Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Farewell to a Ship

One of the saddest things a Sailor comes to know is the sight of a great and familiar ship on her final voyage. As Joseph M. W. Turner so perfectly captured in his painting "The Fighting Temeraire", there is pathos in the end of a fine ship's life, the conclusion of a long career at sea.

I'm not being anthropomorphic here; a ship is a huge, compartmented steel box filled with engines, generators, miles of cabling and a million fittings from watertight door gaskets to telephones to missile launchers. It has no "life" beyond that of any building or other construct of man's devising.

And yet...

The heart and soul of the ship lies in the men and women who live and work within her steel compartments, in the thousands of lives that pass thru during her own span of years. In Captains courageous and meek, in boiler techs and firemen and boatswains and CIC watchstanders, in helmsmen and lookouts and bakers and stewards. The real life of the ship is the story of those who sail in her, their dreams and anxieties, laughter and tears, triumphs and failures, lives and deaths.

Take away these vital elements and the ship becomes what it started as; half-a-million tons of steel, a thing lifeless and sterile. A pitiful object succumbing slowly to rust, quickly to the breaker's torch, or to the ignominy of being placed on the auction block for sale to another fleet.

This is the sad thing about the end of a ship's service; that the story of her crews and Captains is ending. There will be no more adventures or mishaps, liberties in foreign lands or close calls at sea. All that are left are the fading memories of those days when that great steel construct breathed, sailed, fought and lived in the hearts of the many Sailors who will remember her as theirs.

Today I present to you USS Simpson (FFG-56). For nearly thirty years her crews have sailed on waters kind and hostile; she has seen Cold War, Gulf War, Civil War, Drug Wars and War on Terror. More than a dozen Captains have commanded her, and thousands of Sailors have worked her mooring lines, baked her bread, maintained her weapons and engines, chipped and painted her decks and bulkheads. They have in turns loved her, cursed her, cared for her and for each other, and each of them has given her a piece of themselves large or small.

And now they will leave her.

Simpson is completing her last deployment; in a very few weeks she will return to her homeport to begin the long, difficult process of decommissioning. Slowly, as her vital systems are shut down for the last time, as her lockers are emptied and crew depart for new stations, she will begin to revert to the lifeless shell that she began as in the yard in Bath, Maine; when the final ceremonies end, and she is officially decommissioned, the process will be complete.

But it's more than simply an honored warship departing the scene; Simpson is the last of her class, the last frigate in U.S. service. Her fifty sisters are gone; once a mainstay of the Fleet they are now a memory, mostly transferred to foreign navies to sail with different names under other flags. This is the end of their time.

Today John Lenthall is privileged to conduct Simpson's final underway replenishment. As FFG-56 moves smartly alongside we all take time to admire the frigates' lines and élan. We've seen her many times before, but today's UNREP is the last opportunity for us to celebrate three decades of service. Conversation on Lenthall's bridge wing ebbs and flows; remembrances of Simpson and of other frigates we have known are interrupted by silent moments of reflection as we watch the men and women working on her decks.

Finally, her bunkers topped-off and provisions replenished, a flash of color is visible at Simpson's signal bridge; four men can be seen hauling on the halyards as her Battle Ensign breaks to the wind. Proud colors streaming back from the mast, gas turbine engines whine as FFG-56 accelerates away.

With a final salute given and returned, the last frigate in the United States Navy bends on twenty-five knots and pulls ahead of Lenthall, headed home for the very last time.


  1. XO USS Simpson6/16/2015 08:53:00 AM

    Mr. Epps,

    As I read your blog I realize that all too often I sit here and do not reflect on the legacy or history. I guess you could say that I take it for granted at times. You put it so eloquently. Thank you for providing a perspective that brought me back.

    I appreciate it.

    Safe sailings to you and the fine Sailors on JOHN LENTHALL. We appreciate your service.

    Very Respectfully,

    LCDR Casey T. Roskelly
    Executive Officer

  2. USS SIMPSON CIC Officer6/16/2015 08:54:00 AM

    Mr. Epps,

    I just finished reading the blog. It was incredibly eloquent and moving. My CO and crew will enjoy it very much. Thanks again, and thank you for honoring SIMPSON and her crew.

    LTJG Andrew Hahn
    Combat Information Center Officer

  3. Dave Baker III6/16/2015 08:56:00 AM

    Tom: Great photo. SIMPSON is, however, not the last PERRY in service. KAUFFMAN and one other are on deployment, and KAUFFMAN is to be the last to be retired, toward the end of September. And, of course, quite a few of these ships are still operating in other navies, with three of those retiring this year to go to Taiwan, which also built a half dozen or so in its own shipyards. Others with operational PERRYs include Australia (three left), Poland, and Spain.

    Dang it, I never did get a chance to go aboard one if these ships and now probably never will.

    Very best regards/Dave

  4. CO, USS Simpson FFG-566/16/2015 09:32:00 AM

    Mr. Epps,

    The blog article below that you wrote and forwarded to LTJG Hahn has received an enormous amount of attention. In fact, I received an email from Mr. Terry Miller, the Executive Director and Editor of the National Association of Destroyer Veterans, who asked specifically for your permission to use your article in an upcoming issue of The Tin Can Sailor magazine. The magazine has a subscription base of 16,000 readers and is dedicated to telling the stories of these wonderful ships.

    Please let me know if I can forward your approval to them to include your wonderful remarks in an article on USS SIMPSON.

    Thank you and V/r,

    CDR Ken Anderson
    Commanding Officer

    1. Commander Anderson,

      Thank you so much for your kind comments regarding my Blog entry. I am
      very flattered that Mr. Miller wishes to use it in his fine magazine, and certainly grant permission for him to do so. I would make two requests; firstly, please ask Mr. Miller to send me a copy of the magazine issue in question, and secondly, with your permission I would like to post your email in the Comments on my Blog.

      I am attaching a "cleaned-up" version of my Blog entry; I'm afraid that
      in my rush to post I allowed my self-editing skills to lapse. The attached document has corrected spelling and a few sentences have been
      amended to more accurately reflect my feelings about the end of the
      Frigate era.

      Again, thank you for writing, and I wish you and your crew nothing but
      safe and successful voyages in the future.

      Very Respectfully,

      Thomas L. Epps
      OS1(AW/SW) (ret.)