Mare Island Navy Yard Association calls it a day after 100 years



The USS Indianapolis off Mare Island on July 10, 1945 (National Archives)

MARE ISLAND, Calif. (Tribune News Service) – A long-standing bond between civilians who worked together during War and Peace ends on December 31 when the Mare Island Navy Yard Association becomes history after 100 years.

“It’s about time,” said Ralph McComb, president of the association for 25 years.

“It has probably exceeded its usefulness,” added Bruce Christiansen, president of the NVA from 1973 to 1993.

“We lost the opportunity to have new members because the shipyard is no longer there and the rest of us are going up there,” McComb said.

During its heyday of the Cold War in the 1980s, there were over 5,000 members of the Mare Island Navy Yard Association. Since the base closed in 1996, the membership has slowly declined. It’s now just over 200.

“Without new blood …” McComb said, not having to finish his sentence.

On the 100th anniversary this year, members gathered last Saturday at the Mare Island Brewery in the Coal Sheds for a final hurray.

“It was a good time to say goodbye,” McComb said. “I loved being associated with the organization. The people you work with are the most selfless people you will ever meet. They give from the bottom of their hearts. They are a wonderful group of people.”

The Navy Yard Association united the civilian workforce at Mare Island Naval Base. His credits include being the driving force behind the Civil Service Retirement Service, which helped launch the organization in 1921, to successfully fight the politically motivated transfer of operations from Mare Island to Alameda. in 1923.

In the 1960s, the NYA was instrumental in forming the Council of Naval Employees’ Groups, made up of all the shipyards on the West Coast. In 1986, the NYA organized the National Association of Naval Shipyards, mobilizing public shipyards as a single force capable of advancing common causes.

After the base closed, he became a link between the former workers of the island via a monthly bulletin of what is happening on the island of Mare.

“We would try to bring in the strengths, definitely not the weaknesses,” said McComb, who worked on the island from 1968 to 1999.

Veterans lawyer Nestor Aliga credits the association with the role it played in lobbying on behalf of the Mare Island Naval Cemetery and for the association’s bitter – if futile – battle to save the base in Vallejo and other bases of closure.

“The Navy Yard Association has taken the initiative to fight the shutdown,” Christiansen said. “We brought the union and management together. We have all worked as one to try to reverse the decision to close Mare Island. Even though we worked hard and even though we thought we had a plan, it was a lost cause. an argument to counter the closure argument, but that didn’t matter. We understand that in 1993 we were going to be closed.

When it became official, “we were devastated,” Christiansen said, admitting that he “will probably be a little sad” when the books are finally closed on the association.

“For the first 75 years it benefited civilian employment on Mare Island. Over the past 25 years it has kind of helped keep retirees in touch and let them know what was happening after the shutdown. “Christiansen said, agreeing with McComb that membership numbers were dwindling told the story.

“It was time,” Christiansen said, “to fold up our tent.

Christiansen created most of the copy for the newsletter and said he enjoyed reporting on Mare Island’s progress.

“Most of them were positive things. Some were negative, like when they closed the golf course,” he said. “It made a lot of the members sad.”

Christiansen began working on the island in 1957 as part of a college co-op program after recruiters went to Vallejo High School proclaiming “we need engineers.”

He stayed for 36 years, following in his father’s footsteps on Mare Island. And two of Christiansen’s three children worked on Mare Island.

“It’s almost a family tradition,” said Christiansen, describing the zenith of activity on the island of Mare as “rather hectic” as its nuclear program was in full swing by building more than one submarine by year.

“You would have spent a lot of hours. I was called anytime, day or night,” Christiansen said. “It was a bigger challenge than I had had elsewhere.”

“So many great memories,” McComb said. “When I started building new ships. It was fascinating for a young man who had just graduated from high school.”

McComb traveled to many ports, “making some very good friends in the Navy along the way.” The people who worked on the island had a sense of dedication. There was a feeling of added importance to what they were doing. We built nuclear submarines and it was just cool. The whole experience has been amazing. “

When the Mare Island shipyard closed, “it was so sad,” said McComb, acknowledging the battle to keep it open, “but the decisions were made. When it happened, I never heard so much. sad stories. There was a real sense of loss. At first it was disbelief. People came into my office crying. What can you say to someone who, like me, worked there? since the age of 18? “

And now, with two more board meetings remaining, the Mare Island Navy Yard Association is closing its books on December 31.

McComb will surely miss the quarterly rallies.

“Everyone comes to every meeting with a new story, a new event, a new something in their life,” he said. “You would always leave a little happier than when you got there.”

And life goes on.

“I’m going to do whatever I’ve done minus the association,” said McComb, grateful for his time as president.

“We have always been of service to our members,” he said.

(c) 2021 Times-Herald (Vallejo, CA)

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