Mariano G. Vallejo SSBN 658 – Seagoing Cadillac with a hell of a kick

There has been a long standing difference of opinion on the merits of serving on various types of submarines. Go to any Sub Vets meeting and you will find the purists that wear their DBF pin and scoff at anyone who never served on a diesel boat. For the record, despite serving on five boats, I never had the opportunity. I was born too late and frankly at the young age I am now, it’s a bit late. That and there are no more diesel boats in the US Fleet.

I did serve on the oldest and the newest FBM submarines and am proud of my service on both. The first was the George Washington and she was a traditional boomer of her day. The food was great, the sleeping arrangements were pretty decent for nearly all ranks and she did her job. I learned a lot about submarining including operating her in all kinds of seas and doing my work as an Auxiliaryman. The Ohio was a damn big boat and took some getting used to. I did a follow on tour after serving four years on a fast attack so only got four patrols on her. Someday, I may even share some of those memories.

But the 640 Class boomer seemed to be the Cadillac for her age. Long. Sleek and powerful with advanced weapons, she represented a type of weapon that could change world history in a few launches. The newer boats were quieter and more comfortable to live in. The argument that many old hands make is that having all those creature comforts somehow diminished the swashbuckling image of being a diesel boat sailor. There is probably some truth to that. Plus, we were only part time. Sort of.

Three months on and three months off. Actually not a bad gig. There were a few times that we could disappear in the off crew and not even feel like we were in the Navy. Out hair was always a little too long and since beards were a thing, they always bordered on being obscenely out of specifications.

But there were few things about riding boomers that were different. Probably the one stress that was never really talked about but fully understood was the mission. “We hide with pride” meant that our purpose in life was to operate with as little detection as possible. We were out there serving a single purpose. If the President called us and said “Launch” we would launch. We drilled for it. We prepared for it. We kept our equipment ready for it. Everything was built and dedicated to the primary mission. Deterrence.

That plays on your mind if you have any conscience at all. I know it did mine. The thought of launching those missiles that had the potential to be carrying weapons of unimaginable terror on board never really left your mind. After my hectic qualification run, I actually had a little more free time to think. Sometimes that wasn’t a good thing. To be honest, while physically I was not on the boat, it was never far from my mind. Nor was the weight of the horrendous possibilities.

My generation was the first one born after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In school, we saw the pictures of the aftermath. In my early years, we even practiced atomic bomb drills where we would all duck under our desks. I am certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that the desk would not have actually protected any of us.

All sailors on a warship have an enormous obligation to their fellow crew members and the country they are defending. I would just say from personal experience that being a part of a boomer crew carried with it an unspoken burden. The knowledge that if we were unsuccessful in deterring the enemy, we would have an active part in the decimation of entire civilizations.

I’m glad we never had to find out.

Today’s salute is to the USS MARIANO G. VALLEJO (SSBN 658)

The contract to build Mariano G. Vallejo was awarded to Mare Island Naval Shipyard at Vallejo, California, on 8 August 1963 and her keel was laid down there on 7 July 1964. She was launched on 23 October 1965, sponsored by Miss Patricia O. V. McGettigan, and commissioned on 16 December 1966, with Commander Douglas B. Guthe commanding the Blue Crew and Commander John K. Nunneley commanding the Gold Crew.

Class and type: Benjamin Franklin-class fleet ballistic missile submarine. Generally similar to the LAFAYETTE – class, the twelve BENJAMIN FRANKLIN – class submarines had a quieter machinery design, and were thus considered a separate class.

Displacement: 6,465 long tons (6,569 t) light

7,300 long tons (7,417 t) surfaced

8,250 long tons (8,382 t) submerged

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 120 men each

Armament: 16 × ballistic missile tubes

4 × 21 in (533 mm) forward torpedo tubes

About the Ship’s Name:

Gen. Mariano G. Vallejo, born 7 July 1808 at Monterey, Calif., entered the Monterey Presidial Academy in 1823. Appointed Secretary to the Governor of California in 1825, he later served as Commander of the Presidio at San Francisco, and in 1836 was appointed Commandante General and Director of Colonization of the Northern Frontier, the highest military command in northern California. That appointment terminated during the Bear Flag Revolt, General Vallejo, in spite of substantial losses suffered as a result of that revolution chose to remain in his home State and support separation from Mexico and annexation by the United States.

Admiral Rickover wrote in his book “Eminent Americans”:

“Vallejo, eighth of 13 children of a sergeant, grew up in the Monterey Presidio and chose presidio service for his career. He joined the garrison as a cadet at 15, put down his first serious Indian rebellion at 19, and at 26 was sent to Sonoma to establish a military post and serve as its commandant with responsibility for keeping all of northern California pacified. He proved himself a first-rate organizer of frontier defenses and established complete control over the Indians, handling them with a judicious combination of firmness and kindness, qualities he possessed to an unusual degree.

“The end of Spanish rule enlarged Vallejo’s prospects in life, as it did for most of his abler young compatriots. Mexico’s generous land grant policy enabled virtually every Californian to have his own well-stocked ranch, large or small. Vallejo, himself, received an enormous grant when he was made Commandant of the Northern Frontier and given the responsibility to direct and encourage colonization in that area. Then, too, as citizens of Mexico, the Californians enjoyed for the first time a measure of self-government, as well as representation at the capital. Vallejo was elected a member of the local assembly or disputacion in 1830 and a delegate to the Mexican Congress in 1834.

“Nevertheless, Mexico never gained the complete allegiance of the Californians. They had taken no part in her revolt against Spain, remaining loyal and never doubting the mother country would win. Paradoxically, the success of the insurgents in severing communications between Spain and her distant colony had the unexpected result of changing what had been docile colonials into troublesome citizens extremely critical of the Mexican Government when it assumed jurisdiction in 1822 as the legal successor to Spain.

What changed them was their sudden exposure to the world from which Spain had kept them isolated by forbidding foreigners to enter California or even trade with the inhabitants. When Spanish imports were cut off, these restrictions could no longer be enforced. Foreign trading vessels were welcomed, bringing not only the goods the people needed, but also news and ideas that greatly impressed them. They brought such news—and it was “news” to many of them—as the successful revolt of the American Colonies against England and the rise of the United States whose flag flew over many of the vessels now entering their ports; ideas never before encountered— such as democracy, government by and for the people, individual freedom. In the light of these ideas, Mexico appeared as an exploiter interested only in collecting customs dues and finding lucrative positions for her officials, while neglecting to provide the public services to which citizens of a civilized country were entitled. Mexico, herself in turmoil for decades, could not or would not grant such reasonable requests by Vallejo and others as that she send trained and properly paid soldiers to garrison the presidios instead of the unpaid convicts she had been using, or that she provide a reliable mail service. Nor would she appoint Californians to the governorship, even though the Mexicans she sent, almost to a man, were chased out of the country. In 1836, the Californians rebelled and made Vallejo’s nephew, Alvaredo, governor and Vallejo, himself, top military commander. But, after a few years of virtual independence, sectional and personal jealousies brought Mexico back into control.

While the Californians quarreled with each other and with Mexico, increasing numbers of foreigners settled in the country, wrote glowing reports home, and kindled the interest of their respective governments in the possibility of acquiring this desirable land. Most foreign observers agreed Mexico would lose California, and annexation by some other power— England, France, or the United States—was inevitable since the Californians were too few in number, too inexperienced in self-government, too riven by traditional animosities between northern and southern towns, northern and southern families to establish a viable independent state. It was fortunate that, at this critical moment, they had in Vallejo a leader with a firm grasp of the limited options open to them and the bearing of these on California’s true long-term interests.

An influential member of the State’s Constitutional Convention, he was elected a member of the first State Senate (1850). He continued to devote his energies to the development of California for the remainder of his life.

“The story of Vallejo’s life might well serve as a reminder that what we call “progress” has its good and its bad sides. In our current efforts to preserve what is still left of the natural beauty of our country, the California of Vallejo’s youth might serve as a vision—a vision of an earthly paradise, blessed by fertile soil and clear skies; where wildlife was fantastically abundant, the flora varied, and the mountain slopes were covered with the world’s most beautiful and gigantic trees.”

General Vallejo died at Sonoma, Calif., 12 January 1890.

Mariano G. Vallejo was both decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 9 March 1995. Her scrapping via the U.S. Navy’s Nuclear-Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program at Bremerton, Washington, began on 1 October 1994 and was completed on 22 December 1995.

Caption for picture: The nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine Mariano G. Vallejo (SSBN-658) is assisted into a dock by the large harbor tugs Okmulgee (YTB-765) and Tomahawk (YTB-789) at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia, 4 April 1987. The Mariano G. Vallejo has just completed the 2,500th deterrent patrol by a fleet ballistic missile submarine of the United States Navy. Another submarine is moored alongside the fleet ballistic missile submarine tender Canopus (AS-34) is in the background.

The boat has a great web site with many pictures and testimonies from her fine crew. Thanks to all for keeping her memory alive

Mister Mac


12 thoughts on “Mariano G. Vallejo SSBN 658 – Seagoing Cadillac with a hell of a kick

  1. Great website, Mac. USS Mariano G. Vallejo was launched at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in late 1965.  I was a boot Ensign just out of college and fully submerged in Nuclear Power School on Mare Island.  Several of us were drafted to be ushers at the launching.  A harried officer came up to me and said, “I need your gloves!!”   The C.O. didn’t have his white gloves with him, and this officer had been sent out to get him some …… and I was the first person he saw with gloves.   My gloves glided down the launching ways that day, and I never saw them again….. except in pictures of the smiling Commanding Officer in his dress blues with white gloves. Cheers! Ken Ken A. Lee   Captain, U.S. Navy(Ret)   Past President – Palm Beach Council                         Navy League of the U.S. (561)351-4451(c) 212 St Charles Ct  Jupiter, FL  33477

    1. Ken
      Thanks for the great memory and thanks for your service both to the Navy and the League. I am entering my final few months as President of the Pittsburgh Council.


  2. Born and raised in Vallejo, I joined the navy in 1963 and rode 10 different boats but only one boomer (Alabama blue) as COB. My dad was a general foreman at MINSY and he helped build the Vallejo. As a little side note, Mare Island was named that because Mariano G. Vallejo’s favorite horse, a mare, slipped off the float they were using to explore the island and swam there. He named it Mare Island for her. MMCM(SS), USN, Retired after 30 years

    1. Thanks for the note Russ and sharing your story. Especially glad to hear about the name. I lived on the Island in 1975 when I was stationed on the Halibut. I hated the fact that the Navy shut the place down.

    2. Thanks for the note Russ and sharing your story. Especially glad to hear about the name. I lived on the Island in 1975 when I was stationed on the Halibut. I hated the fact that the Navy shut the place down.

  3. Great story. I hope all who sailed her will come to the crew reunion and Sail dedication in Vallejo, CA October 24th-26th.

    1. Jim, Best of luck with your reunion. I would love to get out that way but have some preexisting commitments. I am very happy they were able to save the sail and that it will be in a place I called home for a few years


  4. Another great article. When were you aboard the Ohio? My husband was the CO of the 726-Gold from 1987 – 1989 out of Bremerton.

    1. Thanks for the note. I was on board OHIO from 84-85 and just missed your husband. It was an interesting time for me but one I will never forget


    2. Thanks for the note. I was on board OHIO from 84-85 and just missed your husband. It was an interesting time for me but one I will never forget


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