Littoral combat ship USS Indianapolis sets sail for homeport in Florida
By JOSEPH S. PETE | The Times | Published: October 30, 2019
(Tribune News Service) — After a week at the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor and a historic U.S. Navy commissioning ceremony that may never take place again in largely landlocked Indiana, the USS Indianapolis Littoral Combat Ship 17 has set sail for its home base in Florida.
The $450 million ship tasked for mine warfare, the fourth to bear the USS Indianapolis name, will travel up Lake Michigan, through the Straits of Mackinac, across the Great Lakes and through the St. Lawrence Seaway that opens into the Atlantic Ocean northeast of Quebec City in Canada. The warship, which left Tuesday morning, and its crew of 70 sailors will then travel south down the coastline to the Naval Station Mayport near Jacksonsville, Florida.
"Their families will be there to welcome them when they pull into the homeport," said Ray Shearer, chairman off the USS Indianapolis Commissioning Committee, which spent years planning Saturday's ceremony.
More than 12,000 people total are estimated to have attended the commissioning in which the Freedom-class ship made in Wisconsin was officially placed into U.S. Navy service. Speakers included Gov. Eric Holcomb, Under Sec. of the Navy Thomas Modly and Department of Defense Deputy Chief Management Officer Lisa W. Hershman.
"We decided to go big," Shearer said. "Most other commissionings have 1,200 people to 2,000 people. We had 12,000 people honoring our veterans and supporting our military."
Only a few Navy ship commissionings have taken place on the Great Lakes, where the mostly coastal Navy typically does little more than basic training and the periodic goodwill tour. Barges were required to perform the ceremony on the Detroit River, and commissioning ceremonies in Milwaukee and Buffalo were beset by blizzards.
But organizers were determined to bring the pomp and pageantry of a Navy ship commissioning to Indiana, especially since the USS Indianapolis was being built at a shipyard on Lake Michigan.
Organizers received a lot of help from state and local governments, as well as from JROTC programs at local schools and groups like the South Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau, Indiana Dunes Tourism and the Northwest Indiana Forum. Businesses at the port, normally a flurry of semi-truck traffic, shut down at their own expense for the day to accommodate the crowds.
The region also showed the sailors how appreciated they are, Shearer said. People constantly thanked them for their service, which is far less likely near military bases where uniformed service members are a commonplace everyday sight, he said.
"It was memorable," he said. "People aren't going to forget that day. It was moving when they brought the ship to life and all the sailors ran aboard to man their station."
The USS Indianapolis was supposed to set sail early Monday morning, but its departure from the deepwater Lake Michigan port in Portage was delayed so it could get charts with the latest weather conditions.
"They're now well on their way on their journey," he said. "But now the real work begins. Now they have to get the ship ready because little over a year from now they'll be deployed."