Remarks by Vice Admiral James A. Sagerholm, USN (Ret.)


USS Mariano G. Vallejo (SSBN-658) Reunion

Las Vegas, Nevada

16 June 2005



Good evening.


Captain Nunneley, Vallejo shipmates, and guests:


Let me begin by expressing, on behalf of all here, our deep appreciation to Jim Carter for his superb work in organizing this reunion.  It has been an outstanding success, and an experience that all of us will long cherish.  Bravo Zulu, JC, and many, many thanks.


Some of you, like Captain Nunneley and I, are plankowners of Vallejo, while others served in her in later years, but all of us are veterans of the epic 40-year struggle between the Soviet Union and the West that is known as the Cold War, a struggle by the Soviets to attain world domination through the spread of communism, and a struggle by the West to protect freedom and democracy.


To put the Cold War in proper context, let me review some history.


  Immediately following the end of World War II, the armed forces of the United States went through a severe reduction in people and equipment.  I enlisted in 1946, and I can recall seeing an officer who on Friday was a commander, but on the following Monday, he was a lieutenant.  Enlisted advancements were frozen, and I was an E-2 for 11 months and made E-3 only after 15 months in the Navy.   All of this changed drastically in June of 1950 when North Korea invaded the south, and nearly succeeded in driving the U.S. and South Korean forces off the Korean peninsula.  The tide was dramatically turned with the landing of the Marines and Army at Inchon, and the front lines went up to the Yalu River, where the Chinese army entered the fight, and by 1952, the front lines were essentially back at the original frontier of the 38th parallel.  The stalemate that ensued led eventually to the signing of an armistice in July 1953.


With the end of active hostilities, the United States again reduced its armed forces, but not nearly to the extent seen at the end of WWII.  The United States had finally learned that we were in a struggle with Communism that would not end until one or the other was vanquished, a struggle that would not end quickly or easily, a struggle that might well lead to a third world war, and so it was a struggle for which we had to remain strong and prepared.


The Cold War was unlike anything else that our relatively young nation had ever experienced.  The United States had ushered in the era of nuclear weapons with the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended the war and marked the U.S. as a military power without equal.  But within the following decade, the Soviet Union let the world know that it also possessed the bomb.  The Iron Curtain had fallen in Central Europe, and under Stalin’s leadership, the Soviet Union and their Communist cohorts kept relentless pressure on the free world, continually probing for weaknesses to exploit, moving in when finding them, and retreating when confronted, thus following Lenin’s doctrine of “ebb and flow.”  It was the State Department’s George Kennan, an astute student of Lenin and Stalin, who formulated the doctrine of containment that became the basic strategy of the West throughout the Cold War.  Thus, the United States initiated the diplomatic efforts that led to the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Europe, the Southeast Treaty Organization in the Pacific, and the Organization of American States in the western hemisphere..  In addition, we had mutual defense treaties with Japan and Israel.  In response, the Soviet Union established the Warsaw Pact, a direct counter to NATO, and continued its attempts to infiltrate and subvert the countries of Asia, Africa, and South America.  An uneasy, at times ominous, kind of peace, perhaps better described as an absence of overt conflict, was maintained between the United States and the Soviet Union by virtue of what the geo-political theorists came to call the “doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction,” or MAD for short.  And so we lived in a relatively well-defined bi-polar world, dominated by the two nuclear super-powers.


Throughout the Cold War, there was a continual striving by both sides to gain a strategic edge, by military means, by diplomatic means, and by economic means .It’s in that context that the Polaris ballistic missile program was born, leading to the development of the nuclear–powered ballistic missile submarine.


Given the work of the German engineers and scientists in rocketry during WWII, it was inevitable that both the United States and the Soviet Union soon would have inter-continental ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads, launched from fixed land-based in-ground silos.  As the strategic game of the Cold War continued, both sides realized that the ICBM alone was vulnerable to being destroyed by a first strike, so first the United States, and then the Soviet Union, built a triad of nuclear missile delivery systems, consisting of the ICBMs in their fixed, land-based silos, a long range bomber force capable of non-stop inter-continental operations, and the nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, the SSBN.  Being very quiet and difficult to detect, and being continually submerged while on patrol, the SSBN was, by far, the least vulnerable part of the triad, and thus provided the most stability to the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction.  Looking back at the several crises of the Cold War, it is my firm opinion that, without the deterring influence of nuclear weapons, either side at one time or another might well have been inclined to initiate a world-wide conflict, given the issues involved.  The irony of that is obvious.


The issue of nuclear weapons is still with us, particularly their development in other, less responsible, countries, such as North Korea and Iran.  Should these or similar countries attain a nuclear capability, an already unstable, unpredictable world will become even more unstable and unpredictable.  One solution being pursued by the United States is development of a ballistic missile defense system, but the technology for that is years in the offing.  There clearly are no easy, simple, short-term solutions.  Faced with that reality, the reality of Russia whose leader. President Putin, is increasingly suspect in his intentions toward the West, and the reality of China, whose armed forces are undergoing a major build-up, funded largely by the armed forces’ ownership of a majority of the factories that are producing goods being sold to the West, we must ensure the continuation of a credible and survivable nuclear capability, based primarily on the SSBN force.


With the advent of the global war on terrorism, the dimension of the mass destruction threat has widened considerably, going beyond the nuclear threat as we knew it in the Cold War, to the possible use of so-called “dirty “ bombs delivered in suitcases by individual terrorists, or similar delivery of chemical or biological weapons.  In this scenario, mutual assured destruction has no meaning, since the terrorists we are fighting transcend national affiliation and identity.  Nevertheless, MAD should still be an effective deterrent in preventing Iran or North Korea from overt use of nuclear weapons and may further deter them from supplying nuclear material to terrorists, provided that we have a credible intelligence capability that they recognize could tie them to such an activity, admittedly, a tall order.


Thus, it is my opinion that the need for the SSBN force will continue into the foreseeable future.  The legacy of strategic readiness that all of you helped to create will continue to provide a unique kind of protection for our country that no other force can provide.


Here, I would like to talk for a few minutes about the global war on terrorism, and the campaigns in that war, namely, Afghanistan and Iraq.  The latter are not “wars,” they are campaigns, just as Gettysburg was a campaign in the Civil War, and they need to be understood in that context.  While not many have questioned the decision to go into Afghanistan, there appears to be a growing opinion that we should not have occupied Iraq, an opinion that is being fueled by members of the opposition party and the media.  Certainly, there is room for reasonable men to have a differing view on this, but the fact is, we ARE in Iraq, and failing to see that campaign through to a successful conclusion would have dire consequences for the United States.  Winston Churchill, in his epic work, The Second World War, said “…the man is unwise who thinks there is a certain method for winning in war.  The only plan is to persevere.”  We won the American Revolution against heavy odds by persevering; the North won the Civil War in the face of heavy casualties and battles lost by persevering; America overcame the dark days of the first two years of World War II and won by persevering; we persevered in the long, hard struggle of the Cold War, and we won; but we did not persevere in Vietnam, and we lost.  Unlike Vietnam, the American people are under direct threat of attack, both at home and abroad , and so the stakes are considerably higher.  This time, we the people of America cannot allow the media and the doomsday sayers to shape public opinion and impose a defeatist attitude in our country.  Our will for victory must remain strong and we MUST persevere.  


In closing, I would like to read a couple of short poems, one humorous, and one solemn.


The humorous poem, if it can be so termed, is entitled “The Poopy Suit” and was written by LT Jack Jordan of the Vallejo Blue Crew while we were on the Blue Crew’s second patrol in the Pacific.


                                                The Poopy Suit


I think somewhere there is living, in a far and distant place,

A man who designs Poopy Suits who must hate the human race.


For unless you’re double-jointed, and those this way are few,

As you put them on your shoulders, you can slip a disc or two.


And does one live among us who has not played this role,

As you unrig in the “john,” your “cigs” fall in the bowl.


But a thing I think is better is the way they dye them blue,

When you wash them with your skivvies you get a matching hue.


Another thing I like is the stuff that holds them shut,

And the way it grabs up short hairs in the middle of your gut.


And if there is a puddle in the head upon the deck,

You can sop it with your poopy suit and wear it round your neck.


Well now you’ve heard my story, I swear that it is true,

Of the many, many hardships of FBMer men in blue..





And lastly, these words from the Navy Hymn, in memory of those no longer with us::


“And when at length our course is run,

Our work for home and country done,

Of all the souls that with us sailed,

Let not one life in Thee have failed;

But hear in Heaven our sailors’ cry,

And grant eternal life on high.  Amen.”


God bless the United States Navy, and God bless our beloved country.

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