Community connections keep those at home and those far away bound to each other with an intrinsically rewarding relationship. The City of Olympia and a Navy submarine crew have had that connection. The USS Olympia SSN 717 was named after the evergreen state capital, henceforth connecting a dedicated crew to the City’s volunteer needs and civic pride.
The USS Olympia is a Los Angeles class fast attack submarine. She is number 104 in the Navy’s line and the 95th in the succession of attack subs. USS Olympia is the second such namesake from the Navy to be named after our state capital. The USS Olympia C-6 cruiser, commissioned in 1895, was also the city’s namesake and was instrumental in the Spanish American War. The Navy, naming its submarines after cities, approached the chamber of commerce in Olympia to see if the chamber and the City were interested in having another namesake, this time a submarine. The chamber’s proposal to the city council was approved, and the USS Olympia, built in Newport News, Virginia, was commissioned on November 17, 1984. The ensign was raised, the commissioning pennant broken, and she donned Olympia as her name.
The USS Olympia and her crew visited her namesake city for the first time in 1986, on their way to Pearl Harbor where they would join the rest of the Pacific fleet.
The USS Olympia visited our capital city numerous times over the years, and often during Capital Lakefair. Crew from the submarine came ashore to interact with the people of Thurston County and participate in community events. Local families provided hospitality, sometimes offering their homes as a place for crew members to stay while they were in town for events.
“About every two months officers and crew members would come to Olympia to meet with Olympia residents and to explain their mission and to learn about our city,” says Jan Henry, committee chair for the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce. “They were hosted by members of the community in their homes where they spent three or four days each visit. The crew loved getting to meet everyone and they certainly charmed the families. For me it was an opportunity of a lifetime, I have fabulous memories, friends forever and I was very proud of all that we and the city did in honor of the great service of the USS Olympia.”
Visiting crew members filled backpacks with food, volunteered at food banks and even helped clear brush. They gave boat rides in the harbor, participated in a bed race against the also visiting Canadian Navy and shared in oyster feeds.
“I most enjoyed being part of the Namesake City committee,” says Bob Terhune, retired US Navy captain, “and helping local community, Lakefair members and Olympia and Lacey Chamber of Commerce supporters understand the unique opportunity of having a U.S. Navy ship named for their city and the ability to have the ship visit its namesake city in person and for us to show the Navy men our genuine hospitality to build a bond of lasting friendship.”
Honoring a Lifetime of Service
Years of service, world travel and community activities had come to and end. The USS Olympia was due to be decommissioned and additional formalities were required, one of which was a ritual cribbage game. This game and the board are part of a long-standing tradition in the Pacific Fleet. What began as a means of relaxing at the end of a trying day, led to stories of lucky, perfect games that brought good luck to the boats. The USS Olympia was one of many submarines in a series to have owned and used one of the two prized cribbage boards. The original board and its owner, Lieutenant Richard O’Kane, were lost in the attack on Peral Harbor. O’Kane’s personal cribbage board was then passed on through four more submarine crews before the USS Bremerton bequeathed it to the USS Olympia and her crew. In the fall of 2019, the Olympia saw its last game of cribbage and passed the board to the USS Chicago.
The day arrived when the USS Olympia sailed her last mission, which was a seven-month deployment that took her around the world supporting national security. She and her crew arrived at their home port of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in the early fall of 2018. From there, the final trip was to Bremerton, Washington where the decommissioning process began. The USS Olympia was defueled, her stores relocated, electronics extracted and weapons removed. Remaining holes in the hull were closed, and the near empty submarine was put into storage to await recycling one day. The official decommissioning ceremony was on January 15, 2021 in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington.
“This is not just another submarine. This is our boat,” said former Secretary of State of Washington Ralph Munro in his January decommissioning speech. Secretary Munro also spoke at the Olympia’s commissioning ceremony in 1984.
The watch was secured, the ensign was lowered, and the commissioning pennant was hauled down. It is clear the connections that the city has made through the USS Olympia being its namesake will not be forgotten. The crew of the Olympia connected with many area residents and the accounts of enthusiasm and relationships built are numerous.