Former Crew Recall Days On Retired Ship About To Become Reef

OCEAN CITY — After weeks of speculation on the moving target date, it now appears the sinking of a retired U.S. Navy destroyer as part of a three-state artificial reef system just 30 miles off the coast of Ocean City is set for next week, perhaps as early as Tuesday.

The sinking date for the decommissioned U.S.S. Arthur W. Radford is tentatively set for Tuesday, Aug. 2 although there were still some final federal approvals to secure at week’s end.

The 536-foot Radford will ultimately become the centerpiece of a vast three-state artificial reef system in a partnership that includes Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and the U.S. Navy.

The retired ship has spent the last year or so in a Navy shipyard, where it has been prepared for its future home at the bottom of the ocean off the mid-Atlantic coast. The plan calls for the vessel to be sunk on a permitted artificial reef site named “Del-Jersey-Land” in honor of the three states participating in the project.

The Radford was scheduled for sinking earlier this month, but the project was stalled again pending final approval from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA was scheduled to conduct its final inspection yesterday, which was expected to be formality. If the EPA signed off on the sinking, the Radford will likely be scuttled on Tuesday, according to Tim Mullane, managing director of American Marine Group, the private sector salvage company coordinating the sinking.

“I have been saying Aug. 2 and I think it really looks good for then,” he said. “We just need to look at the weather patterns and it could be pushed back to Aug. 3 or Aug. 4 for weather, but we are planning for Aug. 2.”

The Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative (MARI) has partnered with similar agencies in Delaware and New Jersey to first acquire the vessel and prepare it for sinking off the mid-Atlantic coast in an area equidistant from the three states. Maryland Artificial Reef coordinator Erik Zlokovitz said this week the target date continues to be next Tuesday pending final EPA approval.

“It is true the sinking could occur as soon as Tuesday,” he said. “We have been targeting the first week of August, but Delaware has not been able to release any official dates because we don’t have the final approval from the federal agencies.”

The already-permitted site is equidistant from each state’s major Atlantic port at about 32 miles east-northeast of the Ocean City Inlet, 28 miles southeast of the Indian River Inlet in Delaware and 34 miles southeast of Cape May, N.J.

Following a final inspection and clearance to proceed, the Radford will be towed down the Delaware River and out to sea over the permitted reef site.

The Radford will become the largest warship ever sunk as part of an artificial reef site on the East Coast.

In the several months since the vessel’s fate as an artificial reef became known, former crewmembers have sent to The Dispatch favorite memories and amusing anecdotes from their time on the Radford. The stories run the gamut from the solemn to the irreverent and everything in between.

The following is a sample of some of those memories:

“In 1985, we were backing into the pier in Naples, Italy, docking Mediterranean style. The chief officer had us retrieve and re-stow the bumpers twice. As we approached the pier, the chief officer realized that there were no bumpers and they had just finished stowing them. At that instant, a crewmember dropped his 7-Up can between us and the pier just before we rammed it, putting a nice crease in the fantail.”

David Thieme

“I was on the commissioning crew, and we had just moved aboard for about a week when the starboard torpedo room caught fire. We all thought it was a bad warning, but it turned out to be the best ship I was ever on in the 20 years of my service to the Navy.”

William Bunker

“It is hard to put into words what most sailors feel looking back at the ship and the shipmates they served with. For many, that was our younger times filled with amazement at the opportunity to serve on the Radford and meeting so many different people from all walks of life. For myself, it was a great ship and crew and I enjoyed every minute of it until the day I transferred.”

Bob Beck

“When I left Radford, my guys gave me a plaque emblazoned with the ship’s crest and a nameplate which read ‘Caution- Clearance 6’7,’ which was very funny because the hatch was so short and I at 6’8” had hit my forehead many times. There’s no shortage of other memories from this great ship and I am sorry to see her go, but I’m glad she’ll be put to good use for decades to come.”

Larry Parker

“It is sad to see the Arthur W. Radford going away, but I will definitely make my way up the coast for a chance to see her again. I am scuba certified, but have never been diving at an artificial reef. It will probably be an eerie experience, especially given how close we came to making it an artificial reef, but one I wouldn’t miss.”

Gil Cintron

“I’d like to pull the trigger that sinks that P.O.S., but I will be unable to make it. We always had a saying on the Radford. Don’t sweat the petty stuff or pet the sweaty stuff.”

Zack Rayburn

“In 1977, down in Gitmo during a gunfire control exercise, we put a five-inch bullet into the U.S.S. Oppertune, which was towing the target sled. They radioed us to ‘cease fire, they’re hit,’ but there were still four rounds in the air.”

Ron Yanchuck

“Radford was a sweet ride. I came on board in 1981 after serving on an old rust bucket. When I finished my shower after using about 30 seconds of hot water, I got my ass chewed for taking my time, for taking a ‘Hollywood.’ The Radford had water, there was no need to suffer.”

James Hall

“I remember when we dropped anchor in the Chesapeake Bay, and I mean we really dropped it.”

Keith Critchlow

“I can’t remember what captain it was, but I was truly stunned when we were told ‘I don’t care if it’s broke, I want it spotless.’ You’d have thought he was trying to sell a used car instead of preparing a warship for duty. It was the best and worst time of my life and I’d do it again.”

Jim Valdesalice

“In 1990, we pulled into Guantanamo Bay for tests and the ship could not make fresh water out at sea. When we pulled into port, some of the guys decided to take a shower with hoses. The chief officer of the base was not amused as he could see it from his house and called the ship.”

Christopher Litton