Final salute to USS Ford at Naval Station Everett

EVERETT — The “Tenacious” USS Ford, FFG 54, was decommissioned Thursday at a ceremony attended by some of the thousands who served aboard the warship during its nearly 30 years on the seas. They came from around the country to say goodbye, share their stories and laugh and cry together.

The Oliver Perry-class frigate, one of three based at Naval Station Everett, is scheduled to be towed next week to the Bremerton shipyards where it will be used for parts or prepared for sale to another country. The Ford’s 130 crew members have been reassigned to other ships and duty stations. The frigate is to be replaced in Everett by a destroyer next year as part of the Navy’s long-term plan for the naval station. The Ford was based in Everett for nearly 20 years.

“The USS Ford served on national and international missions,” Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson said. “We are grateful for the services of the ship and its sailors.”

Hundreds of people attended the decommissioning ceremony, including a dozen members of the family of Patrick Osborne Ford, the ship’s namesake.

Ford, a 26-year-old sailor who served as a river patrol boat gunner, was killed in 1968 on the My Tho River in Vietnam. Naval officials said that, faced with a barrage of enemy machine-gun fire, Ford tenaciously maintained a steady stream of return fire. Ford saved the lives of wounded shipmates, getting them out of harm’s way before trying to escape himself. In recognition of his bravery, the Navy posthumously awarded Ford the Navy Cross.

When the frigate’s keel was laid in 1983 at Todd Shipyard in San Pedro, Calif., it was named for Patrick Ford.

For Ford’s nieces and nephews, who traveled from the Midwest, the ceremony was a sad, but gratifying event. One nephew, Navy veteran Robert Ford, whose own son, also named Patrick, is in Navy basic training. The family met with many current sailors and some of the men who had served with their uncle in Vietnam.

Joe Mettler, 68, of Burlington, trained with Ford and fought with him in southeast Asia. Mettler gave his buddy’s niece Patricia Ford Ivey, 45, a big hug and tried not to cry.

Ivey thanked Mettler for coming.

“Our father, who died in 2000, was so proud that the USS Ford had been named for his brother,” Ivey said. “It was a point of pride in our family because many of us have served in the military. My uncle was a true war hero.”

Though the USS Ford will soon be gone, said another niece, Mary Ford Jones, the legacy of Patrick Ford will live on in the sailors who lived and worked on the ship.

Former Petty Officer 3rd Class Frank Dominguez, 45, of New Mexico, agreed. He served on the Ford from 1991 through 1994.

“It’s crazy,” Dominguez said. “We grew up on this ship. We were fresh out of high school and we learned to be men on the Ford.”

Among the men who were the first sailors, called “plank owners,” to serve aboard the USS Ford was former Petty Officer 3rd class Jeff Ray, 47, who attended the ceremony from his home in Vancouver, Wash.

“The plank owners have been planning our reunion for eight months,” Ray said. “We being enlisted guys serving on the Ford, which was named for an enlisted man, that made a real difference to us. We had something to live up to. We were tenacious.”

The Ford’s final commanding officer, Cmdr. Joseph Shuler, a Bellevue native, and former commanding officer Capt. David Matawitz, now retired from the Navy, spoke during the ceremony.

Matawitz, who guided the Ford from 2001 to 2003, talked about the maneuverability and capability of the frigate class.

He then shifted his focus to what the ship meant to him.

“I wonder, with all the life, sweat, joy and tears put into this ship, does it really cease to live after the last sailor departs today? Did they not impart some of their fearless spirit, tenacity and can-do attitude to this ship? Have the captains not left something of themselves in this steel hull called Ford?” Matawitz said. “The Ford is us. We have made her more than a ship. Part of her is always alive in our hearts.”

Reporter Marie Damman contributed to this report. Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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