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 probably outlived its usefulness,” added Bruce Christensen, president of the NVA 1973-93.
âWe lost the opportunity to have new members because the shipyard is no longer there and the rest of us are going up there,â 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 bloodâ¦” McComb said, not having to finish his sentence.
On the occasion of the 100th anniversary this year, members gathered last Saturday at the Mare Island Brewery in the Coal Sheds for a final hurray.
âIt was a good time to say goodbye,â McComb said. âI 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. It’s just a big 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 combat 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.
âWe would try to bring in the strengths, definitely not the weaknesses,â 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.
âThe Navy Yard Association has taken the initiative to fight the shutdown,â Christensen said. âWe have brought together the union, the management. We all worked together to try to reverse the decision to close Mare Island. Even though we were working hard and even though we thought we had a plan, it was a lost cause. We had an argument to counter the closure argument, but it didn’t matter. We understand that in 1993 we were going to be closed.
When it became official, “we were devastated,” Christensen said, admitting that he “will probably be a little sad” when the books are finally closed on the association.
âFor the first 75 years, it benefited civilian employment on Mare Island. Over the past 25 years, this has kind of helped retirees stay in touch and let them know what’s going on after the shutdown, âsaid Christensen, agreeing with McComb that the shrinking membership recounted. ‘story.
âIt was time,â said Christensen, âto fold up our tent.
Christensen created most of the copy for the newsletter and said he enjoyed reporting on Mare Island’s progress.
âMost of them were positive things. Some were negative, like when they closed the golf course, âhe said. “It made a lot of the members sad.”
Christensen began working on the island in 1957 as part of a college co-op program after recruiters visited Vallejo High School proclaiming “we need engineers.”
He stayed for 36 years, following in his father’s footsteps on Mare Island. And two of Christensen’s three children worked on Mare Island.
“It’s almost a family tradition,” said Christensen, describing the zenith of activity on the island of Mare as “rather hectic” when its nuclear program was in full swing by building more than one submarine per year .
âYou would put in a lot of hours. I was called anytime, day or not, âChristensen said. âIt was a bigger challenge than I had had elsewhere. “
âSo many great memories,â McComb said. âWhen 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 great friends in the Navy along the way.” The people who worked on the island had a sense of dedication. There was a sense of added importance to what they were doing. We built nuclear submarines and it was really cool. The whole experience was amazing.
When the Mare Island shipyard closed, âit was so sad,â said McComb, acknowledging the battle to keep it open, âbut 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 to say to someone who, like me, had been working there for ages? 18 years old?
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.
âEveryone comes to every meeting with a new story, a new event, a new something in their life,â he said. âYou would always leave a little happier than when you were there. “
And life goes on.
âI’m going to do everything I’ve done minus the association,â said McComb, grateful for his time as president.
âWe have always been of service to our members,â he said.