It's the 25th anniversary for Oklahoma City and the boat that bears its name, and the relationship seems to get better every day.
Cmdr. Andrew Peterson III and five of his sailors are learning how much central Oklahoma residents appreciate the relief efforts organized by the USS Oklahoma City's crew after the May tornadoes.
Despite being 7,000 miles from central Oklahoma, at their base in Guam, the submarine's sailors organized a blood drive and collected money for the United Way of Central Oklahoma.
Now, they're feeling the love.
“It's been as good for us as it has for the folks we've met around the city as we've traveled over the last few days,” Peterson said Thursday during a stop at Capitol Hill High School, where the submariners met with about 100 Navy Junior ROTC students.
On a weeklong visit while their boat is in San Diego for maintenance, crew members are being stopped on the streets by residents who say “thanks for serving,” Peterson said.
“It definitely makes you proud to be an American to be here in Oklahoma City,” he said.
“They're so proud of their military. And when they find out that we're serving on their submarine, that intense patriotism goes up a level that you can't even begin to describe.”
Dozens of United Way staff members crowded into a conference room this week to show the sailors how their generosity is making a difference — and to hear about life aboard the boat.
From counseling for schoolchildren to replacing things that were lost, Peterson said the sailors learned they're part of a long-term mission to “kind of rebuild the soul of a lot of the people who were affected.”
The relationship between the city and the boat began with the boat's commissioning on July 9, 1988. Former Mayor Ron Norick remembers admonishing the assembled admirals to, “Make sure to take care of our boat.”
It's a relationship that grew tighter after the 1995 Murrah Building bombing, when the crew sponsored a blood drive and gathered relief supplies. Officers' wives visited the injured.
Crew members wear Thunder T-shirts. Norick said the officers' mess is named Cattlemen's Cafe in honor of the venerable Stockyards restaurant.
Delegations from the city have visited the boat. Visitors have included children who were in the Murrah Building day care and were injured in the bombing.
Norick said they've always found the submariners to be “the top of the class.”
Defined by service
Thursday's stops included the CityCare Day Shelter on NW 4 Street, where three sailors helped serve lunch to more than 100 people.
Master Chief Petty Officer Joey Hundley said the sailors had a helicopter tour of the city and visited Children's Hospital.
They were moved by a visit to the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, he said.
“There's still people that tell the story like it was yesterday,” he said.
“The pride the city has in having a namesake boat is fabulous,” said Hundley, who grew up in Pilot Mountain, N.C., and is serving on his fifth nuclear submarine, all Los Angeles-class, fast-attack boats like the Oklahoma City.
“I can say one thing for sure, I'll be back.”