DECEMBER 29, 2016, SAN DIEGO (NNS) – She was disheveled, ragged, and covered with dirt from the rough industrial environment. Like a child who had not even taken its first steps yet, she grew and took shape inside her berth through harsh weather and long days, recalled Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Bob MacPhereson, a plankowner of USS San Francisco (SSN 711).
Over a long and, some would say miraculous, service life of 35 years, Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine USS San Francisco (SSN 711) has seen the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, much like any vessel in the fleet. Each crew has cherished memories of sailing her across the globe — from her original crew in 1979 to her final crew in 2016.
On Oct. 27, 1979, Lucille Werner Kaufman smashed a ceremonial bottle of champagne over the bow of San Francisco during the launching ceremony, officially christening the new submarine.
With an overall length of 362 feet, overall beam of 33 feet and a displacement of 6,900 tons, San Francisco was the most state-of-the-art and fastest submarine to date. With the motto of “Gold in Peace, Iron in War,” her mission was anti-submarine warfare. Underwater stealth paired with powerful weaponry made her a deadly force against enemy submarines and surface combatants alike.
“You represent the cutting edge in any conflict we may enter,” said Vice Adm. Robert Y. Kaufman, then the director of command and control for the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations and principal speaker at the launching ceremony. “In any future competition of naval forces — that which we call war or battle — in that kind of ‘World Series,’ you are our designated hitter.”
Eighteen months later on April 24, 1981, San Francisco was commissioned in Newport News, Virginia, concluding three years in the Newport News Shipyard. During that time, more than 6,000 employees were directly involved in the construction and testing of the ship. A large book titled “I Built the San Francisco” bears each member’s name and what aspect of construction they were a part of, memorializing their hard work and contributions.
“There is a lot of symbolism in the commissioning ceremony of a ship,” said Cmdr. James Marshall, the first commanding officer of San Francisco. “Bringing a ship to life by sounding the diving alarm, operating the planes and periscopes, and manning the ship signifies the conversion of the ship from a lifeless piece of metal and equipment to something that is now full of life with a purpose and a mission.”
Marshall continued to discuss the crew and the countless hours spent learning the intricacies of the ship, achieving a level of expertise to safely take the ship to sea and complete initial sea trials.
In a letter from the former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman to Marshall, he stated “Your ship now begins an active role in the fleet. You, and those who serve with you, are charged with the heavy responsibility of making San Francisco a fully effective instrument of sea power in our nation’s defense. May you meet with every success in assuming that responsibility.”
Following successful sea trials, she conducted her first namesake visit for San Francisco Fleet Week, November 1981.
According to newspaper reports chronicling their visit, the weather was bleak and stormy the morning of their arrival. However, by the time the submarine and her crew passed under the Golden Gate Bridge, they were greeted by a bright sun, blue skies and thousands of residents, tourists, and workers eager to see their arrival.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, former mayor of San Francisco, went aboard to officially welcome the submarine and crew to the city. The ship’s visit would leave a lasting mark with the mayor, in this case a USS San Francisco bumper sticker “slapped” on Feinstein’s automobile by the supply officer, Ensign John Class.
“We have a saying in the submarine community: ‘Pride Runs Deep;’ The pride I have tonight for my country, this city, my ship, and my men can never be equaled,” said Marshall upon receiving a silver service award from the city. The phrase “Pride Runs Deep” would make headlines across newspapers and in drawings across the city from the visit.
San Francisco completed her first deployment in 1983 with operations in the Western Pacific and U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility, and again in 1985, 1986, 1987, and 1988, before completing a modernization period in 1989. During her maintenance period, San Francisco was fitted with the most technologically-advanced submarine equipment at the time.
San Francisco returned to fleet operations, and over the next decade completed four additional deployments and conducted port calls all over the Pacific.
In 2000, she began her refueling overhaul to help extend her operational life. She left dry dock two years later to begin forward-deployed life in Guam, and would complete two forward-deployed missions in the Pacific area of operations.
On Jan. 8, 2005, while operating approximately 360 miles southeast of Guam, San Francisco struck an undersea mountain. The collision resulted in extensive damage to the bow of the submarine, including the forward ballast tanks which slowed their ascent to the surface. The fast actions of the crew quickly became invaluable to getting the boat safely back to Guam.
The collision resulted in 97 reported injuries and tragically the death of Petty Officer 2nd Class Joseph Ashley who died from his injuries.
The decision was made to outfit San Francisco with more than 1 million pounds of material excised from former USS Honolulu (SSN 718), including the main forward ballast tanks and the sonar sphere during an extensive dry-dock period.
She would deploy three more times before her final deployment in 2016. In total, she earned 12 unit awards and was awarded the Submarine Squadron 11 Battle Efficiency Award in 2014.
At the end of her final deployment, San Francisco returned to her namesake city for one last visit Oct. 10. As her last visit, the crew and the USS San Francisco Memorial Foundation held a wreath laying ceremony honoring the crew of the second ship to bear the city’s name, World War II cruiser USS San Francisco (CA 38).
“It has been the highest privilege of my career to be the commanding officer of the third great warship named after this city,” said Cmdr. Jeff Juergens, commanding officer of San Francisco. “The crew proudly maintains the high standard requisite of a warship bearing the name.”
On Oct. 14, San Francisco pulled into San Diego for the last time, officially concluding her final deployment.
San Francisco held her final change of command and farewell ceremony Nov. 4 at the submarine piers at Naval Base Point Loma, concluding 35 years of active service. Cmdr. Jeff Juergens, commanding officer of San Francisco from January 2014 to November 2016, was relieved by Capt. Daniel Caldwell, who will lead the ship into the next chapter of her life.
“By any measure, the San Francisco has had a stellar career as an operational submarine,” said Juergens. “I’ve been extremely fortunate to be one of the few to command this fine submarine, and especially lucky to get to command San Francisco for the last three years, which have been so successful.”
In her 35 years of active service, San Francisco has steamed more than 1.2 million nautical miles, completed over 1,000 dives and surfaces, and been home to 16 commanding officers and over 1,800 Sailors. Additionally, she has seen over 1,000 enlisted Sailors earn their silver dolphins and over 180 officers earn their gold dolphins.
“In three decades of service, the ship has traveled the world many times over, and after all those miles, she remains in fighting trim,” said Capt. Brian Davies, commander, Submarine Squadron 11. “She is in as good of shape now as when she left the yards in 1981 — clear evidence of the stewardship of this crew and the crews that have gone before them.”
For the ceremony, Feinstein prepared remarks which Lewis Loeven, executive director of the San Francisco Fleet Week Association read, “I am truly pleased to know that my hometown shares its name with such a distinguished vessel. As a United States senator representing the people of California, I thank the commanders and crew of the USS San Francisco both past and present for the service to this nation.”
In November, she began her journey to Norfolk to officially deactivate and begin the three-year conversion process to make her a moored training ship. She will continue to serve the fleet for years to come by training the next generation of submariners at the Nuclear Power Training Unit in Charleston, South Carolina.
By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Derek Stroop, Submarine Squadron 11 Public Affairs