BREMERTON — From near and far they came, some from the other side of the country.
Many still live in Bremerton and they brought their wives and families.
A few were so crippled by age and infirmity they couldn’t walk.
But each of the 89 veteran sailors who were, at one time or another, stationed aboard the legendary aircraft carrier USS Independence, made it to the Bremerton Naval Shipyard to bid farewell one last time before the “Indy” is scrapped.
For them, it was a reunion that took a lifetime.
The U.S.S. “Indy” Reunion Association spent five days at their annual gathering, this year based in Seattle from Sept. 7-11, when 200 attendees met for a private reunion in Seattle before traveling across the water to the Bremerton Naval Shipyard to bid a final farewell to the “Indy,” which will soon be towed to Brownsville, Texas.
After a Friday morning tour of the Independence, the reunion group (about 180) split into two groups. One went to the Naval Museum of History, at the south end of the shipyard waterfront, and the rest walked northward up the boardwalk to tour the USS Turner Joy.
While whirring about the deck of the Turner Joy in his electric wheelchair, David Hagemann felt inspired, despite being hobbled by a stroke and paralysis on his right side. He smiled as he moved about the deck with help from his wheelchair’s joystick.
Hagemann is 81 now, but still made his way from Rock Springs, Wyoming, to join the others. He had been stationed aboard the Independence from 1954-1961, bearing witness to some of the most tense political and military moments in history.
“Oh, I wouldn’t miss this,” he said with a smile.
The fifth USS Independence (CV/CVA-62) has made the Bremerton Naval Shipyard its home for more than 17 years.
The ship is a Forrestal-class aircraft carrier, the fourth and final member of the conventionally powered supercarriers. She entered service in 1959, and spent much of her early years in the Mediterranean Fleet, including tours of the Vietnam War and Lebanese Civil War.