Barring some unexpected and nearly immediate rescue, the USS Clamagore will soon be moved from its berth at Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum and sent to the deep off Florida to become an artificial reef. It’s a pity that the museum has been so determined to cut its potential losses on the Clamagore, the last submarine of its class in existence.
As noted in an audit of Patriots Point last year, the Clamagore is second to the Yorktown in popularity among visitors to the museum. The Legislative Audit Council recommended that Patriots Point use $3.5 million in existing reserve funds to restore the Clamagore and that the submarine, a National Historic Landmark, be preserved as an essential part of the museum.
It was good advice.
With the removal of the Clamagore, the museum’s only remaining vessel besides the Yorktown will be the USS Laffey.
Steps were taken to preserve the Laffey only after an inspection showed that the World War II destroyer was ready to sink at its berth. An emergency loan from the state made its $12 million restoration possible four years ago.
The Laffey, which remained afloat during battle despite numerous kamikaze attacks, isn’t called the “Ship that Wouldn’t Die” for nothing.
That daunting and costly experience, however, made the Patriots Point officials loath to take the risk that the Clamagore might sink at its berth, and made arrangements to have it towed away before it did.
After a clamor by submarine veterans to save the vessel earlier this year, museum officials gave the Clamagore Association the opportunity to raise the money for its restoration. But the ranks of the Clamagore alumni were never deep to begin with, and have been winnowed over the last 38 years, since the ship was retired and subsequently donated to Patriots Point. They have been unable to come up with the necessary funds.
The Clamagore was built during World War II, but spent its years in service as part of the Navy’s Cold War fleet.
Some Clamagore advocates want North Charleston to take the submarine as an adjunct exhibit for the planned museum featuring the first submarine in history — the CSS Hunley. But as yet, North Charleston hasn’t said yes.
Barring a last-minute reprieve, the Clamagore will soon be history — really.
If the Clamagore can’t be saved at Patriot’s Point, at least it won’t be cut up and sold for scrap.
Plans are to have it serve as a lure for divers off the coast of Florida. So the old submarine would remain on display, but only to a select group of highly motivated visitors.
Meanwhile, Patriots Point continues its ambitious plans to use real estate assets to bolster the museum’s long-term financial health.
That’s a reasonable approach to putting the museum on better footing. Eliminating one of its three remaining historic vessels, however, can reasonably be questioned as a viable strategy for the naval museum.