1 April 1994 was a momentous day for the United States submarine force as the last three subs of the original “41 for Freedom” fleet ballistic-missile (FBM) program stood down from service as the front line of the nation’s strategic-deterrence program. Named for American icons such as Tecumseh, George Washington Carver, and Daniel Boone, these subs had served their nation proudly on 2,824 patrols over more than thirty years. They spanned four classes, beginning with GEORGE WASHINGTON in 1959 (5 boats) and moving on to ETHAN ALLEN in 1961 (5 boats), LAFAYETTE in 1963 (19 boats), and BENJAMIN FRANKLIN in 1965 (12 boats). By the mid-1990s, only three of these mighty vessels remained—USS STONEWALL JACKSON (SSBN-634), USS SIMON BOLIVAR (SSBN-641), AND USS MARIANO G. VALLEJO (SSBN-658).
Of the three, VALLEJO was truly the last—the last to patrol, the last to offload her missiles, and the last to arrive in Washington State to be recycled. In the final days of 1994, VALLEJO’s captain, Lieutenant Commander Michael Hallal, penned a letter describing the voyage from Charleston to the West Coast, a trip which took the boat through the Panama Canal—the crew had a cookout on the missile deck during the hot and sunny transit. The big excitement of the otherwise uneventful trip came when the boat “transited twenty miles from the epicenter of a 7.2 earthquake. The epicenter was far out to sea but not far enough from us. It’s a good thing submarines are designed to withstand depth charges and battle damage.” Before heading to Washington, VALLEJO stopped in Vallejo, California, home of her builder, Mare Island Naval Shipyard. The city was thrilled to once again play host to their namesake ship, which had been built with “special care” thirty years before—“we have,” Hallal noted, “lots of fancy chrome and brass that the other ships of the class do not have.” Crewmembers conducted more than 3,000 tours of their boat in the eleven days they were in port; Vallejo returned this generosity by giving each crewmember a laminated card stating that he was a VALLEJO Sailor; “show the card and you were treated special wherever you went.” But eventually the time came to begin the boat’s final underway, a three-day run to Bangor, Washington. The log entry from 14 September, the day before VALLEJO pulled into port: “More shipyard training for the nucs and the ship surfaced using emergency blow, the last surfacing of the ship. In less than 24 hours the last at sea period of the M.G. Vallejo will be complete.”
Today, VALLEJO’s sail, preserved when the rest of the ship was recycled, sits on the Mare Island waterfront where it will hopefully become part of a memorial to the builders and crew of the very last of the “41 for Freedom.”