USS Sam Houston SSBN 609 – The Runaway Raven

Did you ever get so mad as a kid that you ran away from home?

Not counting the Navy of course. I would suspect that there are more than a few of my readers that were looking for a way out of something when they signed up to become part of the Navy.

No, I am really talking about a young child wanting to be on his own despite all of the obstacles that were going to present themselves after he wandered away from hearth and home.

I remember one time very distinctly when I was very young. I do not remember the incident that caused the anger, but all I could think about was how much better my life would be if I were to escape the tyranny that was my parent’s home. I was so angry at the latest run in with my Dad that at ten years old, I was ready to set out on my own. I headed down the driveway and across the street to the woods. I was certain that no one would be able to trace my steps once I went into the forest and my escape would be foolproof.

Just as I hit the tree line, I noticed my little brother Tom was trailing close behind. He was five.

“I want to go with you.”

“No. You are only five. What do you know about surviving in the world?”

“I don’t care. I just want to run away too.”

This was not in my short and ill-conceived plan. But it quickly became apparent that he was not going to go away. Rather than waste more time arguing, I just told him that I didn’t want him to slow me down so it was up to him to follow as best as he could. And he did.

We walked through the woods to the main road and then a series of decisions needed to be made. We came to our first fork in the road and I realized that I did not know which direction to take for my yet undecided destination. But being the leader, I had to choose quickly so I chose right. The flat road soon became crooked and around the next large bend was another fork. Both directions were uphill but in the back of my mind, I remembered that we had used the one to the left as a shortcut. So left we went. You would think I would have remembered that in a few hundred feet, the road would take a decidedly steeper grade. But of course, I did not. So we slowed down as we both realized we had not prepared well for this escape. I think I had a canteen with water in it and a package of cookies. But as we climbed it became apparent that neither would last very long.

After several hours, my little brother informed me that he had to go to the bathroom. I pointed at some trees and he added the important fact that he had to go number two. Well, crap. Ten year olds do not think about toilet paper when running away. But I did remember that some leaves would be poisonous and by that time I had started thinking that we might actually have to go home. A passing car saw him squatting and with a gale of laughter threw a box of tissues out of the window as they passed us by.

We ended up at an old farm house and asked the very nice lady to call my parents. The total distance we travelled was about thirteen crooked miles. My first life lesson was to realize that in Western Pennsylvania, there are no straight roads. To be fair, this lesson would follow me for the rest of my life. Life is rarely ever a straight line.

No one at home was amused since they had been scouring the neighborhood for hours and hours with all of the neighbors. It was the first time I ever heard my mom swear. I do wonder how far I would have made it if Tom had not come along.

“Sam Houston ‘He loved his country. He was a patriot. He was devoted to the Union.”

The man today’s 41 for Freedom boat is named after also ran away from home as a young man. From page 140 of Admiral Rickover’s book Eminent Americans:

Sam Houston had no taste for frontier farming which demanded hard and monotonous labor and yielded meager rewards. It seemed to him that the neighboring Cherokee Indians lived more sensibly by hunting and fishing than the white settlers by toiling in their fields. Certainly theirs was a more carefree life and one who’s every need could be satisfied with little effort. When his elder brothers found Sam a position as clerk in the local trader’s store, this work proved no more to his liking. One day he disappeared without trace. An intensive search for the 15-year-old truant was instituted by the settlement, but it was months before word trickled back that he was living with the Cherokees and had been adopted by their chief. The story goes that when his two older brothers went there to bring him back, they found Sam reading a translation of the Iliad under a tree. Begging them not to disturb him, to let him “read on in peace,” he stated categorically that he much preferred “measuring deer tracks to tape,” and liked “the wild liberty of the Red men better than the tyranny of his brothers.” Not until he was 18 did he return home, greatly scandalizing his mother with his wild appearance and Indian ways.

Houston never forgot the years he spent among the Indians and what he learned of their lore. The closest friends of his youth were Cherokee boys and girls. To them he was known as “The Raven,” the Indian name given him when he was adopted by Chief Oo-loo-te-ka. Near the end of his life, he once remarked that though he had seen “all there is to live for,” he yet found “nothing half so sweet to remember as (his) sojourn among the untutored children of the forest.”

I swear, I think Sam would have qualified as a good Submariner.

USS Sam Houston (SSBN-609/SSN-609), an Ethan Allen-class submarine, was the second ship of the United States Navy to be named after Sam Houston (1793–1863), president (1836–1838, 1841–1844) of the Republic of Texas. Sam Houston was the US Navy’s seventh ballistic missile submarine

Class and type: Ethan Allen-class submarine

Type: Ballistic Missile Submarine

Displacement: approx. 7,900 tons submerged

Length: 410 feet 4 inches (125.07 m)

Beam: 33.1 feet (10.1 m)

Draft: 27 feet 5 inches (8.36 m)

Propulsion: S5W reactor – two geared steam turbines – one shaft

Speed: 16 knots surfaced, 21 knots (24 mph; 39 km/h) submerged

Test depth: 1,300 feet (400 m)

Complement: 12 Officers and 128 Enlisted (two crews Blue and Gold)

Armament: 16 fleet ballistic missiles, 4 x 21 inches (530 mm) torpedo tubes

Also From Admiral Rickover’s Book Eminent Americans:


NAMED FOR Samuel Houston (1793—1863) one of the most colorful of American frontier-statesmen and a commanding presence in the early history of Texas. Famed as the victor of the Battle of San Jacinto, which won Texas her independence and made him first President of the new Republic, he deserves the greater acclaim for his courageous and farsighted efforts to preserve the Union in the face of determined opposition by his State and his region and at the cost of jeopardizing his political career in a vain attempt to stem the tide of secession.

Samuel Houston, generally known as Sam Houston, was born on 2 March 1793 at Timber Ridge Plantation in Rockbridge County, Va. After the death of his father in 1807, Sam’s mother took him to eastern Tennessee where he learned the ways of the Cherokee Indians and became deeply committed to furthering Indian rights, a cause he served throughout his life.

Houston enlisted in the 7th Infantry on 24 March 1813 for service in the war with England. He fought under General Andrew Jackson and, although severely wounded during the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, remained in the Army after the end of hostilities. He had attained the rank of First Lieutenant before he resigned on 1 March 1818 to study law.

Soon after being admitted to the Tennessee bar, Houston was appointed prosecuting attorney for the Nashville District. He served in the United States House of Representatives from 1823 to 1827. In the latter year, he was elected state governor and served as head of the Tennessee government until 1829 when he relinquished office and became a trader in Indian Territory (Oklahoma).

Much of his time in the next few years was devoted to securing fair treatment of Indians by the Federal Government and to promoting peace among various Indian tribes. He visited Texas in 1832 to negotiate with the Comanche tribe on behalf of the Cherokees and, thereafter, became increasingly involved in that region.

Soon after the outbreak of the Texas War for Independence, Houston was chosen Commander in Chief of the Texas Army. On 21 April 1836, his badly outnumbered force, which had been retreating before the Mexican Army, turned and decisively defeated their pursuers at San Jacinto. They captured the Mexican commander, Santa Anna, and his entire army, thereby winning independence for Texas.

 On 22 October 1836, Houston was inaugurated President of the Republic of Texas and held the office until December 1838. He then stepped down but again headed the new government from 1841 to 1844.

When Texas was annexed to the United States, Houston was elected as one of the state’s United States senators, and he served in the Senate until 1859, when displeasure over his loyalty to the Union prompted the Texas Legislature to replace him. However, his enduring popularity among the electorate won him the office of governor which he held until he was deposed on 18 March 1861 for refusing to swear allegiance to the Confederacy. He then retired to his farm where he died on 26 July 1863.

About the boat:

The second Sam Houston (SSBN-609) was laid down on 28 December 1959 by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., Newport News, Va.; launched on 2 February 1961; sponsored by Mrs. John B. Connally; and commissioned on 6 March 1962, Capt. W.P. Willis, Jr., (blue crew) in command.

Following shakedown, the nation’s seventh Polaris submarine fired her first missile on 25 April off Cape Canaveral, Fla. The gold crew, commanded by Comdr. J. H. Hawkins, then took over, completed its missile firing on 11 May 1962 and then departed from Cape Canaveral for its own shakedown training.

On her first patrol, Sam Houston, manned by the blue crew, operated continuously submerged for 48 days and 2 hours, then moored alongside the submarine tender, Proteus, in Holy Loch, Scotland. Following upkeep, the gold crew commenced its first patrol on Christmas Day, returning to Holy Loch in February 1963. The crews were again alternated, and Sam Houston departed on her third patrol in March. On this patrol, she was the first fleet ballistic missile submarine to enter the Mediterranean where she joined the NATO forces. On a short operational visit to Izmir, Turkey, she became the first Polaris submarine to make a port-of-call during a patrol. With the two crews alternating every 90 days, Sam Houston completed 6 successful Polaris patrols by the end of the year.

By the end of 1964, Sam Houston had completed 10 patrols. During 1965, she completed four additional deterrent patrols. During 1966, Sam Houston completed 3 more patrols, including her longest which lasted 71 days. On 10 August 1966, she returned to the United States for the first time since her deployment in 1962 and commenced a major overhaul at the United States Naval Shipyard at Portsmouth, N.H. On 30 October 1967, she got underway for sea trials; and, a month later, her blue crew began shakedown training. In January 1968, the gold crew conducted shakedown operations. Following further tests, she got under way for her 18th deterrent patrol, and put into Holy Loch on 25 May. By the end of the year, she was on her 21st patrol. During 1969, Sam Houston completed her 22nd through 24th patrols. In 1970, she continued to operate with Submarine Squadron 14 until shifting to the Mediterranean on 9 August to join Submarine Squadron 16.

She operated out of her advanced base at Rota, Spain, until October of 1972. On 27 November, she entered Charleston Naval Shipyard and began an extended in-port period, which included regular overhaul and the updating of her weapons and propulsion systems. As of May 1974, Sam Houston was still in port at Charleston, S.C.

In February 1975 USS Sam Houston completed sea trials and overhaul at Charleston NSY. Change of Command ceremonies were held on the USS Hunley at Weapons Station Charleston SC and the blue crew assumed command of the ship. After both crews completed post overhaul inspections Sam Houston headed for her Pacific assignment in late July 1975. Gold crew under the command of J.P Wiekert transited the Panama Canal in August 1975 with stops in San Diego, Weapons Station Bremerton arriving at Pearl Harbor in early October 1975. Blue crew assumed command at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and performed Sam Houston’s first pacific deterrent patrol No. 37 transiting the boat to Guam. Sam Houston performed 14 patrols, No. 37 – No. 50, between 1975 and 1979 operating out of Guam. During these patrols Sam Houston made mid-patrol stops in South Korea and Hawaii.

In 1981, in compliance with the SALT I treaty, Sam Houston’s ballistic missile section was deactivated. Concrete blocks were placed in the missile tubes and the missile fire-control system was removed, as was one of her inertial navigation systems. Sam Houston was reclassified as an attack submarine with hull number SSN-609 on 10 November 1980 and retained primarily for training, antisubmarine warfare exercises, and other secondary duties.

From September 1982 to September 1985, Sam Houston, along with her sister ship USS John Marshall (SSBN-611), was modified at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard at Bremerton, Washington, as an amphibious transport to carry frogmen or commandos. This included the installation of additional troop berthing, the removal of some ballistic missile tube bases, and the conversion of other ballistic missile tubes into air locks and stowage for equipment. She was fitted with two dry deck shelters (DDSs) abaft her sail. These, which housed United States Navy SEAL team Swimmer Delivery Vehicles, allowed her to act as a SEAL mother ship.

On 29 April 1988, Sam Houston ran aground on Fox Island, Washington.

From the New York Times: “An American nuclear-powered attack submarine ran aground off Fox Island near here late Friday and stayed stuck for 10 hours, until four Navy tugs pulled it free at high tide this morning.

The U.S.S. Sam Houston, a vessel of the Ethan Allen class, based at Pearl Harbor, was grounded around 6 P.M. near Carr Inlet, about 100 yards off the southeast end of the island, with the tide going out, said a Navy spokesman, Fred Watson, at the Trident nuclear submarine base at Bangor, Wash.

No one was injured, and the craft’s 142 crew members remained aboard until it was refloated at 4:18 A.M., Mr. Watson said. The submarine received minor damage to exterior hull equipment, but no pollutants were released, the Navy said.

The four tugs that freed the craft were assisted by the submarine rescue ship U.S.S. Florikan. The 410-foot-long Sam Houston will undergo repairs at Bangor before continuing operations, Mr. Watson said.

The Navy would not disclose how the craft became grounded, but Mr. Watson said an investigation was under way. The vessel’s commander, P. J. Keuhler, was not immediately available for comment, he said.

The submarine was in Carr Inlet for acoustics testing to determine how quiet it is in the water, Mr. Watson said. The Navy regularly tests submarine acoustics in the area.”

Deactivated on 1 March 1991 while still in commission, Sam Houston began the Nuclear Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard the same day. She was formally decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 6 September 1991 and finished the recycling program on 3 February 1992, when she was officially listed as scrapped.

My escape from my family finally came when I was 17 and I was able to join the Navy. Brother Tom followed many years later and we ended up on the USS San Francisco SSN 711. Our adventure was very rewarding once we had a plan and unlimited toilet paper. But that is a story for another day.

Mister Mac



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