USS Baltimore ends its days at sea Sub is decommissioned, will be turned into scrap

September 26, 1997|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,SUN STAFF

NORFOLK, Va. -- "Secure the watch," barked the executive officer, Lt. Cmdr. Patrick C. Gill. One at a time, sailors in dress whites filed over the brow to the dock, pausing midway to salute the Stars and Stripes at the stern.

With that, the nuclear attack submarine USS Baltimore was decommissioned yesterday after 15 years of undersea service, a victim of post-Cold War economics. Once a powerful, unseen sentry, the sub was transformed into a potential pile of scrap.

Precisely at noon, the red, white and blue commission pennant was hauled down in the fog and drizzle that formed an appropriate backdrop to the bittersweet ceremony. The USS Baltimore was stricken from the roll of active U.S. warships.

"Even the heavens have joined us in shedding tears on this occasion," said former U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, who spoke of the "pride and dignity" of the six vessels named for Baltimore since 1778.

"It is sad that today this tradition will cease," Bentley said. Then, in an effort to revive the tradition, Bentley noted that Congress has authorized construction of a new class of nuclear submarines and added, "I call on the Navy to name it the Baltimore class; that would ease the pain we are suffering today."

Former U.S. Rep. Marjorie S. Holt, the Baltimore's sponsor, said, "I feel joy as I remember the day in 1980 when I smashed a bottle of champagne on this great ship. It was a joyous feeling, the dreams we had of all the great things it would do."

The threat represented by nuclear subs such as the Baltimore helped convince the Soviet Union that it could not "outarm the United States" and forced an end to the Cold War, Holt said.

The Baltimore will be stripped of usable equipment, then towed to a shipyard in Bremerton, Wash., to be scrapped.

Baltimore's continuing maritime tradition was not neglected yesterday.

The Pride of Baltimore II was moored just ahead of the sub. Skipper Jan Miles said there has been a particularly close relationship between the clipper and the submarine. He recalled the fun of a midocean rendezvous between the two vessels -- two centuries apart in shipbuilding style -- during an Atlantic voyage.

Perhaps the most poignant moment yesterday came as Cmdr. David J. Richardson, the Baltimore's captain, returned the long commission pennant bearing the name "Pride of Baltimore," which was given to the sub at its 1982 commissioning.

On May 14, 1986, the Pride of Baltimore and four crew members were lost in a freak squall in the Atlantic; eight survivors were rescued after days adrift in a life raft. The pennant is one of the few artifacts left from the first Pride, said Bob Glover, alternate captain of the Pride II.

Pub Date: 9/26/97

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