511 tons light, 7,334 tons full, 823 tons dead[clarification needed]
Length: 425 ft (130 m)
Beam: 33 ft (10 m)
Draft: 31 ft (9.4 m)
Installed power: 15,000 shp (11,185 kW)
Propulsion: One S5W pressurized-water nuclear reactor, two geared steam turbines, one shaft
Speed: Over 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph)
Test depth: 1,300 feet (400 m)
Complement: Two crews (Blue Crew and Gold Crew) of 20 officers and 130 enlisted men each
Armament: 16 × ballistic missile tubes (removed 1992)
4 × 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes (all forward
From Admiral Rickover’s book Eminent Americans:
USS KAMEHAMEHA (SSBN 642)
NAMED FOR a man who was neither by birth nor choice American, who knew little about America, had few close contacts with Americans and never set foot on American soil.
Scion of a royal family, he belonged to an alien race and religion. His political preference was for Britain, not for the United States. He was Kamehameha, king of Hawaii from 1810 to 1819.
If it seems strange that the name of a Hawaiian king should be borne by an American warship, the paradox resolves itself when we remember that he was the most striking ﬁgure in Hawaiian history and Hawaii is now our 50th State. We honor his memory because in our philosophy the heritage of every State of the Union is part of our common heritage. There is room in the pantheon of America’s great for the heroes of every sector of this vast Nation.
Kamehameha was a great warrior. Having fallen heir in 1782 to a small chieftaincy, he set out to conquer all the islands.
Others had tried before but he was the ﬁrst to succeed. It took 28 years before all resistance was quelled, but the-bitter fratricidal ﬁght brought an end to the continuous inter-island wars that mar so much of Hawaiian history.
Kamehameha proved himself an extraordinarily able and wise ruler. His power was absolute but he used it benevolently. Under him the people were assured of justice and domestic peace. It was said of Hawaii under Kamehameha—as Of Saxon England under King Alfred—that along any highway a child, woman or old man could lie down to sleep in perfect safety.
At whatever time he had lived, Kamehameha would have deserved to be called “the Great,” but his achievements were enhanced by the fact that they occurred at a time when Hawaii needed as never before to be united and well governed. His adult life coincided with the dangerous and difﬁcult period that followed Captain Cook’s discovery of the islands in 1778 when trading ships from Europe and America in ever-growing numbers made the islands their way station for rest and revictualing.
The visiting seamen brought weapons and tools that aroused the admiration of the Hawaiians, but also new vices and diseases that decimated their number. The rowdy behavior of the visitors was a constant threat to the independence of the islands, for any incident brought with it the danger of foreign intervention. By maintaining public order and treating foreigners with scrupulous honesty and cordial hospitality, Kamehameha gained his people almost a century of political freedom.
After a thousand years of self-contained remoteness, the Hawaiians were ill-prepared to cope with the sudden inﬂux of strange new ideas and ways of life. An indigenous Stone Age culture, no matter how highly developed, rarely survives contact with modernity. Kamehameha, who had grown up in old Hawaii, cherished its ancient religion and customs but realized his people must master modern techniques. He had an eye for what was good and what was bad in foreign ways. Against the latter he sought to protect his people, while enlisting the help and friendship of several foreigners in order to acquire such technology as would be useful for- Hawaii. He deserves much of the credit for easing the transition from an old to a new culture, and for whatever remains today of the spirit of old Hawaii and its attractive way of life.
It is ﬁtting that one of our swift new nuclear submarines should bear the name of this illustrious son of a race of intrepid seafarers whose swift canoes made landfall with amazing accuracy across the wide spaces of the Paciﬁc, whose superb seamanship and knowledge of stars, winds and currents still arouse wonder and admiration.