CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas » Even though forecasters predicted a strong chance of thunderstorms on March 16, 1983, people showed up in droves to Corpus Christi’s ship channel hoping to see the submarine named after their city. Some brought cameras. Others brought binoculars. Some even hiked up the Harbor Bridge to see the vessel surface from a bird’s-eye view.
All of them, it seemed, felt proud.
The Corpus Christi Caller-Times reports that after 33 years of serving the nation, the USS City of Corpus Christi is set to be decommissioned May 30 in Hawaii, at Pearl Harbor. But long before the submarine was ever commissioned, it made headlines around the country.
In the late 1970s, the Navy began constructing 44 Los Angeles-class fast attack nuclear submarines. At the request of Texas Sen. John Tower, Navy officials named one of the submarines after Corpus Christi to honor the city’s relationship with the military branch.
While the move was supported by a number of Corpus Christi residents, it also faced opposition locally and nationally, according to Caller-Times articles in 1981. Catholics led the charge to change the name, claiming that naming a warship a Latin phrase that means “body of Christ” was blasphemous.
A man who lived in Washington, D.C., even fasted as a form of protest, according to a 1982 Caller-Times article. Mitch Snyder lived off only water for 63 days until the name changed.
“Everybody went berserk,” said Ram Chavez, director of the Veterans Band of Corpus Christi.
Later that year, President Ronald Reagan issued a decree changing the name of the sub to “USS City of Corpus Christi,” putting the issue to rest.
“I loved the compromise,” said Dan Carranza, who worked at the Corpus Christi Army Depot at the time. “It actually embellishes the name to talk about our city.”
The submarine’s first visit lasted four days. In a show of Texas hospitality, the vessel’s commander was gifted with cowboy boots while the crew received cowboy hats during a welcome ceremony. Residents treated the crew to dinners and parties throughout their stay.
Because the sub’s visit was so popular, the chamber of commerce issued 4,000 tickets to residents interested in touring the vessel in a lottery.
“The lines were unbelievable,” Chavez said.
The submarine visited the city three more times, according to Caller-Times archives — in 1986, 1989 and most recently in 1999. Nueces County Judge Loyd Neal was mayor during the submarine’s last visit and remembered taking a tour.
“I was honored … to meet the captain and crew and spend some time on it,” Neal said.
Now, the veterans band plans to travel to Pearl Harbor to perform at the decommissioning ceremony.
“The band being there is going to be another way to tell the story of the city of Corpus Christi to everyone,” Neal said.
The veterans band, first established in 1986, has played in ceremonies around the country, including at the inauguration of President George H.W. Bush.
“This invitation is right up there with Washington,” Carranza said.
Chavez said the band has already raised more than $20,000 since they announced plans to attend the ceremony. Regardless of the event, band members said they’re always ready to put on a show.
“Whether it’s three people, or 100,000 people, we perform with the same enthusiasm,” Chavez said.