By Devon Hubbard Sorlie, Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division
Four ships are celebrating 20-year anniversaries this month, all commissioned in October 1995. They include coastal patrol ship Thunderbolt (PC 12), submarine Columbia (SSN 771), and a pair of destroyers, Fitzgerald (DDG 62) and Stethem (DDG 63).
Thunderbolt commissioned first, Oct. 7, 1995 at Penn’s Landing, Philadelphia, Penn. Two days later, the nuclear-powered submarine Columbia held its commissioning ceremony at Naval Submarine Base New London, Conn. Another “ship” named Columbia would launch 11 days later, when space shuttle Columbia 18 soared into space from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Later in the month, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers Fitzgerald and Stethem commissioned Oct. 14 and 21, respectively. Fitzgerald’s ceremony was at Newport, R.I. while Stethem’s was across the country at Naval Construction Battalion Center Port Hueneme, Calif.
SO WHAT ELSE WAS GOING ON?
- The price of a gallon of gasoline was around $1.10 during October 1995. Unemployment dropped a half-a-percent to 5.5 percent from the previous month, or 7.2 million people out of work.
- The E-4 basic monthly salary (without Basic Allowance for Housing) was $1,056, but the average cost of a home tapped in at $156,200 The average family income in 1995 was $34,076, which saw those living in poverty drop by 1.6 percent over the previous year.
- Movie goers enjoyed the gambit of “Leaving Las Vegas” with Nicholas Cage and Elisabeth Shue to “Mallrats,” a Kevin Smith-directed film featuring Shannen Doherty and Jason Lee. The ultimate chick flick was “Now and Then,” a female “Stand By Me” coming-of-age film starring four childhood friends — Demi Moore, Rosie O’Donnell, Melanie Griffith and Rita Wilson — reminiscing about growing up in the 70s.
- On the small screen, more than 150 million people were watching when the verdict was announced O.J. Simpson was found not guilty in the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman. And completely unrelated, MAD TV also debuted on the Fox channel, with comedian and actor Orlando Jones as one of the original cast members.
- TLC’s “Waterfalls” was the top song playing on the radio that month, edging out Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise,” Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose,” and Michael Jackson crooning the R. Kelly-written ballad “You Are Not Alone.”
- Weekend reading included Army Gen. Colin Powell’s “My American Journey,” while young adult readers of the R.L. Stine “Goosebumps” series were digging deep into “The Haunted Mask II.”
- On the sports scene, Miami Dolphin quarterback Dan Marino breaks retired Minnesota Viking quarterback Fran Tarkenton’s NFL career completions record. Tarkenton, however, would beat Marino in the number of Super Bowls played in and lost (3-1). And in case you’re wondering, Jim Kelly of the Buffalo Bills, Marino’s fellow NFL QB Class of 1983, holds the title of playing in the most Super Bowls without winning at four. Thoroughbred Cigar ruled the race track, winning the Breeder’s Cup Classic that month, which closed out a stellar 10-for-10 race season and earned the 5-year-old the titles of Horse of the Year and American Champion Older Male Horse. Flyboy Trivia: The horse was named after the five-letter term given to intersections on aeronautical navigational charts, not the cheroot.
- Elsewhere in the world, residents of Southwest and Southeast Asia witnessed a total solar eclipse lasting two minutes, nine seconds.
The 12th Cyclone-class ship provides coastal patrol and interdiction surveillance, one of the littoral operations outlined in the Navy’s strategy. After being based at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Va., Thunderbolt was transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard March 5, 1998 for a four-month test and evaluation period before returning to the Navy on July 17, 1998.
In 2013, Thunderbolt and two other coastal patrol ships, Tempest (PC 2) and Squall (PC 7), were transferred to the Naval Support Activity Bahrain as part of a realignment to beef up the PC fleet in the U.S. 5th Fleet. The sleek and agile coastal patrol ships work well with partner navies that enhances interoperability in the area.
The nuclear-powered attack submarine Columbia is the eighth ship in the U.S. Navy to be named Columbia, although for this submarine, Columbia specifically refers to the capital of South Carolina and cities in Missouri and Illinois. The sub holds the distinction of being the last U.S. Navy submarine that was launched by sledding down a 1,300-foot wooden ramp into the Thames River, earning the nickname “The Last Slider.” Submarines now are launched by flooding the dry docks where they are built.
After its commissioning ceremony, the submarine was assigned to the U.S. Pacific Fleet and homeported at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Columbia has gone on numerous deployments and participated in a variety of exercises within the 5th and 7th Fleet. The submarine supported Operation Enduring Freedom with the USS Constellation (CV 64) Battle Group in December 2002 and in March 2003 launched its first Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The sub also participated in the Fleet Response Plan exercise in May 2004.
The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer honors Lt. William Charles Fitzgerald, who was mortally wounded Aug. 7, 1967, when he chose to remain behind to direct artillery fire while his men withdrew from the enemy assault on Coastal Group 16 in South Vietnam. For his action, Lt. Fitzgerald received the Navy Cross and Purple Heart, posthumously.
Like her sister ships, Fitzgerald has participated in numerous deployments and joint exercises with allied nations throughout the world. The destroyer was in a two-month Drydocking Selected Restricted Availability during the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, but soon after left San Diego on Nov. 3 in support of Operation Noble Eagle. In 2003, the destroyer participated in an eight-month deployment, including support to USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) Strike Group during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Other highlights among the destroyer’s 20-year career include the Fitzgerald’s crew using for the first time a new version of the Undersea Warfare Decision Support System (USW-DSS) during the Ship Anti-Submarine Warfare Readiness and Evaluation Measurement 163 dual exercise with Japan off the coast of Okinawa the first week of December 2009.
On March 12, 2011, Fitzgerald left its base at Yokosuka to provide humanitarian aid and assistance following a 9.0 earthquake that struck the east coast of Japan on March 11.
Fitzgerald participated in a missile defense flight test, FTI-01, on Oct. 24, 2012. Fitzgerald’s Aegis system tracked a low-flying cruise missile and shot it down in the Pacific, although an attempt to shoot down a short-range ballistic missile with a SM-3 Block 1A Standard surface-to-air missile failed to hit its target. The destroyer joined a number of other participating ships using multiple sensors and missile defense systems to detect, track and shoot down the targets.
The 13th Arleigh Burke-class destroyer is named after Steelworker 2nd Class Robert Dean Stethem, who was killed June 14, 1985 by terrorists who hijacked TWA Flight 847 and flew it to Beirut, Lebanon. Stethem’s defiance and refusal to succumb to his captors caused them to brutally beat him before shooting him. Stethem received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart posthumously and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
During the destroyer’s maiden deployment in April 1997, Stethem supported the USS Constellation (CV 64) and USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67) Battle Groups during Operation Southern Watch in the Arabian Gulf.
Within hours after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, Stethem conducted air surveillance of the approaches to San Diego and provided air defense coverage for shipping assets. A few weeks later, the destroyer underwent a $9.4 million refurbishment and refitting.
Over the past 20 years, the destroyer has participated in numerous deployments and joint exercises with allied nations all over the globe. Among the high points of the destroyer’s career have been testing numerous missiles, the first in April 2003 with a test launch of a Block IV Tactical Tomahawk cruise missile. A year later on Sept. 21, 2004, Stethem participated in another Tomahawk operational test launch off the coast of California where the crew successfully redirected a missile mid-flight to a new target on Sept. 21, 2004.
SO WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
THUNDERBOLT – The coastal patrol ship is one of 10 in the fleet supporting the Naval Support Activity Bahrain as part of a realignment to beef up the PC fleet in the U.S. 5th Fleet.
COLUMBIA – The submarine left Pearl Harbor on July 15, 2015 for routine operations in the operational areas around the Hawaiian Islands.
FITZGERALD – After participating in Talisman Sabre MISSILEX exercises in Australia and Thailand, respectively, this summer, the destroyer has returned home to base.
STETHEM – Originally homeported at San Diego, Stethem has been based out of Yokosuka, Japan since June 17, 2005. The destroyer underwent a Drydocking Selected Restricted Availability earlier in 2015, and has since gone through its sea trials and enjoyed a two-day port visit at Qingdao, China in July prior to participating with a Chinese frigate for a search-and-rescue exercise. After a recent Board of Inspection and Survey assessment, Stethem is back at its station at Yokosuka.