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2,000 say goodbye to USS Kitty Hawk
More than 2,000 people gathered to say goodbye to the USS Kitty Hawk, a 48-year-old aircraft carrier, today in Bremerton.
Seattle Times staff reporter
ABOARD THE USS KITTY HAWK — If this country ever needed a crew of loyal sailors, ready and more than willing — if not all quite as able — to take up their posts again, the former crew members of the USS Kitty Hawk would answer the call.
"If they needed me, I'd be there in a second," said Dan Hemrich, of Everett, who attended a ceremony today at Bremerton Naval Station to honor the Navy's oldest active warship and its nearly five decades of service.
More than 2,000 former and current crew members, their families and dignitaries gathered to bid the aircraft carrier goodbye.
"Hell, yeah, I'd be there," said his crewmate, Danny King, of Austin, Texas.
William Dobbins, of Grass Valley, Calif., was among the original crew that first sailed the ship out of Philadelphia, around the tip of South America and into her first homeport at San Diego. He, uses a wheelchair now. But he, too, would serve if called.
"To me, she still looks like she's ready to go to sea," he said with a catch in his voice.
Miss Kitty, as she was sometimes called, took part in more combat missions in Vietnam than any other carrier, and in recent years participated in missions off Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Navy's last fossil-fueled aircraft carrier, the Kitty Hawk is being retired, moved from Pier 6 at the Bremerton Naval Station to the shipyard next door, where it will ultimately be decommissioned.
"You should be immensely proud," Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, said at Saturday's ceremony.
"You understand how powerful a symbol of national sovereignty this is: 75,000 tons of sacred American influence going where we need," Keating told the current and former crew members. "Your names will be written in gold in the pages of history for your sacrifice and your service."
After the ceremony, visitors gathered, looked at old yearbooks, photos and other memorabilia, and recalled their adventures.
"I was just a farm kid from Kansas and this is where I saw the world and learned to be a man," said Dobbins, who was in the Navy from 1940 through 1970.
He talked about how the whole ship would grieve when a pilot and a plane were lost; how they rejoiced together and endured fear. "When I saw her again, it was like coming home," he said.
Other former crew members recalled their forays to the Philippines and Vietnam. They talked about watching the sky light up from the flight deck during a nuclear test off the coast of San Francisco, about going to Cuba during the missile crisis, about the time a near-riot broke out onboard while the ship was docked in Brazil.
That time, a Brazilian ship had broken loose from its moorings while the Kitty Hawk had 10,000 visitors aboard. As the vessel drifted toward the carrier, the crew was told to pull up the anchor and get underway.
The visitors onboard thought they were being kidnapped, said former machinist mate Jim Strahl, and it took members of the Brazilian army, who were also onboard, to restore order.
Aviation boatswain's mate Brandon Reyes said it has been an honor and an education to be on the ship's final crew.
"It's been awe-inspiring to see how many people showed up" at the ceremony, Reyes said. "But she's an old ship. When the seas are rough, she takes a beating. She's paid her dues and it's time to let her rest."
Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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