Times Herald photos by MELISSA WAWZYSKO
SPECIAL PRIVILEGE: Seaman Apprentice Eric Bechtel, 18, the newest and youngest crew member of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bramble, had the honor of being the first crew member to depart the ship during its decommissioning ceremony Thursday at the Port Huron Seaway Terminal. The 59-year-old cutter, which will remain in Port Huron as a maritime museum, is being replaced by the 225-foot cutter Hollyhock.
AT ATTENTION: Boatswain's Mate 1st Class Christopher Morris, left, Boatswain's Mate Chief Thomas Cummings and Chief Warrant Officer Garret M. VanHoesen stand at attention, their shadows visible through a banner.
By MELISSA WAWZYSKO, Times Herald
FOND MEMORIES: Al Connelly of Akron, Ohio, shows a scrapbook of photos of his time on the Bramble during World War II to Michael Callahan, left, commanding officer of the Coast Guard cutter Bristol, and his wife, Alyce Callahan. They were attending Thursday's decommissioning ceremony of the Bramble.
The bell tolled eight times, marking the end of the watch.
Taps was played, flags were lowered, and a fabled career ended Thursday.
After 59 years, the Bramble officially was retired from sea duty with the U.S. Coast Guard. The decommissioning ceremony, at Port Huron's Seaway Terminal, attracted hundreds of people. On the deck below, a standing-room-only audience of 500 invited guests sat on chairs and bleachers. The general public watched from the terminal's parking lot above.
"A decommissioning can be a sad occasion because it often feels like the passing of a dear friend," said Rear Adm. Ronald F. Silva, commander of the Coast Guard's Ninth District in Cleveland.
"Judging from this crowd here today, the Bramble has many old friends," he said. "Friends who served aboard this ship, from the new recruit to the crusty old veteran, all have left their mark on this vessel."
The 180-foot vessel is being replaced by a state-of-the-art ship, Hollyhock, a technically superior 225-footer scheduled for an October arrival in Port Huron.
The Bramble will stay in Port Huron.
On Thursday morning it officially was transferred to the Port Huron Museum.
A fond farewell
Thursday's ceremony was a far cry from the quiet entrance the ship made 28 years ago when it first docked in Port Huron.
It was a celebration filled with historical and nautical traditions, music, speakers and accolades not only for the ship but its crew.
"In the last year, this crew has faced horrendous tasks including providing homeland security while still maintaining the aids to navigation in the waterways," Silva said. "At the same time, the crew completed a complete overhaul of the ship.
"Its condition belies its advanced age. The current and former crews should be proud."
Lt. Cmdr. Todd Prestidge, the ship's last captain, called the ceremony "a very emotional time."
"This is home for the crew and officers," he said. "They are a family, and there's a brotherhood about being a good shipmate, about doing the right thing at the right time.
"The men standing before you have been my family for the last three years of my life."
The ceremony drew people from near and far.
Petty Officer 1st Class Ed McCabe is one of the few, and possibly the only, Blue Water Area native, to serve on the Bramble while homeported in Port Huron.
"To be able to attend something like this and hear all of the testimony to the ship and its crews is incredible," said McCabe, 33, now billeted in Buffalo, N.Y. "I just knew I had to come for this. The Bramble is special."
His father-in-law, Dick Edie of Fort Gratiot, agreed.
"I'm so glad I took the time to attend this," he said. "This ship has been important to this community, so being able to witness this has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
Perhaps nobody came as far as Cmdr. Mark Dietrich, the ship's executive officer from 1994 to 1996. He is stationed in Hawaii.
"To be here and see the flags come down, and hear the eight bells, well, that signals it's official," he said.
"The life of the Bramble, as we know it, is over, but our brotherhood is eternal."
Originally published Friday, May 23, 2003
Contact Mary Lou Creamer at email@example.com.