(Click on thumbnail image to view larger version of photo)John L. Beeman / Courtesy of U.S. NavyOfficers salute as the national anthem is played for the parading of the colors at a decommissioning ceremony Tuesday for the USS Vincennes in Yokosuka, Japan.John L. Beeman / Courtesy of U.S. NavyUSS Vincennes stands in full dress at the Dock Master Pier of Commander Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Japan, for its decommissioning.John L. Beeman / Courtesy of U.S. NavyUSS Vincennes crew members stand in front of a row of state flags adorning the Dock Master Pier of Commander Fleet Activities Yokosuka. John L. Beeman / Courtesy of U.S. Navy Rear Adm. James D. Kelly, commander, Carrier Group Five, addresses crew members and other visitors at the decommissioning ceremony.Hana Kusumoto / S&SSailors await the USS Vincennes' farewell ceremony on Tuesday at Yokosuka.Hana Kusumoto / S&SCmdr. Mark J. Englebert reflects on the highlights of his tour on the USS Vincennes.Hana Kusumoto / S&SRear Adm. James D. Kelly, commander of Carrier Strike Group 5, congratulates USS Vincennes' skipper, Cmdr. Mark J. Englebert, during the ship's farewell celebration Tuesday. At left is Chaplain Lt. Robert Jones, who gave the invocation.John L. Beeman / Courtesy of U.S. NavyUSS Vincennes

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — On one of its last days at a Yokosuka pier, the cruiser USS Vincennes crew stood by for one of the last ceremonies the ship ever will see.

Tuesday, two days before it was scheduled to depart, commanders of the ship, its destroyer squadron and strike group toasted its successes and achievements while based at Yokosuka.

The Vincennes is to travel to Hawaii to pick up friends and family for its last voyage back to California, where it’s to be decommissioned this summer after two decades of service and eight years in Yokosuka.

“Today’s ceremony is our chance to say goodbye,” said Cmdr. Mark J. Englebert, the ship’s commander.

Capt. Samuel Perez Jr., a former Vincennes commander who now leads Destroyer Squadron 15, which includes Vincennes, said, “Vincennes and Team 49 were always there when I needed her.”

The ship, his flagship, sailed more and shot more ammunition last year than any other ship in the squadron, he said.

Perez recalled the best and worst of the Vincennes. The ship is top-heavy and lists to starboard but, he said, is as graceful as Grace Kelly dancing with Fred Astaire.

“Cmdr. Englebert, you are the very last of us to hear: ‘Vincennes arriving.’ I don’t envy that task,” he said, referring to the Navy’s way of announcing a commanding officer’s arrival.

Carrier Strike Group 5 commander Rear Adm. James K. Kelly recalled once when weather kept helicopters from flying, forcing him to remain aboard. Despite 16-foot waves, the ship stayed strong. “I’ve never had so much fun on a ship overnight,” he said.

And although several on the Vincennes were arrested in 2004 after a drug investigation, the crew showed its strength by helping to flush out the offenders, Kelly said, and helping the Navy revamp drug-detection efforts.

About the vessel itself, he said, “What a shame we are taking it home for decommissioning.”

Englebert thanked Yokosuka’s port engineer and ship repair facility supervisor for keeping the ship in shape and the family support group members and ombudsman for being the link between the Vincennes and its sailors’ families.

The crew prepared for the ceremony for days, painting decks and festooning the rails with red, white and blue bunting.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Stevie Greenway, a navigation department quartermaster, was one of three sailors who tied about 800 feet of bunting to the ship’s rails.

“It was difficult, the wind was a factor,” he said, but added, “You only commission or decommission once a career. It was a team effort. But it’s worth it to see this kind of thing.”

Petty Officer 1st Class Charles Cut- right, a culinary specialist and the food-service division’s lead petty officer, had the honor of decorating the celebratory cake with a hand-drawn map of Japan.

In four years aboard, he’s prepared for many receptions. This might be among the last.

The final decommissioning party in San Diego likely will be catered, he said, to manage the hundreds of former Vincennes sailors expected.

Cutright said he’s not terribly sad to leave his ship, but the crew’s a different story: “I’ll be sad to see my guys go.”

Kelly also bid farewell to them. “You are what makes Vincennes rock,” he said. “There is no better crew on this waterfront.”

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