from the Port Isabel-South Padre Island Press
Hundreds of people gathered on the rocks of the jetties at Isla Blanca Park Thursday afternoon, June 1st, to say their final farewells to the USS Independence, a Forrestal class aircraft carrier with nearly four decades of service in the American Navy fleet.
“I just wanted to see it,” said Pete Rico, who traveled with his wife all the way from Tulsa, Oklahoma just for the occasion. “(It was) a 14 hour drive,” he said. Rico served aboard the Indy from 1965 to 1968, he said.
Though he was somewhat sad to see that the ship will be dismantled, he understood why it will be. “It needs to be recycled. The taxpayers have been paying the storage fees up in Bremerton, Washington where it came from,” he said. After waiting on the jetties for six hours, Rico stood with his back to the water as his wife took a photograph of him holding a sign in the Independence’s honor.
“We served with a lot of people. I think there was 175,000 crewman that served on it, both officers and enlisted people, over the 38 years that it was on active duty,” Rico said.
Seeing a ship that could comfortably hold the same number of people as a small town was definitely a spectacle for another Navy veteran, Brownsville resident Doug Nelson. “It’s just amazing, especially these big aircraft carriers that are so large that my little guy, we had 100 people, and these had 5,000 of them,” he said. Nelson served aboard the USS Lowe, a radar picket ship, in 1972, he said. Asked why he came to see the Independence off, he replied simply, “It’s a Navy thing.”
Another Independence vet, James Ory, traveled from San Antonio to say goodbye to the old girl. “Came to see my boat for the last time. This is her last port of call,” he said. “It’s sentimental. Never going to see it again,” Ory said.
He previously saw the ship in Bremerton, Washington, where it was held in storage until the government decided what its final fate would be. But it wasn’t just Navy veterans who came to say goodbye. La Grulla resident and Army veteran Juan Antonio Garcia, and his wife Isabel, sat in camp chairs facing the calm ship channel waters. The couple are currently staying at Isla Blanca Park for the summer.
“Es un orgullo verlo ya por última vez y ya no vamos oírlo. Ya no se va volver a ver,” Garcia said.
“It’s a proud moment to see it for the last time, and we won’t hear of it again. It will not be seen again,” he said. He likened attending the Independence’s arrival as attending the funeral of a loved one. He came to pay his respects, he said.
“Es como cuando acompañas un difunto al cemeterio. Eso se trata aquí, ahorita,” he said. “It’s like when you accompany a deceased loved one to the cemetery. That’s what’s happening here, right now.”
Ory said he was happy to see so many people turn out for the farewell voyage. “I’m glad there’s a lot of people here. All up and down here, there’s a lot of old Indy shipmates and everybody has a different story,” he said. “I really hope nobody forgets her; she was a great ship, the last of her kind,” Ory said.