You never forget your first…
When I requested a submarine for my first assignment after sub school , I wanted to be on a Diesel Boat first, a fast attack second, and a Boomer third preferably a 640 class. I vaguely remember an old salt at a bar in Groton talking about how beautiful Key West was so I am pretty sure that was my chose destination.
That is probably why I received orders to the USS George Washington (SSBN 598B).
And of course, she would be sailing out of Guam.
Submarine School Graduating Class in 1973
The trip to the boat took a while since she was in the process of transiting to Pearl Harbor but I was scheduled to go to Auxiliary Package Course in Charleston SC where she had just completed a shipyard period. I remember thinking at the time that part of the reason I wanted to join the Navy was to get away from schools. Instead, I ended up going to schools in three states for the next year.
The school was designed to teach us more specific skills in air conditioning, refrigeration, hydraulics, atmosphere control equipment, masts and antennas and pumps and valves unique to submarines. It lasted through the spring of 1973 and upon graduation I flew through Travis AFB on my way to Pearl. I learned a little bit about the military rank structure that trip as I found myself being bumped off of the Mac flight I was assigned to. Interestingly enough, an Airman later told me it was because an Air Force General was taking his family on vacation and they did not have enough seats on the plane.
Being young and not as experienced as I would later become, I had no idea what to do next. I just remembered all of the lectures about missing ship’s movement in boot camp and knew that I was in deep trouble. It took three days for them to find me another seat but by the time I arrived, it was too late to catch the crew flight to Guam. Lucky me. I would spend the next few months in transient personnel units working on a barracks rehabilitation project on Sub Base Pearl.
While waiting there, I had a lot of time on my hands and wrote letters. Very few of those letters survive (probably a good thing) but one written in 1973 was probably meant for my Dad. I found it in an old shoebox that had other memento’s in it and found it to be pretty interesting. Keep in mind that I wrote it before I had ever been on board the George fish for my first patrol.
“A new breed of men range the oceans as zealously as their brave forefathers. Always ready, just as the minutemen of the early American times and just as bold as the early sailors who dared to try and overcome the vast unknowns of the oceans. The men who serve in solitude amidst the flashing lights and muffled sounds of machinery. They work and live in confined spaces beneath millions of tons of the matter which covers the majority of the face of the earth. But their purpose goes deeper than a military institution. Besides being a deterrent to nuclear holocausts and safeguarding our borders, these men also untap scientific resources by each patrol they make. They prove man’s adaptability to live beneath the seas in this day where space for living seems to grow less and less.
And the hardest thing is the isolation which they must face. Living separated from their loved ones with little communications and knowing two things; they can never tell where they have been, nor can they say that if they go down that they will ever come back again. These Pioneers, the Men of the “Silent Service””
MMFN Bob MacPherson 1973
Over the next twenty plus years, I would get a chance to see if any of that was true on five boats. I’ll save that for another day.
In the meantime, its time once again to remember the Boomer that started it all for the US Navy, my qual boat which was commissioned on December 30th 1959.
I was five years old and did not attend. I was present at the Decommissioning ceremony in Bremerton in January 1985. I have to admit it was a very sad day.
Washington Facts from the Navy’s website: USS George Washington – Design & Construction:
Laid down on November 1, 1958 as USS Scorpion (SSN-589), USS George Washington was the world’s first ballistic missile submarine. Originally intended as a Skipjack-class fast attack submarine, orders were issued in December 1958 to convert Scorpion and USS Sculpin into vessels capable of carrying newly-developed fleet ballistic missiles. To accommodate this request, the keel of Scorpion was cut in two at Electric Boat in Groton, CT and a 130-foot missile compartment inserted between the control room and the nuclear reactor spaces.
With this alteration, work moved forward to complete the vessel under the new designation USS George Washington (SSBN-598). The former name was given to a new attack submarine which would be lost under suspicious circumstances in 1968. Sponsored by Mrs. Robert B. Anderson, George Washington entered the water on June 9, 1959. As with future ballistic missile submarines, George Washington possessed two crews, Blue and Gold, which rotated to ensure that the vessel could stay sea with few interruptions. Under this system, its first two captains were Commander James B. Osborn (Blue) and Commander John L. From, Jr. (Gold).
Commissioned on December 30, 1959, George Washington departed Groton the following June under the guidance of Osborn. Arriving at Cape Canaveral, FL, the submarine embarked two Polaris missiles and program head Rear Admiral William Raborn. Putting to sea, George Washington conducted the first successful tests of the Polaris missile on July 20. Swapping crews, these tests were repeated on July 30 under the supervision of the Gold crew. Having tested the new weapon system, George Washington put into Charleston, SC where it was given a full complement of sixteen Polaris missiles.
Awarded: December 31, 1957
Keel laid: November 1, 1958
Launched: June 9, 1959
Commissioned: December 30, 1959
Decommissioned: January 24, 1985
Builder: Electric Boat Co., Groton, Conn.
Propulsion system: one S5W nuclear reactor
Length: 381.6 feet (116.3 meters)
Beam: 33.1 feet (10.1 meters)
Draft: 28.9 feet (8.8 meters)
Displacement: approx. 6,700 tons submerged
Surfaced: 15 knots
Submerged: 20 knots
Armament: 16 vertical tubes for Polaris missiles, six 21″ torpedo tubes
Crew: 12 Officers and 128 Enlisted (two crews)
A Nuclear Deterrent:
After receiving a Navy Unit Commendation and embarking the Blue crew, George Washington departed port on November 15, 1960, for the world’s first nuclear deterrent patrol. Slipping beneath the waves, the submarine did not surface for 66 days until arriving at New London in January to change crews. Leaving port, George Washington conducted another deterrent patrol which ended when the vessel arrived at Holy Loch, Scotland in April. Based at that port, George Washington conducted routine patrols until returning to Groton in 1964 for refueling.
During its initial deployment, George Washington sailed approximately 100,000 miles before putting in for a refit. Remaining at Groton into 1965, the submarine’s systems were upgraded to utilize the new Polaris A3. Leaving port, George Washington was transferred to the US Pacific Fleet and assigned to Pearl Harbor. Known as the “Georgefish,” the submarine conducted nuclear deterrent patrols in the Pacific for the next decade and a half as part of the US Navy’s growing ballistic missile submarine force.
You know you are getting old when your boat is a monument
On the hill near the entrance to submarine base New London is the sail that represents the original of the 41 for Freedom. I have been back several times but to be honest, I go back to see her many nights when sleep overtakes me. I hear the rushing of the water when she dove. I feel the angles and dangles as she moves. I can even sense the feeling of isolation. The most poignant dream is the one where I wake up in my old rack and starting moving through the boat. No one is there. The lights are all blinking on the oxygen generator and the familiar hum of the 400 cycle is in the background. But the crew is missing. It is the loneliest feeling I have ever felt. and the patrol just goes on and on…