Without fanfare, USS Abraham Lincoln leaves Everett for the last time

  • Wed Dec 7th, 2011 8:51pm
  • News

By Gale Fiege Herald Writer

EVERETT — For one final time, the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln sailed away from its homeport of Everett.

The warship headed out Wednesday morning for a scheduled deployment in the Middle East. Later next year, the warship will cross the Atlantic to refuel its nuclear reactors at its new homeport of Newport News, Va.

Before he boarded, the Lincoln’s commander, Capt. John Alexander, called Wednesday a “historic day and a bittersweet day.”

“It’s fitting that we are leaving on a typical Northwest day,” Alexander said of the foggy conditions. “I wish to thank all the people of Washington and the Everett area for their enormous efforts on our behalf throughout the years.”

About 400 sailors in dress uniforms and wool coats lined the rails of the flight deck as the rest of the “Abe” crew prepared to pull away from the pier at Naval Station Everett.

Navy Airman Lydia Campbell, 24, helped release the lines that held the ship to the pier. While she will remain stationed in Everett, her husband is serving on the Lincoln. It was difficult for her to let go of the lines, Campbell said. Her husband, George Collins, works below deck. They said their farewells as he climbed aboard the ship at dawn.

The USS Abraham Lincoln became a part of the landscape during the 15 years it was based in Everett.

Thousands of sailors called this area home, and people here identified with the ship, which became an icon of the waterfront. The Silvertips mascot, Lincoln the bear, will continue to wear the number 72, the same as the vessel number.

The Navy announced a year ago that the USS Nimitz (CVN 68) would replace the Lincoln as the centerpiece of the Everett-based fleet, though the Nimitz will remain part of the California-based Strike Group 11. The USS Momsen and other Everett-based Navy ships will stay here as part of Strike Group 9.

Most likely the Nimitz won’t pull into port here until March, following more than a year of maintenance work in the Bremerton shipyards.

Many of the Lincoln sailors are not sure what their next orders will be after the carrier is docked for the four-year overhaul and refueling of its onboard nuclear reactors. Chief Petty Officer Larry Cessna, 35, of Bothell, will be coming back after the deployment. Still, this is the second Christmas in a row he will be away from his family. His wife, Suzanne, and their children, Josephine, 10, Clara, 8, and Brent, 3, waved goodbye on base from the end of the wharf.

“We had our Christmas last weekend,” Josephine said, as she hugged her mom.

Only about a dozen other families showed up to watch the Lincoln leave. Among them were two sets of parents there to see their kids ship out, one for the first time.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Shane Butterfield, a machine engineer on his second deployment, said goodbye to his folks, Don and Judi Butterfield, who drove in the dark from their home in Tukwila for the deployment.

“We’re very proud of Shane and so excited for him and his Navy career,” Judi Butterfield said. “But today I am sad, too.”

Those mixed feelings were shared by Don and Sue Durnford of Portland, Ore. Their daughter, Seaman Apprentice Katrina Wright, 19, stood on a deck at the stern of the Lincoln to wave to her parents. Wright, married just two weeks ago, joined the Navy last December and is headed out for her first deployment. During the last weeks of November, she and her family celebrated her wedding, several birthdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“We’ve shed a lot of tears this week,” Don Wright said.

Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson attended the Pearl Harbor remembrance event Wednesday morning at the naval station and didn’t get out in time to see the Lincoln pulling away.

“The Lincoln gave Everett a sense of pride and identity,” Stephanson said. “We will miss her.”

Until the Nimitz arrives, the Everett waterfront will seem as empty as it did Wednesday morning when tugboats pushed the Lincoln out into Port Gardner for the last time.

No fanfare. No ceremony.

The barking of the sea lions near the pier created a cacophony when paired with the low blast of the Lincoln fog horn.

The uniformed crew on the flight deck remained at attention as the Lincoln slipped into the mist and was gone.

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.