Happy Birthday, USS George Washington

The USS George Washington at its launch on Dec. 30, 1959. - Courtesy Photo
The USS George Washington at its launch on Dec. 30, 1959.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

Rich Jacobson has fond memories of his time aboard the world’s first nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine.

From 1976 to 1979, he served on the USS George Washington, hailed as an instrument of deterrence for revolutionizing the U.S. Navy’s ability to strike fear into the Soviet Union when roaming the world’s waters.

When the Keyport Naval Museum recognizes the submarine with a new exhibit on Friday, Jacobson, who now works as a real estate agent at Windermere Real Estate in Silverdale, plans to reminisce on what he called his formative experience.

“Coming out of high school I was aimless and immature,” he said. “It made me appreciate the sacrifices the Navy makes every day. People took it seriously with the hope that we would never have to use the weapon on the boat. But we were prepared to.”

The USS George Washington SSBN 598 was built in response to a 1955 National Security Council recommendation that the U.S. increase its Cold War defense by creating a fleet of submarines with nuclear capability, exhibit curator Steve Crowell said.

Though the system was originally a 10-year project, the USS George Washington was out to sea in about five years.

“There was a sense of urgency to create this deterrent capability,” he said.

Adm. Frank Caldwell, commander of Submarine Group 9 at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, will speak at Friday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. The event will be held at 3 p.m. and will also feature a Navy band.

Ron Roehmholdt, exhibits chief for Navy Museum Northwest, said the museum was approached by Submarine Group 9 about a month ago regarding the creation of an exhibit for the first submarine of its kind.

The exhibit, located at the museum’s main entrance, features a wall of photos and history of the submarine. A commemoration plaque, a video, a rotating monitor of images and a model of a Polaris missile will also be on display.

Roehmholdt said the exhibit is a six-month interpretive display. However, he hopes to add more background on the submarine and the Polaris missile system in the museum’s submarine technology section.

He said the museum often does small exhibitions for Navy commemorations.

“The Navy is very proud of these missiles and there’s a lot of interest out there,” he said.

The 560-foot submarine was originally scheduled to become a fast-attack submarine, but was lengthened with the addition of a 130-foot missile section. The submarine held 16 A-1 Polaris missiles, a predecessor to today’s Trident missile system.

The submarine was the first of what became known as the “41 for Freedom” boats, Crowell said. These 41 submarines were the Navy’s preeminent submarine class for nuclear missiles before being phased out in 1993. The fleet was replaced by the more modern Ohio-class submarines, which can carry up to 24 missiles.

“This is a unique segment in history which is being played out today with the Tridents at Bangor,” he said. “It gives context to why we have submarines on patrol.”

The museum is located at 1 Garnett Way, Keyport.

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