They fought for the freedom of the country and now a group of ex-military on Mare Island is fighting to bring back a piece of history from behind a locked fence. Stephanie Chuang reports.
Dubbed the “41 for Freedom,” a fleet of that number of submarines went out into the seas across the globe.
Their mission: protect the United States from any threat during the Cold War. Many of those ships were built at Vallejo’s own Mare Island – a shipyard that has history tracing back to the mid-1800s. One of those submarines assembled by locals was the U-S-S Vallejo 658. Parts of her are on display at the Mare Island Historic Park Foundation Museum.
The most important part for one group of guys is the 658 sail.
Alex Gilmore, a Navy veteran and historian, said it was a symbol of both the hard work put in by both vets and shipyard workers. “It’s what you saw when your loved ones were coming home.”
Bill Linne, a Navy veteran who sailed on the USS Vallejo from 1969 to 1975, said being around different components of the USS Vallejo always brings back memories. She was his first. That’s why it’s so important to him and fellow vets, as well as shipyard workers who built her, to place her sail in Alden Park – a historic place where the Navy has put other artifacts, from cannons to missiles.
His group, “Save Our Sail,” said it was nearly three years ago when Vallejo city leaders first expressed interest in the idea.
“They took our 803-dollars that it cost to apply,” said Jack Tamargo, a shipyard worker at Mare Island for 41 years. But for those years, the sail has been sitting behind a locked chain-link fence near the museum.
SOS desperately wants to move it to the park, but the city’s senior planner, Michelle Hightower, told NBC Bay Area that the group will have to put it elsewhere. In a statement she wrote:
“The city is in agreement that the Sail could become a major attraction. It is the City’s intent to work with the Foundation to find a suitable location for the Sail on Mare Island. The location of the Sail within the Historic District on Mare Island must be approved through the Certificate of Appropriateness permit process.”
Hightower added that the city had to order a Cultural Landscape Report (CLR) because Alden Park is deemed historic.
The city ordered the report in August of 2010. It took nine months to complete. The CLR concluded the sail was too big and would alter the character of the 4.7-acre park.
The landscape historian hired said the city should follow the plan created for the park, a plan drawn up in 1936.
It also deemed that Mare Island’s period of significance ended in 1945. All artifacts from after that year would be eventually removed from the park.
“Which is an error in itself,” Tamargo said. “Since that time, we built 17 nuclear submarines. We built seven ballistic submarines!” Gilmore added,”A lot of the Cold War stuff has been forgotten. People don’t realize how important this is, especially my generation.”
The city has proposed a couple other sites on Mare Island, but SOS isn’t budging. It has repeatedly said the sail belongs alongside other pieces of U.S. Naval history, and the question for the guys remains: Why not?
City staff is set to decide on how to proceed with the SOS application to make the sail a memorial at Alden Park at a meeting in March.
It is closed to the public.