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USS La Salle, the longtime flagship of the Gaeta, Italy-based 6th Fleet, was decommissioned during a formal ceremony in Norfolk, Va., after more than 40 years of service, most of it overseas.

The ship served as the 6th Fleet flagship from 1994 until it was replaced by USS Mount Whitney earlier this year.

Before that, it served as the flagship for the Navy’s Middle East force, earning the nickname “The Great White Ghost of the Arabian Coast” as it was the only active Navy ship to be painted white instead of gray.

The Navy gave the ship its white coating to better reflect the Middle Eastern sun, as the ship mainly sailed in the Persian Gulf during its 22 years based in Bahrain.

The La Salle had taken part in many operations since its commissioning in 1964.

Less than a year after it entered service, it became the flagship for amphibious forces during the Dominican crisis, and a year after that was the first ship of its size to successfully recover a Gemini space capsule.

In 1979, the La Salle assisted in the evacuation of 260 American and foreign nationals from Bandar Abbas, Iran, when the government there was overthrown.

The La Salle was also the first ship on the scene after the frigate USS Stark was hit by Iraqi missiles in May 1987 and served in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm.

In 1994, the La Salle returned to the United States for the first time in nearly two decades and was converted to serve as the 6th Fleet flagship, where it served until February 2005.

La Salle will be towed to the Philadelphia Navy Yard this week where, according to a Navy news release, it will “await its final disposition.” The release didn’t state what that disposition would be, but it could range from scrapping to being placed in an inactive status known as “mothballing.”

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