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March 1st, 2018 - Sixteen years ago today, in 2002, an unnamed project manager, more than likely sitting at a battered grey steel desk on the second floor of a nondescript building at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, finished his review of a stack of documents pertaining to the dismantling and distribution of the pumps, valves, wiring, and mass of stainless steel that once comprised the naval vessel formerly known as the USS William H. Bates (SSN 680). I’d like to believe that he paused to reflect on what a ship that was home to us Bates sailors for almost 30 years meant to each of us, but the fact is that he probably didn’t give it a thought as he signed off as project manager, certifying that the scrapping of ‘our’ boat was complete.

She was gone

Sure, parts of her remain. A reactor compartment sealed and sitting on a concrete pad in eastern Washington. Handfuls of various miscellanea scattered around the country in forgotten cardboard boxes stored in attics and basements. Random pieces of hull metal (Steve Perry has entrusted me with the piece he had), some treasured (see previous), others forgotten. I heard that the torpedo tubes had been removed and were bound for TM school to be used as training devices. Who knows?

Despite the natural course of things, the Bates lives on in the hearts and minds of those that served on her and in the Association and website that preserves the memories of hundreds of Cold War submarine sailors. She may be gone but she is not forgotten, and probably couldn’t be even if we wanted to.

Which brings me to my role as self-appointed Archivist and Historian for our Association and the good ship Bates.

Each of you has memories of the Bates, and many of you may have items you collected that were once part of the Bates. It’s my mission to capture those memories, and archive those mementos as part of my effort to preserve the legacy of our boat and her missions.

So, here’s what I’m asking you to do:

  1. Memories - write down your sea stories, list your shipmates, your recall of events, the dates and places and send them to me so I can incorporate them into the website.
  2. Photographs - if you have any photos, negatives or slides that include the boat, the crew, homeports and liberty ports, contact me so we can get them scanned and entered into the archive and posted on the website.
  3. Artifacts - Let me know what you have, and send a picture or two - the statute of limitations has probably expired, and it’s not my goal to land you in hot water, I’m just trying to inventory what still remains. Brow banners, the wooden and metal name boards that hung on the sail, the award plaques from the wardroom and crew’s mess, anything at all that exists from the boat.

If you’re tired of hanging on to it, we’ll arrange to ship it here so I can preserve it. If not, we’ll get photos of it on the website, and keep track of where it is, and here is why.

There will come a time when that artifact won’t mean anything to you - it’s called Eternal Patrol, crossing the bar, and a dozen other things, but the fact is all of us will get there, and the fact that the owner is gone does not mean that it ceases to mean anything to the rest of us. I will go to great lengths to make sure that these artifacts don’t end up in a garage sale, junk store, or on eBay. If you can’t bear to part with it while you still roam this mortal coil, give some thought to including the Association in your last will and testament, so that the artifacts stay in the hands of those that appreciate such things.

Whether it’s memories, photographs, or tangible mementos of the boat, don’t let them disappear forever - make the effort now to ensure that all those things that came at great personal cost to each of us are not lost to history.

The boat is gone, but your effort ensures that she lives on.

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© 2018 Brad Williamson
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