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.
23 thoughts on “Coming Home – Saying Goodbye to the USS Pittsburgh SSN 720”
That was a touching and very well written epitaph. I sailed on the Alexander Hamilton SSBN617 from 1972-1976 and it was decommissioned and recycled in 1993. Now I live in Economy PA just north of Pittsburgh. The submarine service was an excellent thing to be a part of. Thanks for your service.
Thank you as well my friend. I live outside of Herminie Pa. Hopefully you caught my Alexander Hamilton story in the 41 for Freedom series I completed last year
I am a Pittsburgh Plankowner (MM2 SS/DV – A-Gang) and served on her from 85 to 90. Thank you for your touching tribute and also for the support of the Pittsburgh Navy League (PNL). My first experience with the PNL was when a tractor-trailer showed up to the commissioning party laden with Iron City Beer!
I will be in Seattle this week for the deactivation ceremony. Part of my life is ending, however, the memories are strong and the friendships, eternal.
Hope to see you there my friend
I was a little kid and my dad worked at Electric Boat. Every so often he could get us to see a sub get launched.
I was into subs and wanted to see a Trident get launched. He said those are boring let’s go see a 688.
There I was watching the USS Pittsburgh get launched.
Now she’s being decommissioned.
Thanks for the story Robert. My Dad was there as a participant from the City of Pittsburgh. I was a plank owner o the USS San Francisco but missed her launching by about a month. Very impressive though
Mister Mac, I am a member of the Requin Base of the USSVI as well as you. Unfortunately I relocated to Tennessee when the GM plant closed in Lordstown OH. After getting to Spring Hill TN. I met a fellow Submariner who had served on the Pittsburgh. When I got the invitation to attend the the Decommissioning of the Pittsburgh, I went to him and asked if he received an invitation. He said he did not, I gave the invitation to him. I also told him to goto the decommissioning. I remember when I went to deactivation of my Qual boat in 1999 for the USS JAMES K POLK it was the saddest day of mylife but I also got to see a lot of my bothers I served with, which made it better. I hope my friend goes to the Ceremony, itis worth it as I explained to him, it is part of what made what we are!!!
Thanks for the note Gregory. Very sorry to hear about Lordstown closing. I worked there as a contractor in the early 200’s. Make sure your friend brings plenty of ID with him since the bases are all under very tight security right now. Also, make sure the boat knows about the switch since it has to account for all that are planning to attend.
Hi, my name is Wayne McCall (MM1SS), I am a Plank owner on the Pittsburgh, I was the M Division leading First, I rode her down the ways at launching, and Served all through new construction, commissioning and all sea trials. Capt. Ray Set service was the CO. I have several pieces of memorabilia from that time. Unfortunately I will not be able to make the Decommissioning, however I would like an Invitation as a keepsake. BTW I was also a Plank owner on the Salt Lake City SSN-716. Do you know if Plank owners will receive a Plank at Decommissioning ? Please tell all my fellow Plank owners hello for me. I live in Goldsboro, NC.
Hi Wayne. I don’t know if any planks are being presented or not. If I hear of anything, I will post it and then we will all know.
You would have to contact the boat directly for a copy of the invitation or stay tuned on Facebook for any other sources. Sorry shipmate.
Mister Mac, Pitt was my home from Aug 85 to Jan 90. I reported to her fresh out of SUBSCOL as a young Ensign. My COs were Ray Setser, Neil P. Walsh, and Chip Griffiths (God rest his soul). The memories are so extensive I would not even know where to start. I wish I could attend the DECOMM but I can’t make it happen. I hope our original Ship’s Sponsor, Carol Sawyer, will be able to make it. She is one special lady!!!
Thanks Michael. Carol and I stay in touch and she will indeed be there for the sad day. She is still a grand lady and we were honored to present her with a special Pittsburgh Coin last year along with her husband.
That is very good news. Makes me regret the fact even more that I cannot be at the DECOMM. What thing I would like to find out is if the “Submarine UCKERS” board I made and gave the Wardroom upon my departure is still onboard. This board game, which is loosely based on the game “SORRY,” was introduced to us by our 3rd CO – CDR Chip Griffiths. Since I was into woodworking back in the 80’s I thought it would be a great tribute to make one out of solid wood inlaid with rope borders and covered in a thick coat of clear resin. I stuck a brass dedication plaque in the middle before coating it with the thick resin. I would not be surprised if someone took it with them or if it is still in the Wardroom. Any idea how I can find out? I have no idea how to contact the boat.
I do know that nothing much of any value is left on the boat, The Naval Heritage Command swooped in pretty quick and took nearly everything that wasn’t required to keep the ship afloat. We had asked for a few mementos that were given by the City and found out pretty quick that all of it belonged to the Navy. The saddest part is that is goes into a giant warehouse in DC never to be seen again except for a very few rare viewings. This has been the case for all of the boats and ships decommissioned. Maybe someday they will have a giant museum but frankly I doubt it.
Thanks for the quick reply Mac. I will be paying very close attention to any news regarding DECOMM Planks. As Wayne has stated I also would love a piece of planking to go with the piece I have from Commissioning.
Reblogged this on Dolphin Dave.
I became the person I am today on the Pittsburgh. 1999-2004. Sonar. The missions, adventures, foreign lands and the caliber of the comradery that you just can’t describe to most people if they haven’t lived boat life will always be with me. I wish I could see the decom. Too bad its not in CT. Fair winds and following seas.
Thanks for the note Ben. We will do out best to say Aloha
I am a retired M1A1 Tank Master Gunner, Plt Sgt, and Tk Co 1SG…My Tank, your Boat…We Share…
Hi Mike. Certainly a beast of a machine. Proud of all of our service members who kept this great country free.
As I scrolled down the photos and comments (our grandson Jeff was engineer on PITTSBURGH a while back), a patch of my old home USS HALIBUT (SSN 587) showed up. She was originally an SSGN, and the logo was the same as SSN 587 except that it included a Regulus missile that ugly flatfish had just spit out. Converted from an SSGN to an SSN, the skipper, Hank Clay, called for a contest to create a new patch. The Rec Committee head took the winner in to the CO — my God it was terrible — who said “BULLSHIT”. So the new patch was the same as the old one, but SSN 587 vice SSGN 587, and the same ugly fish, minus the missile!
Thanks for the note Captain. I was a member of the crew that decommissioned the Halibut and have some great memories of that time. I have written about the missile boats on the blog in the past as I wrote about the transition to Polaris.
I appreciate your addition of a memory