It’s been over 25 years since I retired from the Navy. We have traveled and lived all over the country since then but Western Pennsylvania has been “where I live” for the past six plus years. I had never intended to come back here even though it was where I grew up. Eighteen years of trying to leave finally caught up with me on a day in June 1972 when I first flew to boot camp.
Home after that was wherever the Navy sent us.
Great Lakes, New London, Charleston, Hawaii, Mare Island, Norfolk, Hawaii, Bangor, Hawaii, Pensacola, Scotland and back to Norfolk.
But mostly, home was inside a steel tube surrounded by machines and other sailors. I stopped back at my temporary home ports to be with my very patient bride. But I felt the most at home when the ship broke its lines and set sail for another adventure.
The adventures were amazing. Most are still probably classified. Even though my ships and subs are mostly gone, the missions will remain locked in our memories and some vault in DC. It’s okay. I still can’t believe we did half the stuff we did.
Of all the places I served, my favorite will always be Bangor Washington. Scotland comes a close second but we had a short tour there because of the end of the Cold War. Bangor was home to the Trident submarine I practically begged for (USS Ohio) and Trident Training Facility where I learned my real trade.
So many things happened in those five and a half years. On the Ohio, I became the Leading Petty Officer as a First Class. Later transferring to TTF, I became a Chief, a Master Training Specialist and in the closing days of my tour a Chief Warrant Officer. This was my only shore tour. But it allowed me to finish nearly all of my schooling to gain a Bachelor of Science Degree in Workforce Education Development that would help me with my second career.
Bangor was home. I purged old ghosts from my past, and learned how to learn. The people I served with in submarines overall were some of the best I have ever known. Smart, clever, brave, bold, cocky, innovative, problem solvers… all traits that led to the best force of submariners on the planet.
In nearly every case, when a submariner made a promise, you could rely on them. Even at the training facility, we continued the brotherhood. I was proud to call them brothers and friends. Our families were close and the problem children never lasted long. There was just no room for them.
Seeing the hills and trees of Kitsap and beyond was always a thrill. Okay, to be fair, you had to wait through some rain storms to get that view. But when the clouds rolled away, there is no other place like it on earth. I have only been back once since we left. I got to give my nephew Artie a special pair of dolphins that I had worn. He qualified in less time than I did and was a damn good A ganger.
Now I am going home one more time.
This time to say goodbye to a friend. On January 17, 2020, the USS Pittsburgh SSN 720 will be decommissioned. Many people from her history will be going to the area to say goodbye. Some were with my Dad and Mom when she was commissioned. He was so proud of the boat. Even though neither of his Submariner sons rode her, Dad was a proud member of the Pittsburgh Pennsylvania contingent that got to watch her start her new life.
I am the President of the Pittsburgh Navy League. The League supported the boat since the beginning. Between scholarships for the crew and family and the annual parties we sponsored, the total number is over $150,000.00. I am finished with my term at the end of this month so this will be my last official duty.
The Pittsburgh was an east coast boat so there were many comments about not having the ceremony there. It’s sad, but Bremerton is where the boats go now when the Navy takes them apart. I’ll share a little secret with you. While the Pittsburgh area is where I live, my heart will always belong to the Pacific Northwest. I’m sorry for those that are disappointed in where the decom will occur, but for me, both the boat and I are going home for the last time. I am very certain I will never see the area again once I return.
I tried to get orders to the pre-commissioning unit 720. But I had already served on four boats including another pre-com unit and the detailer place me on shore duty. Probably just as well. But each time I have visited the 720, I wonder what it would have been like to have had her under my feet in a dive one last time. Maybe in another life.
Dad can’t be there physically. He passed away on an April day in 1993. But his spirit will be. Part of it lives within me. He would be proud of all the missions and achievements this fine submarine and her crews achieved. I know I am. It will be one of the great honors of my life to wish her farewell as her operational life comes to an end. And one of the saddest moments at the exact same time.
I want to thank all of the people who have played a role. But I especially want to thank the Pittsburgh Native Jason Deichler who is the last Captain. One of the finest men I have ever known, I would have been proud to have sailed with him anywhere. I am deeply honored to call him friend.
Jason, if you do read this someday, the offer I once made will be a standing one. I know I’ve aged a bit since I hung up my uniform but I still have a heart of steel. If you need me, I will keep my sea bag ready.
God Bless the Crew of the USS Pittsburgh SSN 720 and all who served on her. God bless the amazing people of Pittsburgh who have stood faithfully by her for her entire life. There will be a hole in all of our lives from the day we say goodbye until we are also called home.