William Gardner was in Tokyo Bay aboard the USS Idaho — a battleship nicknamed the “Queen of the Navy” — to witness Victory Over Japan Day on Aug. 15, 1945.
In addition to having a front-row seat for the ending of World War II, Gardner designed the desalinization plant for the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Nautilus, and was part of its first sea trial.
The accomplished 100-year-old sailor, who lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, sent a letter wishing good fortunes to the next crew that will man a vessel to be named USS Idaho. The meaningful letter arrived on Aug. 24, the day of a symbolic keel laying ceremony for the U.S. Navy’s future fast-attack nuclear submarine. It will be the fifth boat in the history of the nation’s fleet to honor the Gem State.
“I was aboard Idaho in 1944 through decommissioning in May 1946. I was M Division officer and senior assistant engineer officer. ... Wish I could be at (the ceremony at General Dynamics Electric Boat Hull Fabrication Facility in Quonset Point, Rhode Island),” wrote Gardner, who served as a lieutenant junior grade in the Navy.
Cmdr. Nicholas Meyers will be the commanding officer of the USS Idaho.
Meyers said his young crew has forged special relationships with four former sailors who served on the USS Idaho battleship, including Gardner.
“I’m really grateful to inherit the legacy earned by the heroes aboard the previous USS Idaho,” Meyers said.
Meyers said the submarine will be christened in a couple of years. In the mean time, the crew has already commenced with its mission training, preparation and readiness.
“The crew is integral to the testing of that ship before she sails for initial trials,” Meyers added.
Shakespeare once wrote: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
To members of the future USS Idaho crew, the name is paramount.
Senior Chief David Drury, of Kooskia, has forgone his planned retirement for the chance to serve on a submarine honoring his home state.
Drury, who is entering his 23rd year of service, believes serving on the USS Idaho represents an opportunity to “prepare for the future by learning from the past” and to expose other sailors to Idaho’s history and heritage.
Lt. Cmdr. Trevor Elison, of Blackfoot, attended Idaho State University and University of Idaho and was motivated by the submarine’s name to volunteer for the USS Idaho crew.
“I worked as hard as I could to get on the USS Idaho,” Elison said.
Elison noted Idaho is an important state for the Navy. He said the first reactor for a submarine was built at the Idaho National Laboratory and sonar experiments take place in Lake Pend Oreille in Sand Point.
Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Dalton Jones, of Cascade, hopes to eventually work at the INL’s Naval Reactors Facility.
“It’s a super big honor to be on the Idaho,” Jones said. “I feel like this is my way to be involved with the Idaho name without having to go to a (state) school since I decided to do the Navy instead of going to Boise State University.”
Electrician’s Mate 1st Class Andrew Leonhardt, of Nampa, is eager for the submarine to expose crew members from outside of the West to Idaho’s history and contributions.
“Having the ability to serve on the USS Idaho since it’s been so long since there’s been a ship of that name, it’s a tremendous honor,” Leonhardt said.
A committee has been formed to personalize the ship with Idaho history and materials that represent the state.
Ships in a given class are typically named according to a common theme. The USS Idaho will be the 26th ship of the Virginia class of fast attack nuclear submarines — most of the previous submarines in the class were also named after states.
The ship may include plaques featuring past Idaho Medal of Honor winners and displays on warriors from the state’s five Native American tribes. Idaho gems and Idaho travertine rock may be incorporated into the design and text inlaid into tables may reference Idaho history.
According to the Navy, each new ship in the Virginia class advances the state-of-the-art, and “submarine Idaho’s adaptability will make it highly responsive to evolving mission requirements.”
The submarines are nuclear powered and never require refueling throughout their anticipated 30 years of service. They cost approximately $2.44 billion each to build.