It was a bitter cold morning on Nov. 12, 1988, as our frozen delegation from South Florida participated in the launch of the newest nuclear submarine, the USS Miami. A giant city of Miami flag waved across its bow, a bath of champagne flowed over the hull and the Navy anthem Anchors Aweigh filled the air as it slid into the Thames River at New London, Conn.
It was a proud moment as then-City Commissioner J.L. Plummer rose to bid the sub “fair winds and following seas” on behalf of the residents of Miami.
Thus would begin the efforts of the Miami’s Commissioning Committee, created by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce’s Military Affairs Committee and chaired by John Pennekamp, to prepare for the ship’s eventual entry into the U.S. Navy’s fleet more than a year and a half later.
On June 30, the sub base in Groton, Conn., the Miami was placed into service as a vital part of our national defense. U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mayor Steve Clark, local television legend Ralph Renick and Knight-Ridder Chairman Alvah Chapman led the sizable delegation from South Florida.
Miamians could be extremely proud of the naval vessel carrying their city’s name. It was the first sub in its class to be outfitted with the new vertical launch system for the Tomahawk cruise missiles and was equipped with retractable bow planes and a hardened bow to enable it to conduct under-ice operations at the North Pole. During the sub’s life in the fleet, the USS Miami experienced more than a dozen deployments in the North Atlantic, the Mediterranean Sea, the Adriatic Sea, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. It was the first nuclear-powered submarine to transit the Suez Canal.
The USS Miami became the first submarine since World War II to fire weapons during combat operations in two different theaters of war, launching missile strikes against Iraq in the opening salvo of Operation Desert Fox and then speeding to the Adriatic Sea to launch strikes against Serbian forces in Kosovo.
Of its many citations, it should be noted that the Miami won the Battenberg Cup, signifying the best ship in the Atlantic Fleet. It was the first submarine to earn that coveted award.
Throughout the Miami’s life-span, the ship and crew made many goodwill port visits around the world — in each case carrying our city’s name with pride and distinction. The ship had been well-stocked by the Commissioning Committee with commemorative tokens of our community for presentation to foreign officials, allied naval representatives and student groups that were regularly given educational tours of the ship.
Sadly the Miami’s demise came unexpectedly — well before its projected life span. While in dry dock for technology upgrades and refitting, a disgruntled shipyard worker set a fire inside the boat in an effort to get off duty before his shift was ended. The small blaze quickly spread, engulfing much of the hull and, before it was extinguished the next day, causing some $450 million of damage.
With Congressional budget cuts limiting the Navy’s ship building and repair efforts, the decision was made to decommission the proud Miami. On March 28, in Maine, on a wintery day (much like the day of the launch almost 25 years earlier) the USS Miami’s colors were struck and its crew relieved. Later this year it will be towed to the Puget Sound Shipyard and be scrapped.
The USS Miami is now part of naval history — during its life it made a contribution to our nation in which our city and its people can take great pride.
Don Slesnick was vice-chair of the USS Miami Commissioning Committee and chair of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, Military Affairs Committee. Alberto Dosal is chairman of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce.