The U.S. Navy has decommissioned its last remaining Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided-missile frigate on the West coast as past and current crew, plank owners, former and current commanding officers, namesake relatives and friends and family gathered at Naval Base San Diego July 23 to bid farewell to USS Gary (FFG 51) after 31 years of service.
The decommissioning ceremony was led by the ship's Commanding Officer Cmdr. Steven McDowell, with guest speakers including Hon. William Albrecht, World War II veteran and a recipient of the Bronze Star, and retired Capt. Dallas Bethea.
Albrecht, who served aboard USS Franklin (CV 13) with the frigate's namesake, Cmdr. Donald Gary, is one of hundreds to be rescued by Gary after Franklin
was heavily damaged by aircraft from the Imperial Japanese Navy on March 19, 1945, which resulted in then Lt. Gary's receiving the Medal of Honor.
"When USS Franklin was struck by two armor-piercing 500-pound bombs dropped by a Japanese bomber, in recognition of his extraordinary efforts to rescue 300 men trapped in the mess compartment, Gary was awarded the Medal of Honor," Albrecht said. "USS Gary's shield, crest and motto were set forth by the many accomplishments of Lt. Gary that fateful day."
Bethea, the ship's second commanding officer, serving from 1986 to 1989, spoke on the accomplishments and historic milestones of the ship and its first crew: "These are the boys of Gary," he said. "These are the boys, the men, who were integral in the success of the ship. They took a ship that was nothing in the shipyard and created a warship. It wasn't me, my predecessor or successor; it was the boys of Gary. That is the heart and soul of the ship, the men who serve aboard her. Today we, the boys of Gary, are saying goodbye to an old friend, a ship that has served this country with great honor and dedication during her 31-year history in the Navy."
The decommissioning ceremony is a time-honored naval tradition which retires a ship from service through various ceremonial observances, including the department heads' final reports, lowering of the ship's commissioning pennant and national ensign and Sailors walking off the ship while a bugler plays "Taps." The ceremony is meant to pay respect to the ship and the sailors who have served aboard during decades of honorable service.
"Gary was commissioned Nov. 17, 1984," said McDowell. "Although much has changed since then, one thing remains the same; the crew started off strong and has now ended strong. Gary and other frigates have been around for decades serving as the backbone of a Navy that constantly deploys in peace and wartime. Over these years, frigate Sailors have earned a reputation for being tough, dedicated, resourceful and a close-knit family. To the Gary crew, thank you for being the best you could be. It has been an honor to serve as your commanding officer."
Gary's keel was laid December 18, 1982, at Todd Pacific Shipyards, Los Angeles Division, San Pedro, Calif. and was launched November 19, 1983, sponsored by Mrs. Donald A. Gary and Mrs. George D. Leamer; and it was then commissioned November 17, 1984 at Naval Station Long Beach with Cmdr. Harlan R. Bankert Jr. in command.
The ship returned from its final deployment in April, following operations in the U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet area of responsibility. Gary was part of the counter-transnational organized crime mission Operation Martillo, a joint, combined operation involving the U.S. and 14 European and Western Hemisphere partner nations which targets illicit trafficking routes in the waters off Central America