Goodbye USS Sacramento

Goodbye USS Sacramento
BREMERTON - After 40 years of Navy service, and 20 deployments ranging from Vietnam to Afghanistan, the Bremerton-based support ship USS Sacramento has made its final run.

Current and former crew members lined the rail as the "Sac," also known as the "Golden Bear," docked here for the last time Friday.

As bagpipes skirling "Amazing Grace" blasted through loudspeakers, Don Watkins, who served on her during the Vietnam War, fought tears.

"It's sad," he said, his voice quivering. "It's like it's dying."

The 795-foot ship, which carried a crew of 600, will be decommissioned in October and later sent to the scrap heap. The steam-powered vessel, the third in the series to bear the name Sacramento, is the fourth-oldest ship in the Navy.

Since mid-May, the ship has been offloading its ammunition at Naval Magazine Indian Island. That work done, it headed through Puget Sound past Seattle and into Sinclair Inlet - a course the ship has taken hundreds of times.

"It's a walk down memory lane," said former machinist's mate Tom Maxwell of Seattle, who served on the ship from 1969 to 1971.

The crew will begin tearing the Sacramento apart in July, preparing it for final disposal. About half of the crew will have moved on before the Oct. 1 decommissioning ceremony at the Bremerton naval base.

Over its career, the Sacramento made more than 8,000 underway replenishments, supplying fuel, ammunition and cargo to U.S. and allied ships.

Its final two deployments came after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The ship was with the USS Carl Vinson strike group during the first airstrikes against Afghanistan in November 2001. In 2003, again with the Vinson, the Sac was deployed for 8 1/2 months near North Korea, which was reactivating its nuclear weapons program just before the start of the war in Iraq.

"We're going out on top, and that's what's important," said the Sacramento's final commanding officer, Capt. Mike Manazir.

As a steam-powered vessel, the Sacramento is a rarity. Most newer ships are fueled by gas or nuclear power. The ship is being decommissioned in part because it's too costly for the Navy to maintain, said Machinist Mate Chief Michael Bottomley.

The Sac could likely manage 10 more years of service if it remained active and was kept maintained, Manazir said.

But others thought the time was right for retirement.

"That old girl has done her job," said retired Capt. J.R. Collier, the Sac's third captain. "She's a jewel."