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Lance Dean
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« on: October 14, 2009, 11:35:41 PM »

Free tours Thursday to celebrate Blueback submarine's 50th birthday
By Anne Saker, The Oregonian
October 13, 2009, 8:16PM

One thing that a young Marine named John Kroger remembered best about his brief stay aboard the submarine USS Blueback was the food.

"Just spectacular," said that young Marine, who now is Oregon's attorney general. "That is something of a tradition because submariners live a very difficult life, being under water for sometimes weeks at a time, and the Navy tries to do everything they can to make their quality of life better."

Kroger and a host of Blueback admirers will gather Thursday at the submarine, moored on OMSI's waterfront, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its commissioning. The Blueback entered the fleet Oct. 15, 1959, as the nation's last diesel-powered fast-attack submarine. Today, the U.S. sub fleet is nuclear-powered.

The anniversary ceremony is scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday. OMSI will offer free tours of the Blueback between 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., and the U.S. Postal Service is setting up a temporary postal station to provide a special cancellation postmark.
The Blueback -- named for the variety of salmon also called sockeye -- was built at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula., Miss. It shadowed Soviet submarines through the Cold War and crept near shorelines to spy on military facilities or other sites of interest.

The Blueback appeared in an episode of "Hawaii Five-O" and in the movie "The Hunt for Red October." The Navy decommissioned the submarine in 1990. Then it came to Portland in 1994 through the efforts of U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield, a Navy veteran.

OMSI counts as many as 75,000 people visiting the submarine every year, and hundreds of children have slept aboard the sub through schools, Scout troops or other groups. Last year, the Blueback was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Tour guide Steve Myers  of Beaverton said he asks visitors to imagine living in the crowded 219-foot sub under water for weeks at a time. The Blueback carried eight officers and 77 sailors -- all volunteers for sub service and all pretty smart "because you cross-trained on a submarine," Myers said. "You learned how to do everything."

"Come on down this way," Myers said, leading a tour Tuesday into the control room. He flicked on red lights that cast weird shadows all over the room. "This is the light they would use at night, so that you could see through the periscope without having to adjust your eyes that much."

The submarine has three diesel-fueled locomotive engines that generated power, and the engine room was so warm that the submariners dried clothes there because the ship had no central laundry facility.

"You just washed your clothes out in the sink," Myers said, "and hung them up anywhere you could find a place to hang them up."

Kroger said he was serving in a Marine reconnaisance unit when he came aboard the Blueback for less than two weeks in the early 1980s for training. Considering how close the quarters were with just the submariners aboard, the extra bodies made for a snug fit.

"We slept in the torpedo room," Kroger said. "A bunk would have been an immense luxury."

"The thing that really sticks in my memory is the eerie feeling of being underwater," Kroger said. "The first time you do it, it's just a very strange feeling, but you adjust to it. But the idea that you're 70 or 100 feet down is just remarkably odd."

Kroger said he remembered that on his last night aboard the Blueback, "We had steak and lobster tail. We were all very excited about that."

Kroger said this week's ceremony will be his first visit to the Blueback since that fancy dinner more than 25 years ago.

-- Anne Saker

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« Reply #1 on: October 15, 2009, 07:58:07 AM »

 Smiley Well done Blueback - and she doesn't look over 35!  Great idea of offering free tours too.

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Paul Farace
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« Reply #2 on: October 16, 2009, 05:47:54 PM »

Happy birthday BLUEBACK!   smitten

Interesting to see the revolution in hull design between COD, 66 years old, and this young wippersnapper of 50 years!


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« Reply #3 on: November 30, 2009, 04:12:35 PM »

I served on the "Back" from 1964 through 1965.  It was my first boat and I have the fondest of memories of it and the guys I served with.  I have a picture of me standing topside while we were in Hong Kong.  I plan to have my wife take a picture of me standing in the same place (in front of the sail).  It will be odd to see me standing in the same spot close to 50 years later.

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