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Philadelphia Naval Shipyard Sends Last Carrier to Sea

September 14, 1995

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ The USS John F. Kennedy, its flight deck lined with hundreds of sailors in summer whites, put out to sea, ending a 194-year-old way of life at the nation’s oldest shipyard.

The Kennedy was the last job at the Philadelphia Navel Shipyard, authorized by Congress in 1801 and shut down by the federal Base Closure and Realignment Commission after a three-year legal battle.

A bagpipe, an 11-gun salute and the strains of Elton John’s ``Philadelphia Freedom″ rang out Wednesday as the 80,000-ton vessel with 2,950 crew members pulled into the Delaware River.

Workers, families of crew members and area residents crowded the pier for the bittersweet farewell to the massive aircraft carrier, which was headed for its new home port in Mayport, Fla.

``For us, it’s like coming to the viewing of a long-lost friend and paying your last respects,″ said Harry Vincent of Haddon Heights, N.J., a 22-year Navy man who worked in the shipyard in 1940 before going to the Pacific.

The Kennedy’s two-year $600 million modernization included rebuilding four main engine turbines, eight fuel-fired boilers, advanced radar and combat direction systems, and the catapults that whisk planes into the air at 170 mph from a standstill.

``The quality of work and the ethic that has been shown here on John F. Kennedy ... I think epitomizes the fantastic performance this shipyard has done for its nation the past 194 years,″ said Capt. Gerald L. Hoewing, the Kennedy’s commanding officer.

The Philadelphia shipyard gave birth to the wooden-hulled Franklin in 1815; the side-wheel steamer, the Mississippi, in 1841; the 120-gun Pennsylvania in 1847; and the ironclad Tonawanda in 1865.

During World War II, more than 47,000 workers turned out 53 warships, including the 45,000-ton USS New Jersey, and overhauled or converted 1,218 other vessels.

Since 1970, the yard has specialized in repairs and modernization, most notably of the carriers USS Saratoga, USS Forrestal, USS Independence, USS Kitty Hawk and USS Constellation.

Capt. Jon C. Bergner, the shipyard commander, said 1,900 of the shipyard’s remaining 2,700 employees will be laid off Friday.

Employment already had dropped by 6,200 over the past four years, but only 38 of those employees were laid off, Bergner said.

As many as 2,500 could work again in shipbuilding if Joseph L. Meyer GmbH & Co. of Germany and Metro Machine Corp. of Norfolk, Va., can make deals to build luxury cruise vessels and double-hulled oil tankers here.

Frank Barbarito of Cherry Hill, N.J., the shipyard’s chief engineer, worked at the Brooklyn Shipyard when it closed in 1964 and an unfinished ship had to be towed away.

``I’ve put my whole career in aircraft carriers,″ he said. ``I’m delighted that the last one, under the conditions we were operating under, is leaving under its own power.″