Requiem for a submarine

So the 90 boat has come home for good, her final mission behind her.

Thirty-three years she prowled the seas, a lifetime for a submarine, and, curiously, a lifetime for me.

How do I explain this?

The USS Philadelphia was my first boat, the first sub that I, a young shipfitter in his early 20s, had a hand in building.

I took deep pride in my work on that boat, and, for a year, I worked on just about every part of her, both inside - the fan room, the COC, the torpedo room, the engine room, the forward sonar array - and out - the forward hatch, the torpedo bay doors, the sail plates, the diving planes ...

The 690 boat was the first of the 688s, the Los Angeles class of fast-attack submarines, to be built at Electric Boat, and her birth was a long and painful one. Her keel was laid on Aug. 12, 1972, but she wasn't commissioned until June 25, 1977.

This was primarily because EB's competitor, Newport News, had designed the boats so poorly that there were times I found myself reading blueprints instructing me to locate two objects in the same place.

People often ask me what a shipfitter does. You translate blueprints into steel, the drawings into the thing itself. You measure, lay out and position the parts of the submarine, and enlist burners, welders and grinders to assemble them.

But you also put something of yourself into the boat you build. And she leaves something of herself in you. I still have a sliver of steel from the Philadelphia embedded in my finger beneath my wedding ring.

During the past 33 years, while the 90 boat carried out her missions, I got married, raised two children, taught school and made a career in newspapers. Now, I find myself closer to the end of my life than its beginning.

So there's a certain something in me that feels a sense of loss when I read what's in store for the 90 boat. She is slated to be "disposed of through the Navy's recycling program" on June 10.

It takes a city to build a submarine. I was just one of a thousand men and women that took part in her construction. So I wonder: Do any of them feel the same strange alloy of pride and melancholy to see her journey coming to an end?

This is the opinion of Kenton Robinson.


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