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Hundreds on hand to witness sail dedication of USS Mariano G. Vallejo

By THOMAS GASE | Times-Herald, Vallejo, Calif. | Published: October 26, 2019

(Tribune News Service) — Just over 54 years after it was originally launched, the USS Mariano G. Vallejo is back home for good at Mare Island.

Hundreds of veterans, along with their family and friends were joined by numerous city officials to witness the sail dedication of the USS Mariano G. Vallejo, which was decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register in March of 1995. There was also a wall for the ship that honored shipmates on eternal patrol.

There were many tears shed to go with a ton of smiles as some veterans were reunited for the first time in decades to pay their respects to the ship and the many people who worked or sailed on it.

"When I see that sail of the USS Vallejo coming home to where it belongs I think that it is truly magnificent," said Vallejo mayor Bob Sampayan. "And it's back to the exact same spot where it was built, so you can imagine the rest of the sub there with it. It's truly an honor to have the sail here and for people to see it and remember the history of it. This is a great day for Vallejo and I'm really looking forward to talking with all the veterans and hearing their stories."

The ship was one of 41 that were built aimed at deterring nuclear war, and they were named after well-known figures in American history who had won and defended freedom. Seven of those were built on the Pacific Coast, including the USS Mariano G. Vallejo. The boat's service extended from 1966 until 1995.

Former crew member Dean Hickman started off the ceremony by getting a few laughs from the crowd of nearly 300.

"It was the best ship I ever served on ... then again it was the only ship I ever served on," Hickman said. "However, I was told by other people that it was a very good ship. I think a lot of that was because it was built by people here in Vallejo."

Bill Linne, a submarine radioman in the US Navy from 1967 to 1989, also spoke for a few moments and was thrilled to see so many veterans also show up to pay tribute.

"Being qualified in submarines is a brotherhood. I haven't seen some of these guys for 49 years and it's like we were together yesterday,' Linne said, between a few tears. "It's that way force-wide. It's an incredible brotherhood. We have 125 ex-crew members in this group, with their family members and guests and we're pretty sure this is the biggest reunion for this ship ever.

Also speaking during the day was Nathan Bergeron, the chief operating officer for the Nimitz Group.

"The civilian force that worked on Mare Island for 142 years to make it a great place, you're the inspiration and you're the reason why we are all here today so thanks for coming back and being part of this special day," Bergeron said. "I want to also thank the partners of the Nimitz group and Lennar Mare Island. Some of you might know or might not know about this little transaction that possibly going on, and we're really hopeful that this is what sets the tone for what the transition could look like. This is two groups working together and finding a common ground and getting something done."

"Same thanks to the city staff," Bergeron continued. "We kind of brought this plan to the city. I had already agreed to a date (for the ceremony and dedication) with Bill (Linne) and before I got any approvals with the city. I kind of walked of walked in there and said 'Too bad, the invitations have already gone out.' So my thanks goes out to the city manager Greg Nyhoff and his whole staff, the city attorney's office, the planning and building department. Everyone kind of got excited about this and hopefully this sets the tone for future projects in the city of Vallejo."

The event wasn't without a few sad moments, as a tribute was paid to all the veterans lost over the years, including some that served or worked on the USS Mariano G. Vallejo.

Halfway through the ceremony there was a tolling of the bell for those as a few sniffles could be heard during the moment of silence, including those from Linne, who stood at the podium and announced those who had been lost recently.

Politicians Bill Dodd, D-Napa and Mike Thompson, D. St. Helena, couldn't be at the event due to other priorities, but had statements read.

"The sail is symbolic of the long proud history of ship building on Mare Island shipyard and that of the U.S. Navy," said Dodd, in a statement read by Tom Bartee. "And now the sail will live on as an iconic symbol and a reminder to future generations of the many sacrifices made in protection of our freedom and our democracy. My thanks go out to Dean Hickman, Kim Phinney and the Mare Island Historic Park Foundation and the many volunteers that made this day possible."

Thompson had a statement read by Mel Orpilla.

"His (Mariano G. Vallejo) advocacy was instrumental in helping California gain statehood, so it's only fitting that his life and service be honored with his name on one of our nations key submarines," said Thompson in his statement. "The USS G. Mariano was an incredible ship, commissioned in 1966 and patrolling for decades. It was the last to upload its missiles and the last to arrive in Washington, marking the end of an era for our nation's Navy. Since then it's been an important symbol in Vallejo. When it arrived at Mare Island shipyard the crew hosted more than 3,000 tours of the ship in just 11 days. Today the sail stands as an important marker of this journey."

After the ribbon cutting, many former crew members mingled about and talked about their fondest memories of the ship.

"It's an awesome day," former crew member Joel Deavers said. "I think of the crew members I served with. Some are still here to this day. I'm still in contact with a bunch of them. It's a brotherhood like you can't describe when you're under water for 75 days hanging out with the same guys. The boat is nice, but it's the crew you remember. You make friendships you can't ever lose."

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