From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division
It’s May, the month of flowers, Cinco de Mayo, Memorial Day and graduations – both high school and college. It’s also among the more popular months for commissioning ceremonies. This is the first in a series of blogs featuring currently-serving Navy ships celebrating significant milestones in their careers: 10, 20, 30 and even 40 years. They range from a supercarrier to oilers, and all are making history today by performing their missions at home and abroad.
When USS Nimitz (CVN 68) was commissioned May 3, 1975, at Naval Station Norfolk, there was much fuss and fanfare befitting a nuclear-powered supercarrier bearing the name of a legendary naval officer, Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz.
“Only America can make a machine like this,” said President Gerald R. Ford at the ceremony where more than 20,000 attended. “There is nothing like her in the world.”
Other dignitaries included Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger, Secretary of the Navy J. William Middendorf, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. James L. Holloway III, and the father of the Nuclear Navy, Adm. Hyman Rickover.
WHAT ELSE WAS GOING ON?
* Captain & Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together,” was playing on the radio as the top pop song of the year. (Fun trivia question: What was the Captain’s name? The fabulously named Daryl Dragon).
* The top-grossing movie of 1975 – “Jaws” – kept people out of the water. Richard Dreyfuss maybe had Nimitz in mind when he quipped: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” after mechanical shark Bruce chewed up the back of Robert Shaw’s boat
* Getting an office fax machine was the “next big thing.”
* Gas for cruising Main Street was cheap at .53 cents a gallon for those 70s muscle cars: Chargers, Camaros, Corvettes and Cutlesses.
* The recession saw unemployment rise 8.1 percent, while the salary of a petty officer third class (E4) at $5,220 a year was well below the median income of $11,800 and a median-priced home of $42,600.
Nimitz would make her first deployment in July 1976, receiving her first Battle “E” award. A second deployment was as uneventful as the first. Soon after, the carrier began filming as the time-traveling star of the 1980 film “The Final Countdown.” The mind-bending plot has the supercarrier going through a freak storm in 1980 only to find itself – and her crew — in the Pacific on Dec. 6, 1941.
Tensions were increasing as Nimitz sailed on her third deployment in 1979 during the Iran American Embassy hostage crisis. It was from her decks Operation Evening Light was launched to rescue the hostages, but the mission was aborted after a helicopter crashed while refueling.
While deployed again in June 1985, Nimitz was sent to the coast of Lebanon in response to the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 by two Lebanese gunmen. Nimitz’ Airwing 8 bombed several sites in Beirut during the 67 days they flew sorties over the country.
On Sept. 1, 1997, Nimitz began a circumnavigation of the world that concluded March 2, 1998 at Newport News, Va., where the carrier would begin a 3-year nuclear Refueling and Complex Overhaul that ended June 25, 2001.
By March 2003, the carrier was deployed to the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Nimitz and CVW-11 were awarded the 2003 “Battle E” and “Flatley Award” in 2004.
As Nimitz marked her third decade of service, the ship would be the star of the small screen, the 10-part PBS documentary series “Carrier” while the supercarrier was deployed to the Persian Gulf on May 7, 2005. The carrier received another “Battle E” in 2005, while the PBS series, released in 2008, would earn an Emmy award.
After only four months in San Diego, Nimitz was deployed again in January 2008. In the Western Pacific for less than a month, the ship and her embarked Hornets tangled with Russian Tu-95 “Bear” bombers as they flew to within a few miles of Nimitz at an altitude of only 2,000 feet. The Hornets intercepted and chased the bombers back to within Russian airspace. The carrier received yet another “Battle E” for 2007 and in 2009 received the Meritorious Unit Award for her back-to-back deployments of 2007-2008.
In 2012, Nimitz changed homeport yet again, this time to Naval Station Everett, Wash.
SO WHERE IS NIMITZ NOW?
After participating in a series of exercises for two years, the now 40-year-old carrier has relocated to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Wash., for a scheduled 16-month maintenance cycle.
When USS Alabama (SSBN-731) was commissioned May 25, 1985, at Naval Submarine Base New London, Conn., it was Memorial Day weekend. “Careless Whisper” by Wham! was the top song on the Billboard chart, an appropriately-named tune for the silent fleet.
WHAT ELSE WAS GOING ON?
* The economy was stabilizing from three different recessions during a 10-year period of time. Unemployment had dropped from a high of 10.8 percent in Nov. 1982 to 7.3 percent in 1985. As the cost of oil skyrocketed, so did gasoline, now $1.13 per gallon.
* The wages of an E-4 nearly doubled to $757.40 a month from $435 in 1975. But at $9,204 annually, the wage for an E-4 was still well below the civilian median income of $26,618. Median home prices more than doubled over the previous 10 years to $100,800.
* The top-grossing film of the year was the Michael J. Fox time-traveling flick “Back to the Future.”
* As Alabama completed her trials, the year of 1985 would be dominated by terrorist activity, from the taking of TWA Flight 847 by Lebanese gunmen on June 14 to the PLO attack on the Italian cruise liner Achille Lauro that killed American Leon Klinghoffer in October. It would also see the start of the clash over disarmament between President Ronald Reagan, entering his second 4-year term, and Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev.
The boat also had her time on the silver screen, the 1995 film “Crimson Tide” and the 1997 release “Time Under Fire.”
In 1999, the submarine underwent a refit, and in February 2000 the submarine conducted exercises with USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) battle group while recognizing its 15 anniversary. In 2005, Alabama underwent a nuclear reactor refueling overhaul and launch conversion to the Trident II D5 ballistic missiles.
During the past 30 years, Alabama has conducted more than 50 strategic deterrent patrols, launched numerous test ballistic missiles.
SO WHERE IS ALABAMA NOW?
Alabama remains part of Submarine Group 9 based at Naval Submarine Base Kitsap, Bangor, Wash. The Blue crew recently returned from a strategic deterrent patrol April 23, 2015. The Gold crew returned in July 9, 2014.
The boat has also received numerous recognitions, including the US Strategic Command Omaha Trophy as the top performing ballistic missile asset in the U.S. Strategic Command, two Battle E awards and the Ney Memorial Award for superior food service for small afloat unit, as well as numerous departmental awards in communication, seamanship, engineering and damage control.
Two guided-missile destroyers share May 1995 as commissioning dates: May 20 for USS Russell (DDG 59) and May 27 for USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60). Earlier in the month on May 6, USNS Laramie (T-AO 203) was christened, the Military Sealift Command’s version of a commissioning.
Russell, named for Rear Adm. John Henry Russell and his son, Commandant of the Marine Corps John Henry Russell Jr., is the ninth Arleigh Burke-class destroyer and homeported at Naval Base San Diego.
Paul Hamilton, named for the third Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton, is the tenth in a class of ship that continues to serve the fleet. The commissioning ceremony was held at Charleston, S.C. before sailing to her homeport of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Laramie, the 17th of the 18 Kaiser-class underway replenishment oilers, features a double-bottom to meet new requirements from the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 that reduced her liquid cargo capacity by 21,000 barrels.
WHAT ELSE WAS GOING ON?
* Speaking of barrels of oil, the price of a gallon of gasoline was up by only two cents from 1985, going from $1.13 to $1.15. Unemployment dipped to 5.6 percent.
* The E-4 monthly salary jumped 28 percent to $1,056, slightly ahead of the 22 percent increase in civilian median income of $34,076 over the previous 10 years. Neither would come close to the increase in housing, unfortunately, as median home prices leapt 37 percent to $158,700.
* For entertainment, rap dominated the music scene as Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” was the top song of the year, while “Toy Story,” a toy-boy bromance voiced by Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, won at the box office.
* While Russell and Hamilton were testing their crew and equipment during sea trials, the Navy was responding with humanitarian relief to Japan following the Jan. 12 earthquake that killed more than 5,000 in Kobe; Rwanda, where more than 2,000 were massacred and thousands more displaced, and fighting escalated in Bosnia and Croatia.
* On the homefront, a truck bomb exploded at Oklahoma City federal building, killing more than 170 people and injuring 500.
Russell deployed in 1996 with the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) Battle Group to the Western Pacific and Arabian Gulf in support of Operation Southern Watch and Desert Strike. In 2000, the destroyer sailed with the USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) Battle Group. During another deployment in 2001, Russell rescued four B-1B crewmembers who crashed in the Indian Ocean near Diego Garcia.
While operating in the South China Sea in 2006, Russell provided aid to a distressed fishing vessel. Two years later, while in the Gulf of Aden, Russell rescued about 70 people after their boat was disabled. In 2013, Russell and sister ship USS Halsey (DDG 97) completed a hull swap with Russell permanently being stationed in San Diego while Halsey was moved to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam with the former Russell crew. The destroyer has participated in numerous other exercises and deployments over the past 20 years and received a 2006 Battle E award.
Paul Hamilton supported operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, as well as Maritime Interdiction Operations, during a deployment in 2002. In 2003, the destroyer launched its first Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles in the North Arabian Gulf in support of OIF. Later that same year, Paul Hamilton and two ships from the Russian navy conducted joint maritime operations – for the first time in nearly a decade — in the Hawaiian operational area. In 2008, Paul Hamilton successfully intercepted a ballistic missile target over an open ocean as part of Pacific Blitz. The destroyer also participated in myriad training exercises, operations and deployments.
Oil replenishment ships are critical to the Navy’s mission in operating forward. But Laramie’s ability to handle a variety of missions was exemplified during NATO’s 80-ship 2006 Brilliant Mariner exercise. The oiler conducted 20 at-sea refuelings for 13 ships in 11 days in the North Sea and participated in a visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) operation during the exercise. In 2008, Laramie was the large ship East Coast winner of the 2008 Capt. David M. Cook Food Service Excellence Award.
SO WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
USS Russell recently hosted Amanda Sloat, deputy assistant secretary of State in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs as a means to better understand the ship’s ballistic missile defense system. It was the first-ever visit to a destroyer by Sloat, who is responsible for issues relating to Greece, Turkey and Cyprus. Russell is currently assigned as part of Destroyer Squadron 1 based out of San Diego and in basic training to prepare for a deployment later this year.
USS Paul Hamilton, homeported at Pearl Harbor and assigned to Destroyer Squadron 21, is currently on an independent deployment to the Arabian Gulf and Western Pacific Ocean where they will conduct theater security cooperation and maritime presence operations with partner nations.
Laramie continues to provide underway replenishment of fuel, fleet cargo and stores to ships at sea operating in the Gulf of Aden supporting the 5th Fleet’s area of responsibility.
Military Sealift Command’s first-in-its-class USNS Lewis and Clark (T-AKE 1) was christened May 21, 2005 a dry cargo/ammunition ship geared to deliver supplies to ships at sea — ammunition, food, repair parts, stores and small quantities of fuel. Lewis and Clark, named after the explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, is one of two dedicated ships that provide the supplies necessary to enable the arrival and assembly of a Marine Expeditionary Brigade.
WHAT ELSE WAS GOING ON?
* The unemployment rate hovered around 5.1 percent despite an increase in gasoline to $2.30 from its $1.15 in 1995.
* That was good news for the E4, who saw his monthly salary jump to $1,612.80, or $19,353.60 annually, falling well short of the $46,236 median income, which had ticked up $12,000 from the previous 10 years. The median price of a home soared by 87 percent to $297,000 compared to $158,700 in 1995.
* Mariah Carey’s “We Belong Together” was the top tune for 2005, which could be the theme song for MSC’s cargo/ammunition ships and its Marine Corps mission. A nerdy and bespectacled English kid with a penchant for wizardry captivated the box office with “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”
* At home, the Navy responded in a big way with humanitarian aid after Hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, killing more than 1,600 people. The price of oil, affected also by the hurricane and unrest in the Middle East, begin to skyrocket.
* Abroad, Pakistan, Kashmir and Sumatra were all hit by earthquakes ranging from 6.4 to 8.7 on the Richter scale. Hurricane Stan hits Mexico and Central America, with more than 1,620 people killed. Millions mourn the death of beloved Pope John Paul II.
After joining the Navy’s service in June 2006, Lewis and Clark supported Operating Enduring Freedom as it was deployed off the coast of Somalia in 2009. The ship took on a new mission as it was used as a prison ship for captured pirates until extradited to Kenya for trials. On May 5, the cargo/ammunition ship successfully evaded approaching pirates that fired on them during an attack. Lewis and Clark fired on pirates, chasing them away, when the oiler responded to a distress signal sent out by a Chinese-flagged merchant ship in 2010.
In 2012, Lewis and Clark joined the Marine Corps’ Maritime Prepositioning Force that is comprised of 14 ships, which enables the rapid deployment of a fully-capable Marine Air-Ground Task Force. The oiler then participated in a bilateral military operation called Exercise Coconut Grove off the coast of the Maldives with the Maldivian Marine Corps.
The cargo/ammunition ship was also featured in a “Modern Marvels” episode on the History Channel.
SO WHERE IS LEWIS AND CLARK NOW?
After providing support for the Maritime Prepositioning Program at Naval Weapons Station Wharf Alpha, Charleston, S.C., in March 2015, the MSC vessel will undergo a scheduled dry dock/overhaul this summer.