Mar 29

OBSERVATION ISLAND (EAG-154) and the Polaris Fleet Ballistic Missile Program

Tuesday, March 29, 2011 12:01 AM


On 29 March, 1960, OBSERVATION ISLAND launched the first fully-guided Polaris Fleet Ballistic Missile (FBM). During July, she gathered optical and electronic data and served as a communications relay ship in support of the first successful launch of a Polaris FBM from a submerged vessel by the fleet ballistic missile submarine GEORGE WASHINGTON (SSBN-598) on the 20th. After the historic launch the Commanding Officer of GEORGE WASHINGTON sent the message to President Eisenhower: “Polaris—from out of the deep to target. Perfect.”

Prior to being commissioned a Navy ship on 5 December 1958, OBSERVATION ISLAND was launched as a cargo ship named EMPIRE STATE MARINER in 1953. The ship served briefly with the Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS), the precursor to Military Sealift Command (MSC), until she entered the National Defense Reserve Fleet on 9 November 1954.

In 1956, the Navy began development of Polaris as a replacement for the Regulus Cruise Missile. As a result, the EMPIRE STATE MARINER transferred to Navy custody on 10 September 1956 and received a fully integrated FBM system at Norfolk Naval Shipyard that would allow her to serve as an at-sea test platform for the Navy.

Operating out of her homeport of Port Canaveral, Florida, OBSERVATION ISLAND conducted the first at-sea launching of a Polaris missile on 27 August 1959 at the Atlantic Missile Range. For the vessels critical contributions to the Polaris program during 1959 through the submerged firing from GEORGE WASHIGNTON on July 20, 1960, the Navy awarded her the Navy Unit Commendation.

As the number of Navy fleet ballistic missile submarine grew, OBSERVATION ISLAND continued to serve as a test platform, including the launch of the A-2 version Polaris in March 1961 and the A-3 version in June 1963. On 16 November 1963, less than a week before his assassination, President John F. Kennedy visited OBSERVATION ISLAND to witness a Polaris launching from ANDREW JACKSON (SSBN-619).

On 1 April 1968, the ship was redesignated AG-154 and in June of that year, she entered Norfolk Naval Shipyard to begin a conversion to ready her for testing of the Poseidon missile. The Navy decommissioned OBSERVATION ISLAND on 1 January 1972 and she currently serves as a missile range instrumentation ship, T-AGM-23, with MSC.

  • larry caron

    I have a booklet from nov 1963. john kennedy aboard the uss. observation island 14 pages in real good shape can you tell me what the book is worth. if you have imformation please email me Thanks

  • On Nov. 16th 1963 I was a side-boy to greet and salute the President,John F. Kennedy, as he departed the helicopter after landing on the USS OBSERVATION ISLAND EAG-154. He saluted, walked over to the FT Chief, removed his suit coat, received a Navy Blued jacket which he donned, set the sights on a pair of USN binoculars,zeroed in on the “USS ANDREW JACKSON ” ABOUT 300 YARDS OFF OUR STARBOARD SIDE, and raised his left hand to signal OK. The count down began at T-minus 10 and counting. At – 0 a Polaris A-3 came shootint to the surface, launched by compressed air and steam, the jets lit off, sounded like ten trains, The President never moved, flinched or turned, but stayed zeroed in on trajectory of of missile. In just a few minutes the declaration of “ON TRAJECTORY” was released. Down on the South side of Cuba. The Presidet removed the blue-jacket, donned his suit coat and after greeting Ships Company,saluted as he walked back threw the line of side-boys and boarded the helicopter, and “OUR ARMED SERVICES HERO” WAS GONE FOREVER. Because he wanted the USA to print our own money free of the Crown, he was killed, murdered, and covered over, and what followed in his stead was sickening to the “American People”. +++++

  • John Dawe, YN3

    I was assigned to the Observation Island in November, 1958, attended pre commissioning training and became a Plank owner of the “Island.” I was on board, a member of the Weapons Department, and in CIC, on 27 August 1959, when we launched the first Polaris. I was transferred to the Service Force Sixth Fleet Staff in January, 1960. I was the center fielder of the Island’s softball team during 1959, when we pretty much dominated the Coco Beach (spelling) Industrial League. I would like to hear from anyone who served on the “Island” during that time. I would also like to know what the “Island’s” patches looked like, as when I was transferred we didn’t have one yet.

  • Pedal2metal

    I was a photographer on the Observation Island when President Kennedy visited. I shot about 75% percent of the photographs in that booklet. I wasn’t aware of the booklet until I ran across it on eBay about 2 years ago. I bought it for $10. I have a lot of the original prints from that shoot. It was an amazing day for a 20 year old kid. I’ll never forget it.

    David Williams PH2 (Photographers Mate 2nd class)

  • Rick Munch

    David. I was on board also. What a day to be in the Navy! Wanted to let you know that Observation Island has a Face book Page and a lot of your photos are posted. Also we just had our first rreunion on Jan 14 and 15 in Cocoa Beach. We are planning a rrepeat nest year. Check out the Facebook page and keep in touch. Join the groupe whle you are on the Facebook page.
    Rick Munch IC3

  • James Hunt

    Question for you Jimmy who was the BM that piped Jfk on board that

  • mfeenker

    I served onboard 1964 – 1966. Fond memories of my time { in hind sight } one of my best times in what became a 26 year Navy career.

  • James Weatherspoon

    I reported to the Observation Island in early 1959 while she was still in dry dock at Portsmouth being refitted. After being afloat, moored in Norfolk Navy Shipyard we took a sudden 33 degree roll to starboard. Unbeknownst to almost everyone they were testing the ballast system that would roll the ship to make sure launched test dummy’s would clear the deck. They hadn’t loosened the mooring lines, which finally broke. Immediately, “Now hear this: The engineering officer lay to the captains cabin” From there we sailed to Port Canaveral with two yard birds (shipyard workers) who had fallen asleep in a hold somewhere. I left in May, 1962. All told, a valuable pleasant experience.

  • Patricia J. Roberts Slocum

    Hello John,
    This Day in History says that the first Polaris missile was launched on 12 August 1959. That was my birthday. (Born that day). Was it the Operation Island that launched that missile?

  • Marilyn Hartman

    I am trying to find Huston Jackson Martin who was on board USNS Observation Island in 1985 as an employee of Motorola. Lost contact many years ago & would like to reconnect.

  • cjte

    It was an incredible experience to see JFK land on the OI and emerge from the helicopter. He was touring Cape Canaveral that day. I was 18 and it was sure a big thrill to see him. Cool guy. He was presented with a OI Jacket with our Patch on it, by a guy named Gonzales (good guy, his nickname was Speedy). Hard to believe but the President only had a week to live. Still heartbreaking to think about it. Still remember him as a young man as I am now a lot older than he was. RIP Mr. President.
    John Chris Terrence