BREMERTON, Wash. (NNS) -- The aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) was decommissioned May 12 at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility in Bremerton, Wash., after more than 48 years of service.
Members of the final crew lowered the ship's commissioning pennant from the main mast and the U.S. Flag and First Navy Jack from their staffs after Kitty Hawk Commanding Officer Capt. Todd Zecchin closed out the ship's deck log.
"It's hard to capture the feeling in words," said Zecchin. "This is the second aircraft carrier that I've decommissioned, and it doesn't hit you immediately until you've lowered the commissioning pennant for the last time."
Kitty Hawk's officers of the deck have used the log to track shipboard activities, both in port and at sea, since commissioning April 29, 1961.
Zecchin then transferred the ship to the control of shipyard commander Capt. Mark Whitney during a small ceremony aboard the ship.
"She has served her country for almost 50 years - 48 years and 13 days, across the globe," said Zecchin. "There have been a lot of Sailors that have crossed her decks, a lot of airmen that have flown off and on her decks."
Kitty Hawk arrived in Bremerton Sept. 2, 2008 to prepare for its eventual decommissioning. The ship spent the previous 10 years operating from Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Japan.
While operating from Japan as the Navy's only forward deployed aircraft carrier, Kitty Hawk took part in dozens of exercises and operations, including being the first aircraft carrier to take part in Operation Enduring Freedom in the Arabian Sea, and her aircraft took part in the opening strikes of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
She was replaced by USS George Washington (CVN 73), which is only the fourth U.S. aircraft carrier to be forward deployed from Yokosuka.
Kitty Hawk's voyage to Bremerton started when the ship left Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Japan, May 28, 2008. Since then, the ship made her final port visit to Guam, then on to Hawaii, where it took part in the 21st biennial Rim of the Pacific exercise with nine other nations.
On her way to Bremerton, Kitty Hawk made a final stop at Naval Air Station North Island, Calif., where she was homeported for more than 25 years. Dozens of former crewmembers, including 38 plankowners - members of the 1961 commissioning crew - rode the ship from San Diego to Bremerton on its final at-sea voyage.
The decommissioning brings back a lot of memories for the 100,000 or so Sailors who served aboard Kitty Hawk as part of ship's company or air wing.
"In January of 1965 at the young age of 17, I came on board the USS Kitty Hawk right out of boot camp," said Kitty Hawk Veterans Association President Jim Melka. "Being from a small town in Iowa, I had never seen anything so massive. The Kitty Hawk was home for me for the next 32 months. I learned a lot in those 32 months.
"The Hawk is a great ship and has been very well taken care of by our young men and women in today's Navy," he said. "I'm very proud to have served on the USS Kitty Hawk."
Plankowner Jerry Warren made Kitty Hawk's first and final at-sea voyages.
"I really felt proud to ... say I served on the USS Kitty Hawk, the oldest active ship in the Navy," said Warren, the veteran's association vice president. "She will always have a place in my heart. She has been, and still is, a great ship with a lot of history behind her."
Kitty Hawk had been the Navy's oldest active warship since 1998 and turns over the title to the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65). Kitty Hawk was also the Navy's last remaining diesel-fueled aircraft carrier.
Throughout its lifetime, Kitty Hawk has had 407,507 arrested carrier landings and 448,235 catapult launches.
Now decommissioned, the ship will remain in Bremerton for the foreseeable future as part of the Navy Inactive Ships Program.
For more news from the fleet, visit www.navy.mil.