Navy ‘supercarrier’ honored as it arrives for recycling at port

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — The 60,000-ton USS Independence — last of the Forrestal class of aircraft carriers — was towed Thursday through Brazos Santiago Pass on the way to the Port of Brownsville for recycling. The ship was decommissioned 1998.

International Shipbreaking Ltd. president Chris Green credited the Port of Brownsville and Cameron County for the ceremony at Dolphin Cove honoring veterans who served on the carrier. They wanted to do similar events for their previous ships, the USS Constellation and the USS Ranger, but couldn’t put it together, he said.

The 1,070-foot-long “supercarrier” passed on the horizon behind the podium at the gazebo. Flags from the color guard waved with the sea breeze as speakers said farewell to the ship.

Former Indy electrician Bill Wallen was asked to talk about his experience on the ship. He was on the maiden voyage after its commissioning in January 1959. He served his nearly-six-years aboard the Indy.

“I had a good time, and I’ve been a lot of places and seen a lot of things — a lot of things I didn’t want to see, but I saw,” Wallen said.

His son, Bill Wallen Jr., also served on the ship. Having his son and grandsons there with him was “important,” he said.

The Indy participated in the Vietnam War, Lebanese Civil War and Operation Southern Watch in Iraq.

ISL will scrap the ship. The port has dismantled five retired Navy vessels, and the Indy is the third aircraft carrier ISL dismantles. The company finished the salvage of the USS Constellation last month.

The Indy left Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington, on March 11, rounding Cape Horn in South America. Arrival was delayed due to mechanical issues.

Environmental assessments, safety inspections and removal of hazardous materials start “as soon as she’s tied up,” said ISL president Chris Green, who says it should be completed in 18 months.

ISL will cut the metal to two by three foot sections and ship them out to mills.

The ship is rich which “armor plate,” or a high-nickel steel, is worth about twice as much as conventional steel, Green said.

“The armor plate that comes off the Constellation and the Ranger goes straight to a mill that repurposes it — melts it down and makes other U.S. military with it,” Green said. “All that plate has stayed in the U.S.,” adding they do sell scrap elsewhere.

“We really want to do everything we can to let people that have spent part of their life on the ship have one last piece,” Green said. “That’s why we put this ceremony together to honor those people.”

ISL also takes requests for items to sell via their Ebay page. They sell copper coins from the Constellation and brass coins made from the Ranger.

One of Wallen’s first tasks in the Navy was dehumidifying WWII ships for Central and South American countries for coastal defense, so he’s familiar with appropriating.

Wallen reminisced about being one of a handful to know the actual speed of the ship at the time, which was only recently declassified.

“It was quite an honor to do be down there doing that stuff,” he said.

Steve Clark and Diana Eva Maldonado contributed to this report.