Norfolk, Virginia. (Sept. 15, 2023): Is there an old folk’s home for retiring Navy ships? Well… sort of. In this photo by CC2 Matthew Nass, Sailors render honors as the national anthem is played during the decommissioning ceremony of the guided-missile cruiser USS San Jacinto after more than 35 years of service.
The life cycle of a US Navy ship begins when its keel is laid down for construction. After construction is completed, the ship is launched on a shakedown cruise to evaluate crew performance at sea. Finally, when a vessel is deemed ready, the ship is commissioned into service, becoming an official part of the United States Armed Forces.
The USS San Jacinto was laid down on 24 July 1985, by Ingalls Shipbuilding, in Pascagoula, Mississippi and was launched in November 1986. Two years later, the ship was commissioned by then vice-president George H. W. Bush in Houston, Texas.
When its services are no longer needed, what happens, exactly, at that point?
Retiring or “decommissioning” Navy ships is a lengthy process that involves multiple phases before a vessel is put in mothballs. Before being officially decommissioned, the ship enters a “cool down” period at a naval facility where crews will remove usable parts. Next, weapons and ammunition are removed from a decommissioned ship and transferred to a different vessel as needed. The same happens with the crew which is reassigned to other ships in order of a crewmember’s duty. A gunner, for instance, would not remain on a ship after the guns have been removed.
When a ship is struck from the Naval Vessel Register, the name (but not her hull designation) is freed up for use on a future ship. Names are often reused as ships are commissioned and decommissioned before their final retirement. The battleship Missouri, for instance, was in service on and off from 1944 to 1992 until its final retirement.
The San Jacinto is the tenth Ticonderoga-Class cruiser and the third warship in the Navy named for the Battle of San Jacinto. The first San Jacinto was a frigate built in 1851 that fought in the Civil War for the Union and the second fought in WWII. The USS San Jacinto is named after the famous last battle between the Texas Army, led by Sam Houston, against the superior forces of Mexican President Santa Anna. The battle lasted only 18 minutes and Santa Anna was captured the next day. After three weeks as a prisoner of war, Santa Anna signed a peace treaty that effectively ceded Texas to the United States.
In the battle, Texans took few prisoners as revenge for the slaughter of innocent women and children at the Alamo a few months before. “Remember the Alamo” became a rallying cry for American settlers and a symbol of resistance to the Mexican invasion.
Now deactivated, the San Jacinto will be towed to the Navy’s Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for a well-deserved retirement.