Skip to content

Former state leaders mobilize to save sinking USS Olympia

by caprecord

The USS Olympia fought in two major wars, carried home the body of the Unknown Soldier and is one of the last surviving Navy ships of its era.

Now, it’s in danger of sinking into the Delaware River and will be sent to the scrapyard unless supporters can raise millions of dollars to save it.

A group in Washington is stepping up to help save the vessel and by doing so, they hope to make amends for what they say is more than 100 years of neglect by its namesake.

“I think it is almost disgraceful that we as a state have not taken more pride in this vessel that is named after our state’s Capitol, and it is in this kind of condition without us taking any steps to help out,” said former Secretary of State Sam Reed, one of several prominent state leaders lending their names to the effort.

The USS Olympia is at the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia, where it is falling into disrepair. A spokesperson for the museum said they are doing what they can to raise money to repair the ship — including hosting private events and ghost tours on deck — but it isn’t enough.

The ship’s steel hull is rusting and needs to be replaced, at a cost of $7 million. It will cost another $3 million to replace its leaking wood deck — and the costs go up from there.

The Washington Friends of the USS Olympia, or FOTO, formed to support the fundraising effort. Leaders include Reed, former governors Dan Evans and Chris Gregoire, former Secretaries of State Ralph Munro, former Chief Justice Gerry Alexander and retired U.S. Navy admiral Tom Hayward.

The USS Olympia was the Navy’s most modern warship when it was first commissioned in 1895, said FOTO’s secretary Les Eldridge. It’s now the oldest steel-hulled ship still afloat.

It served as the flagship under Cmdr. George Dewey, and helped win the first victory of the 1898 Spanish-American War at the Battle of Manila Bay in the Philippines. The USS Olympia also escorted convoys during World War I, and was tasked with returning the body of the Unknown Soldier from the battlefields of France. It was decommissioned in 1922.

Washington state financed a silver tea service for the ship back in the early 1900s that is now on display at the Governor’s Mansion, Eldridge said.

“That’s the last thing we’ve done for her in 114 years,” Eldridge said. “And we’ve never done anything else to support her. So we’re trying to make amends.”

Watch a segment about the ship on “The Impact” below: