I recently read a story about the submarine USS Jimmy Carter (SSN 23) returning to its home port in Bremerton, Washington flying the Jolly Roger. Being a former submarine sailor, I took a measure of pride in seeing the picture, and it made me wonder about a couple of things. First, what did the boat do to fly that flag, and, secondly, what happened to its clandestine predecessor USS Parche (SSN 683). Before I go into that, here’s the picture of the Jimmy Carter flying the flag (courtesy of Lt. Cmdr. Michael Smith via DVIDS):
USS Jimmy Carter:
What did USS Jimmy Carter do to fly the pirate flag? We probably won’t know for years (if ever). We can speculate based on some of the submarine capabilities. For instance, we know the Seawolf class submarine is incredibly quiet (by some estimates 70 times quieter than the Los Angeles class). We know it has an extra hundred foot section in the hull (called the Multi Mission Platform) and can dive deeper than the Los Angeles or Sturgeon class boats. It can allegedly transport Seal teams and their equipment, tap into underwater communication cables, and much more – none of which can be confirmed.
How does that help us guess at the boat’s mission. Given that the Jimmy Carter is a West Coast submarine, we can speculate that its successful mission involved North Korea.What exactly, we will likely never know as it will be shrouded in secrecy for decades to come. They could have landed SEAL teams for intelligence gathering, retrieved missile fragments from North Korea’s recent launches, or any number of other operations. Whatever they did, in keeping with the submarine force’s legendary silence, we won’t know.
Why the Jolly Roger, though? The practice of flying the pirate flag is a navy tradition signifying a successful mission. According to the Washington Post, the practice began in WWII with the Royal Navy. The article tells us symbols often adorn the flags to reflect what the mission accomplished. Jimmy Carter‘s flag had one or possibly two unidentified symbols on it, which only adds to the mystery. Whatever the mission, Bravo Zulu to the crew for a job well done!
Now for USS Parche (SSN 683), the super secret Sturgeon class submarine whose mantle USS Jimmy Carter inherited. According to Wikipedia, the Parche is, as of 2007, the most decorated ship in the history of the US Navy. Recipient of 9 Presidential Unit Citations (PUC), 10 Navy Unit Commendations (NUC), and 13 Navy Expeditionary Medals, Parche remains a mystery. Decommissioned in 2004, her sail resides in Bremerton Washington. Note the interesting hull appendage. I wonder what purpose it served…
The Parche‘s preserved sail in Bremerton:
Again, according to Wikipedia, Parche recovered Soviet missile fragments and was thought of as a key component of the National Underwater Reconnaissance Office. The book Blind Man’s Bluff claims the submarine tapped into Soviet communications cables during Operation Ivy Bells. Because most of USS Parche‘s missions remain highly classified, these claims remain unsubstantiated. One of my instructors at prototype in Idaho Falls, Idaho, served on Parche. He wore a few of the PUCs and NUCs, but claimed he didn’t know why the boat received the awards.
Based on her decorations alone, Parche deserved to fly the pirate flag, although I don’t know if she did. Regardless, I think it’s only fitting to give USS Parche (SSN 683) a Bravo Zulu as well!
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What do you think earned USS Jimmy Carter (SSN 23) the right to fly the Jolly Roger? Leave me a comment and let me know your thoughts. If you’d rather, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Connect with me on social media, too! I’m on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Pinterest. Say hi and let’s talk submarines (or books, nuclear power, writing, etc.)! I always enjoy meeting new friends!