The USS Henry Clay, (SSBN-625: submarine, ballistic missile firing, nuclear-powered), was named after senator and three-time presidential candidate Henry Clay (1777-1852). The eighth member of the Lafayette class of ballistic missile submarines (commonly referred to as “Boomers”), the Clay was designed to fire the second generation of the Polaris nuclear missile. The Clay was, and remains, the only U.S. Navy vessel named after the Kentucky statesman.
The Newport News (Va.) Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company was awarded the contract to build the Henry Clay on Feb. 3, 1961; her keel was laid on Oct. 23 of that same year. She was launched on Nov. 30, 1962, by Mrs. Green B. Gibson, Henry Clay’s great-granddaughter. The ship’s motto, in honor of the “Great Compromiser,” was “Preservation of the Nation.”
After more than a year of testing, the Henry Clay was officially commissioned on Feb. 20, 1964. It had, as it would through out its service life, two crews: Commander Thomas A. Bryce was in command of the Blue Crew, while Commander John C. Lewis led the Gold Crew. The Clay’s shakedown voyage began on Feb. 28, 1964. She completed her first submerged firing on April 6, 1964 and made history on April 20 when launched a Polaris A-2 missile from the surface. This was the first demonstration that Polaris submarines could launch missiles from the surface as well as from beneath the ocean. Thirty minutes later the submarine launched another Polaris missile while submerged.
The Clay completed its shakedown cruise on May 29 when it returned to Newport News. The Clay then set sail to its home port, Charleston, S.C.
The Clay’s first patrol began on Aug. 17, 1964, but the submarine made more headlines six weeks earlier. The submarine ran aground on a shoal in the mouth of the James River near Newport News, Va., on July 1. The Clay was en route to pick up then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Cyrus Vance when the incident happened. Two tugboats pulled the Clay, which was undamaged, off the shoal an hour later.
During its 36-year service career, the Henry Clay would make numerous ports of call, including Kings Bay, Ga., Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Wilhelmshaven, Germany, Holy Loch, Scotland, and the Pacific island of Guam. In 1986, the Clay’s Gold Crew visited Plymouth, England, for the only time. It would never fire a missile or torpedo in anger.
On Nov. 5, 1990, the Henry Clay was decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register. It entered the Nuclear Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program in Bremerton, Wash., and ceased to exist on Sept. 30, 1997.
Characteristics of the USS Henry Clay
|USS Henry Clay -
Type: Ballistic missile submarine
Displacement: 7,250 long tons (7,370 t) surfaced; 8,250 long tons (8,380 t) submerged Length: 425 ft (130 m)
Beam: 33 ft (10 m)
Draft: 31 ft 6 in (9.6 m)
Propulsion: 1 × S5W reactor
Speed: 20 knots (37 km/h) surfaced; -25 knots (46 km/h) submerged
Complement: Two crews (Blue/Gold) of 13 officers and 130 enlisted
Armament: • 4 × 21 in (530 mm) torpedo tubes for Mark 48 torpedoes
• 16 × vertical tubes for Polaris or Poseidon nuclear missiles
- February 1961: Contract for construction of USS Henry Clay awarded
- October 1961: Keel laying of USS Henry Clay
- November 1962: USS Henry Clay launched
- February 1964: USS Henry Clay begins shakedown cruise
- April 1964: USS Henry Clay fires two Polaris missiles, one surfaced and one submerged, within 30 minutes of one another. It is the first and only time a Polaris missile is fired from a surfaced submarine.
- July 1964: USS Henry Clay runs aground off of Newport News, Va., on its way to pick up Deputy Secretary of State Cyrus Vance.
- 1967: USS Henry Clay completes 11th deterrence patrol
- Summer 1975-77: USS Henry Clay undergoes refitting and refurbishment at the Portsmouth (N.H.) Naval Ship Yard. Among the improvements are the ability to fire the Poseidon ballistic missile.
- 1987: The USS Henry Clay is one of two submarines in the Atlantic Fleet to receive an “Excellent” rating during the Operational Reactor Safeguards Examination.
- November 1990: USS Henry Clay is decommissioned and struck from the Naval Vessel Register
- September 1997: The submarine ceases to exist
Crewmembers of the USS Henry Clay:
An unofficial list of crew members that served on the USS Henry Clay can be found on the unofficial navy website at: http://navysite.de. This list is compiled by former crewmembers that voluntarily register. Some quoted comments from former crewmembers are listed below; many more are available on the source website at the following web address: http://www.navysite.de/crewlist/commandlist.php?commandid=743.
Gary Frogner (Served from Sept. 1987 – July 1989): “Best tour of my 23yr career!”
Ed Raines (Served from 1987-1990): “Served on four subs, none compared to the Clay.”
Rodney Puckett (Served from 1987-89)
Sean Adams, (Served from Sept. 1987-Dec. 1990): “My first electrical boat.”
James Ho (Served from 1987-Dec. 1990): “I look back fondly on my time aboad.”
Rick Burgess (Served from 1988-90): “Received the last pair of dolphins from the Clay.”