2014-08-28 / Front Page

Fair Winds for 'Sara'

By Tom Shevlin

Darryl Fern pulls cannon lanyard to fire salute to his former ship. Darryl Fern pulls cannon lanyard to fire salute to his former ship. Newport said goodbye to one of its most imposing friends last week. The USS Saratoga, the hulking decommissioned aircraft carrier that has been a fixture along Burma Road for years now, set out for sea one last time on Aug. 21.

Its destination? A scrapyard in Brownsville, Texas where the ship will be stripped into recyclable metal pieces.

Known affectionately as “Super Sara,” the Saratoga had an impressive history, serving in the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War and a 1986 strike on Libya. Her last active duty tour was in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm, where she joined a fleet of U.S. Navy ships in the first Iraq War.

First commissioned in 1956 as one of four Forrestal-class supercarriers, the Saratoga was the sixth U.S. Navy ship to be named in honor of the Battle of Saratoga, a key colonial victory considered a turning point in the American Revolution. She was built at the former Brooklyn Naval Yard and at the time was considered one of the world’s most advanced naval vessels.

Prior to being decommissioned in 1994, the Saratoga spent most of her career in the Mediterranean, where she was seen as a stabilizing force during the Cold War years of the 1960s and 70s. And like many ships, Sara’s tenure was not without tumult. Just two years after first being deployed, in May of 1960, the Saratoga suffered her first scar, colliding with a German freighter off the coast of North Carolina. The incident, which occurred in the early hours of the morning didn’t result in any loss of life, but caused significant damage to the freighter's bridge and superstructure. The mishap prompted the U.S. Navy to pay roughly 2.5 million German marks in repairs.

A few months later, in January of 1961, while deployed with the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean, a fire ripped through the machine area of the Saratoga, taking the lives of seven crew members. After undergoing repairs, the ship returned to duty in 1967, where she was quickly called to action as a medical facility during the Six-Day War. Service in Vietnam followed, where her airmen flew over 1,000 missions against North Vietnam from her flight deck, suffering multiple casualties along the way.

During the 1980s, the ship saw more challenges in the Mediterranean, serving in a host of combat and support roles from Libya to Portugal. During Operation Desert Storm, Saratoga was deployed to the Red Sea, where she suffered the loss of 21 crew members in a ferry boat accident off the coast of Israel just before the start of the U.S.-led incursion in Iraq. During the war, she completed approximately 11,000 aircraft launch and recovery cycles, and suffered the loss of the first U.S. casualty, Capt. Michael Scott Speicher, whose aircraft was shot down over the Iraqi desert in 1991.

The Saratoga was also a focus of Saddam Hussein, who claimed on Iraqi television that she had been sunk along with several other vessels during the early days of the war.

In 1994, the Saratoga was decommissioned in Florida and went on to find a home in Newport where she could be found until a few years ago alongside another former war horse, the USS Forrestal.

After several years exploring ways to preserve the ship as a museum, Sara was sold to Esco Marine last year, which paid a penny for the right to scrap the vessel. Proceeds from the sale of the metal will be used to offset the cost of the transport and dismantling process.

Throughout her 38-year service, more than 60,000 sailors served aboard Sara, with roughly 5,000 personnel serving at any given time.

Former crew members were given the chance to say goodbye to the old girl during a dockside ceremony in Newport earlier this year, and onlookers lined the shores of Narragansett Bay as she made her final voyage under the Newport Bridge.

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