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Our Shipyard, Our Military

By Capt. Greg Burton, USN, 47th Commander of Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility | May 22, 2019

PEARL HARBOR NAVAL SHIPYARD & IMF, Hawaii - A 1908 Liberty Head nickel rests in a “Commanding Officer” brass name plate on my desk hutch. That year has influenced your lives more than you may know. It has impacted how many of us celebrate the new year, experience a baseball game, or travel.

It was the first year the “ball” dropped on New Year’s Day in Times Square, the “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” song received initial copyright protection, Ford built the first Model T car, and passengers flew in a plane.

While you may ride in a car every day, you’re probably not in a plane or singing at ballgames as often. In the shipyard, you “keep them fit to fight,” so 1908 is even more significant to you.

On this day 111 years ago, Congress approved legislation that established what would become a national treasure: Navy Yard Pearl Harbor. Since that day, we have gone from a coaling and repair station to the Nō Ka ‘Oi Shipyard.

After the Pearl Harbor attack, workers resurrected the Pacific Fleet, helped turn the tide of the war at Midway, and maintained the ships that would sail triumphantly into Tokyo Bay. This support continued in the Korea conflict, Vietnam War, Cold War, Gulf War and in combat operations in support of ground forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. Along the way, we prioritized environmental stewardship and safety programs and supported the Navy in its transition to nuclear propulsion.

Let’s take a couple snapshots of shipyard history through the lens of Dry Dock #1. In 1913, it imploded under faulty piling and a bad foundation, but after painstaking reconstruction, it rose again. On December 7, 1941, it was the overhaul site for the USS Cassin (DD-372) and USS Downes (DD-375) with both destroyers sustaining severe damage from Japanese bombs. In August, it will turn 100 years old, still capable of docking all ships and submarines homeported here. With the help of the optimization plan, it will continue to serve us well into the future. Collapsed, attacked, weathered and aged, yet the mission is still in sight.

One more 1908 connection: the US added its 46th star to the flag after Oklahoma joined the Union and six years later the Navy launched the new state’s battleship namesake. Later in our waters, as the USS Oklahoma (BB-37) lay rattled with multiple torpedo hits, shipyard workers from Shop 11 pried 32 sailors from the grips of a dark, watery death; allowing them to once again see our sunny, Hawaiian skies.

Today, as you drive past Building 167, or enter the building’s main entrance, you may have seen the large ship’s wheel hanging in the window and wondered what that was all about. That ship’s wheel, or helm, was salvaged from the USS Oklahoma, and is a constant reminder of our support to the military. I look at that wheel every morning I enter the building and reflect on the support that this shipyard provides to the fleet. I’m grateful for our military, past and present, that put themselves in harm’s way to provide for our national security.

Our civilian shipyard workers and military personnel are woven together into the fabric of this shipyard and together perform work that is strategically important for our nation and economically and socially vital to our state. Our shipyard remains the largest single industrial employer in Hawaii, with an annual economic impact of about 1 billion dollars. We provide battle-ready ships and submarines to those that defend our country— and in so doing—provide careers for future generations. Each one of us strives to be Nō Ka ‘Oi. Happy birthday, shipyard!

 

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