The University Record, January 21, 2002

Wolverines head fight to save decommissioned submarine

By Shiri Bilik
News and Informaton Services

The USS Cincinnati (Photo courtesy of the USS Cincinnati Museum Foundation)
University alumnus Joseph Jaap and Chris Becker, manager of the nuclear reactor laboratory, Michigan Memorial Phoenix Project, are spearheading the fight to bring a decommissioned nuclear submarine named for the city of Cincinnati to its namesake’s riverfront. The two are part of the Submarine Cincinnati Museum Foundation, a group that wants to turn the USS Cincinnati into a tourist and educational attraction.

Becker served on the “Cincyfish” until 1992, taking part in classified missions against the United States’ Cold War enemies. He remembers being invited to the submarine’s decommissioning in 1994.

“I was kind of surprised,” Becker recalls. “It wasn’t that old of a boat. But the Navy was in the process of downsizing.” The ship now sits at a naval depot in Puget Sound, ready to be recycled. Fifty-one other submarines of its class are still at sea, engaged in missions like the war in Afghanistan.

Jaap, a 1989 U-M Law School graduate and also a former nuclear submarine officer, serves as the group’s lawyer. He says bringing the sub to Cincinnati will cost the U.S. Navy less than it would to scrap it and recycle its parts.

“It’s a fairly labor-intensive process to cut up a submarine,” Jaap says. He estimates the cost of scrapping the ship at $25 million, as opposed to the $10–15 million the group hopes to raise to bring the ship to Cincinnati. Saving the sub, Jaap says, “will cost about a dollar a pound. That’s less than the cost of a hamburger.”

The Foundation says now is a perfect time to bring the “Cincyfish” to the city’s riverfront, since Cincinnati already is dedicated to renovating the area. The city is building two new stadiums, one for a professional football team and one for the Cincinnati Reds.

Becker and Jaap admit bringing the “Cincyfish” to Cincinnati won’t be easy. The ship is 360 feet long, 33 feet wide and 50 feet tall. However, if they succeed, it will be the first time a submarine is harbored at its namesake city, and, according to Becker, the ship is all dressed up for its new home.

“Everything that could be painted red was red,” he says. “The baseball caps we wore during drills were Cincinnati Reds baseball caps,” and the ship’s bright red backup engine was named “the Big Red Machine,” also in honor of the baseball team.

The Reds, in turn signed a baseball bat from their World Series championship and donated it to the ship.

Jaap says bringing the ship to Cincinnati will restore more than just the city’s pride and the picturesque waterfront.

“We see it more as a hands-on educational tool that will be exciting for kids,” he says. Visitors to the museum will be able to tour the ship, experiment with interactive computer modules, or take part in overnight simulations of what life is like at sea. Moreover, Jaap adds, “We’d be fairly close to the inner city, where we’d have a lot of opportunity for the at-risk kids to participate.”

For Becker, bringing the sub to Cincinnati, his hometown, would mean his wife and kids could understand a part of his past.

“If they get it to Cincinnati, I’m going to have the opportunity to take my kids on something I worked on,” he says. “I can show them where I slept, where I ate.”