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Decommissioning of the USS Hawkbill
Remarks as Delivered by Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Friday, August 27, 1999

Thank you, [Rear] Admiral [Albert H.] Konetzni [Jr.; Commander Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet], both for that very warm introduction and for the very superb leadership that you provide to our armed forces, and especially the submarine force, not just here in the Pacific, but for the entire United States. It’s usually the VIPs that get the comfort of sitting under the shade, but let’s be honest, the real VIPs that are sitting here today are the men, the officers, the petty officers, and the fabulous crew of the Hawkbill. So let’s start this with a round of applause for these remarkable people. [Applause.] I guess if you’re a submariner, you don’t mind sitting in the sun.

I am very delighted to be back with the crew of the Hawkbill. Last spring they took my wife Julie and me on a brief but truly extraordinary journey under the Arctic ice cap. But even more inspiring than the exotic setting, or being on the ice, was the superb, excellent crew that we had a chance to meet under the extraordinary leadership of Captain Perry and Master Chief Olivi. We had a chance to see again what it is that makes America’s fighting force, and especially the submarine force, the finest in the world. So let me thank you again for putting up with Julie and me and with Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig, Senator [Charles] Robb, and CNO {Chief of Naval Operations] Admiral [Jay] Johnson. It was an adventure that we will never forget.

Being underway on the Hawkbill was, for all of us, a reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices that submarine life demands, and proved yet again that the submarine life is really for the young. [Laughter.] Even a hardened ex-Marine like Senator Robb and a combat aviator like Admiral Johnson found it to be a fairly challenging environment. Admiral Johnson found it difficult to get into his berth that night and took refugee in the Chief’s lounge, finding a bench more comfortable than his rack.

Meanwhile, the Senator and Secretary Danzig tried sharing the engineer’s state room and apparently neither one of them felt it was too comfortable in those rather confining circumstances. Secretary Danzig hauled the mattress off his bunk and put in on the floor. Senator Robb finally got too claustrophobic, jumped down and landed with both feet on the Secretary of the Navy. [Laughter.] I don’t think that’s the first time the Congress has stomped all over the Navy. [Laughter.] I’m sure it's happened before. But it certainly was a reminder to us of the enormous sacrifices of comfort, convenience and privacy that every day these remarkable men have to put up with.

The Hawkbill, of course, is a boat of illustrious lineage. The original Hawkbill, the SS-366, was a hero of the Second World War. Across the wide Pacific, it sank over 40,000 tons worth of enemy vessels, it knocked out radio stations, and ferried commandos, and in the process earned six battle stars. Indeed, it was emblematic of our great World War II submarine fleet, a corps of brave and skilled sailors responsible for more than half of all of the enemy shipping that was sunk. And those were the individuals who endured great dangers and longer odds, more so probably than any other service, land, sea, or air.

Today, we are deeply honored to have with us the first and only commanding officer of the original Hawkbill, Capt. Worth Scanlan, along with members of his crew. I would ask them to stand and would ask all of us to thank them for having served this country in an hour of very dire need when they went to war and saved America. Would you please stand. [Applause.]

As World War II gave way to the Cold War, the original Hawkbill gave way to the boat that we honor today. Its service to our nation, stretching over the long twilight of that silent conflict, was no less important and no less illustrious. The Cold War was actually probably at its most heated under the seas, where a global game of cat and mouse between American and Soviet submarines shadowed the tense relationship above the surface of the ocean, with our subs listening, tracking, and dueling with those who took aim at the very heart of America.

Winston Churchill once described that period of history as a "solemn moment for American democracy." Indeed, much of the world relied on American leadership and power, and our service members, and particularly those who served in our submarine force, were asked to bear the burdens of that world leadership. So the decommissioning of the Hawkbill, the last of the Pacific Sturgeon class that carried that burden for so long, marks the passing of a dangerous, but ultimately triumphant time in the history of our nation.

Today is the Hawkbill’s last in commissioned service. But we must never forget that for over 10,000 days it has performed its varied missions with remarkable distinction. It has built an extraordinary record of achievement because it possessed one exceptional asset: A generation of sailors, skilled and dedicated professionals who were willing to rise to the very heights while they sank to the depths of the oceans. Separated from family and society and even sunlight for months at a time, they endured what few others would even consider in American society. And for that, they deserve our profound thanks.

Of course, the Hawkbill’s contributions were not limited to the security that it supplied. It has played a role in the achievement and advancement of science and exploration, as well. As I saw first hand, this great vessel has helped us to map the ocean floor, track changes in the global climate, and conduct important research into the complex and vital marine environment. Indeed, the Hawkbill not only gave us a safer world, it helped us create a better one, as well.

Given these contributions, it is ironic that some refer to the Hawkbill as "the Devil’s boat," which I suppose refers to its number, 666. Indeed, we all know from the Book of Revelations, from Chapter 13, "I saw a beast rise up out of the sea and its number is 666." But I think a more appropriate passage comes from the Psalms: "They that go down to the sea in ships, to do business in great waters, these see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep." For over the last 28 years, the Hawkbill has indeed done great works as it plied the wonders of the deep, advancing the frontiers of freedom, security, and of science.

As many of you know, next year marks the centennial of the United States submarine force. For it was on a spring day at the dawn of the 20th Century that the Navy took possession of the USS Holland along the muddy banks of the Potomac. In the ninety-nine years since, from the Holland to the Hawkbill and beyond, the submarine force has been the definitive element of our nation’s security. And there is little doubt that America will rely on its submarines, and we have to make sure we have enough submarines, for at least the next century, as well. Indeed, their unmatched capabilities will continue to provide a unique and indispensable element of America’s security.

While our nation’s vital defense assets on the land, in the air, and on the surface of the seas are more visible, it is often the hidden forces above, in space, and below the waves that give us our decisive advantage over our adversaries. And for those who question the relevance of submarines in the post Cold War World, I suggest that they are, if anything, even more important today. From intelligence gathering and reconnaissance to mine warfare and special operations, submarines project power and control the seas in America’s interests. And they remain, as through the long Cold War, a survivable deterrent to the diminished but not eliminated threat of war.

This day we bid farewell to the Hawkbill, two hundred and ninety two feet of steel that has kept this nation strong and safe and free. This great crew will soon move on to new duties, new assignments. Your lives are forever changed by the experience of having served on the USS Hawkbill. And the Hawkbill will serve on into the future through you, through your dedication and imagination, through your courage and your perseverance, through your expertise and your judgment. The USS Hawkbill will remain in the Navy always through you.

Let us now keep our eyes forward, to the next submarine, the next crew, and the next mission. Thank you all very much and God bless you. [Applause.]