USS Sunfish SSN-649 (1966-1997)
This Sturgeon-class attack submarine was the second ship in the United States Navy to be named for this fish. Constructed by the General Dynamics Quincy Shipbuilding Division in Quincy, Massachusetts, she was launched on October 14, 1966, with the wife of United States Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia sponsoring the vessel. She was commissioned on 15 March 1969, with Commander Richard L. Thompson in command.
From April to August, the Sunfish underwent shakedown and various exercises such as torpedo firing, sound trials, control drills, and casualty drills. After a short dependents’ cruise in late August, she was put in post-shakedown availability at Groton, Connecticut. The crew enjoyed a two-week period of leave and recreation at the end of 1969. However, early 1970 saw the Sunfish participate in upkeep periods and several short cruises in preparation for an extended deployment. This deployment lasted from June 16 to August 26, when she landed at Charleston, and again from October 6 to December 1, 1970.
After putting out to sea on January 22, 1971 for what was to be a short fleet exercise, her operational commitments were changed, forcing her to stay out until she finally returned on March 9. In April, the Sunfish then made a cruise to Port Everglades, followed by another fleet exercise. She spent the remainder of the year in antisubmarine warfare exercises with destroyers and patrol aircraft.
On January 3, 1972, she left Charleston for the Mediterranean and a tour of duty with the 6th Fleet. On May 21, she returned to her homeport and entered a stand-down period that lasted until early October when she entered the Norfolk Naval Shipyard for her first major overhaul. With the overhaul complete in August of 1973, she sailed to New London for refresher training. After touching in at Charleston in early November, she continued to the Caribbean for sound training and weapon systems tests. Returning to Charleston that December for a leave and upkeep period, she then operated along the east coast from New London to Cape Kennedy until June 1974. Returning to Charleston on June 25, she began another deployment period.
By 1996, the Sunfish’s home port had been changed to Norfolk, Virginia. Early that year she made history by pulling away from the submarine tender, USS Simon Lake, and making her one thousandth dive. Rear Admiral Richard W. Mies, commander of Submarine Group 8 who served on Sunfish from March 1970 to April 1973 was aboard to give the order to submerge for the history-making dive. This was a unique achievement, as few submarines have the longevity to make this many dives, a testament to the engineering strength of the submarine force.
She was finally decommissioned on March 31, 1997, stricken from the Naval Vessel Registry on the same day. The Sunfish was disposed of by scrapping, completed by the Nuclear-Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program at Puget Sound Navy Yard at Bremerton, Washington on October 31, 1997.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet, especially throughout conflicts of the last century, submarines also pose a lasting health risk to soldiers serving on them. However, these risks extend beyond the inherent dangers that existed while operating the vessels during military conflicts. Unfortunately, products containing asbestos were also common aboard submarines because of the material’s high resistance to heat and fire. Despite its value as an insulator, asbestos fiber intake can lead to several serious health consequences, including mesothelioma, a devastating cancer without cure. Furthermore, the enclosed environment of submarines put servicemen at an even higher risk of exposure. Current and former military personnel who came into contact with or served on submarines should seek immediate medical attention in order to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.