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Friday, October 19, 2007

Mare Island’s October Anniversaries

James Kern

Mare Island Naval Shipyard was the first U.S. Navy base on the Pacific coast, building more than 500 ships for the Navy and repairing countless thousands of others. Mare Island workers served the nation in both peace and war and set a proud record of service on behalf of the nation.

October marks the anniversary of many significant events in Mare Island’s history. In the years leading up to WWII Mare Island was building and launching submarines at a record pace. That rapid pace continued once the U.S. entered the war in 1941. Four of those wartime subs were launched in October: USS Tuna (October 2, 1940), USS Tinosa (October 7, 1942), USS Trigger (October 22, 1941), and USS Tilefish (October 25, 1943).

After the war, when Mare Island entered the nuclear age, October launchings continued. Mare Island’s first nuclear submarine (and the first nuclear sub built on the West Coast) was launched exactly fifty years ago this month. USS Sargo slid down the launching ways on October 10, 1957 after her ceremonial christening by Mrs. Frank T. Watkins. October was an auspicious month for USS Sargo. The U.S. Navy officially authorized her construction on October 11, 1955 and she was placed in commission on October 1, 1958.

Mare Island eventually built seventeen nuclear submarines for the U.S. Navy. The first ballistic-missile firing nuclear submarine built at Mare Island (USS Theodore Roosevelt) was launched on October 3, 1959. Perhaps the proudest day in Mare Island’s long history came six years later with the launching of the submarine USS Mariano G. Vallejo. That important event took place on October 23, 1965. Patricia Vallejo McGettigan, General Vallejo’s great-great granddaughter, was the ship’s sponsor.

Mare Island’s beautiful historic landmark, St. Peter’s Chapel, held its first religious services in October 1901. Construction of another Mare Island landmark, the U.S. Naval Hospital, commenced on October 12, 1869 with a cornerstone laying ceremony.

In 1863, with the United States embroiled in Civil War, the Russian Navy paid visits to New York City and San Francisco to show support for the Union. The Russian Pacific Squadron arrived at Mare Island on October 25, 1863.

Two other famous Mare Island ships also have October connections – one a beginning and one an ending. The beginning came on October 25, 1916 when a keel-laying ceremony was held to mark the beginning of construction for USS California, the only battleship built on the West Coast. The ending came for Mare Island’s very first ship, the sidewheeler USS Saginaw, when it wrecked on Ocean Island in the Pacific on October 29, 1870.