NAVAL STATION NORFOLK, Virginia — Hundreds gathered here to see off the second to last ship of the so-called "Ghetto Navy" — a force of tight-knit frigate sailors who earned a reputation for keeping their aging ships sailing.  is gone closing a chapter of Navy history -- well -- almost gone. 

The crew of the Today, the guided-missile frigate Kauffman, Norfolk’s last Perry-Class frigate, stood down the watch before a crowd of hundreds, leaving only one Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate in the fleet.

Nearly 100 former Kauffman crew members were on hand to seend the ship off, including a number of plankowners — those sailors who put the ship into commission on February 28, 1987. And in a departure from usual ceremonies, Navy standard decommissioning procedure, most of those former Kauffman sailors took their place beside the frigate's final crew who manned the rails. final active-duty sailors sailors manning the rails of the ship. And they dutifully marched off the ship in rank and file alongside their dress-white clad present day shipmates and stood in ranks on the pier for the remainder of the ceremon

"This ship was important in all their lives and as members of the long line of crew of this ship, they deserved to be an active part of this ceremony, too," said Cmdr. Michael Concannon, the Kauffman's final commanding officer.

"We are all a part of the legacy of this great ship and the best thing is that this ship will forever mean something to us all," Concannon said. "That's evident that so many of our former shipmates paid their own hard earned money to spend this day with us."

The original plan was to have any plankowners — the original commissioning crew — present at the ceremony do this honor, but later the decision was made to include any former crewman present who wished to participate.

The ceremony felt like a celebration. result was that what is normally a very somber moment in the life of a ship and sailors became a much more joyous occasion. 

"That's how we wanted it to be, not a funeral, but a celebration," Concannon said.

left the ranks of commissioned U.S. Navy ships after 28-years in commission and will be towed next week to Philadelphia where she'll await transfer sale to a foreign navy.

Kauffman returned to Norfolk from her final deployment on July 12 and has the honor of having been the last Perry-class frigate to be underway in the U.S. Navy. Like other frigates, the Kauffman is to be sold and transferred to a foreign navy.

But due to a scheduling change earlier this year, She won't be the last frigate to leave service, however. That "final frigate" honor will reside with the Mayport-based frigate Simpson, which will haul down her colors on the last day of this month — in the  which will then be the Ghetto's Navy final farewell.  

Many said the frigate's retirement was bittersweet.

And though many of the former crew said the day was bittersweet, all said it was a day to recall what they had collectively done as members of the crew of this ship.

"It was my second ship, but it was the best ship I served on in the Navy," said now retired Sonar Technician (Surface) 1st Class Marc Bolinger, a member of the ship's commissioning crew.

"As a pre-commissioning crew, we were handpicked and it didn't take long for us to come together as a crew," he recalled. "Not many sailors get to put a ship into commission and then be a part of it all as that ship leaves commission, too. I'm honored that this crew included us this way in this ceremony and I wouldn't have missed this for anything."

The hybrid manning the rails wasn’t the only departure from normal decommissioning protocol, either

When the order was given by Concannon to strike the ships colors, the commissioning pennant was hauled down national ensign was brought down by Kauffman’s last senior enlisted leadercommand senior chief, Senior Chief Machinery Repairman (SW) Aaron Roehrs with the help of plankownersmembers of the commissioning crew

Meanwhile On the forecastle, the ship’s Navy Jack was retired by crew members, folded and handed to Draper Richey, the great-great grand nephew of Rear Adm. Draper Kauffman, who, along with his father Vice Adm. James Kauffman, were the ship's namesakes of the ship

Draper Richey, the great-great grand nephew of one of the Kauffman's namesakes, delivers the ship's Navy jack to its final commanding officer at a ceremony Friday.

Photo Credit: Mark D. Faram/Staff

Richey, under the watchful eye of his mother Sarah who traveled from Boston to participate, walked the jack the length of the ship and down the brow where he handed it to a kneeling Concannon, who offered and received a fist bump from the young man.

The featured speaker during the ceremony was Chase Untermeyer who was reprising the same speaking role he carried out during the ship’s commissioning 28-years ago in Bath, Maine. Untermeyer, who served aboard a destroyer during the Vietnam war, later served as an assistant Navy secretary. At the time, Untermeyer was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs. Most recently he served 2004 to 2007 as the Ambassador to Qatar. Untermeyer served as a junior surface warfare officer onboard a destroyer in the Western Pacific duringdiring the Vietnam war.

Untermeyer talked about the Navy of Kauffman's birth in the Navy during the build-up to the 600-ship Navy. Ships were coming off the ways at Bath and in other U.S. shipyards quite many ceremonies were occurring around the nation, similar the Kauffman's on that cold February day in 1987.

"I look forward to the day our Navy will go again," Untermeyer said. "Not with coastal gunboats, but real capital ships." he said taking a swipe at the idea of naming the future "up-gunned" littoral combat ships frigates again — once they qualify as such. 

But it was Untermeyer’s final words to the crew that brought goosebumps and teary eyes to the assembled sailors and guests, as he quoted words written by author Herman Wouk in the final pages of the World War II novelstory, "The Caine Mutiny." 

First he noted that it had become rather common these past years to tell people who have served in the military the words "Thank-you for your service."

And hHe thanked the ship's namesakes for their service to the country., Bbut he said it didn't stop there, and said that the ship would live on in the memories of those who had crewed her.

He quoted Quoting the words of the fictitious Lt. Willie Keith, Caine’s final skipper who spoke to the crew during the decommissioning of the fictitious Caine at the end of the book. Untermeyer asked the audience to substitute Caine for Kauffman, the real ship, as he read the passage. all present to substitute in their minds the name Kauffman each time he mentioned the name Caine as he read the passage.

"Every hour spent on the Caine was a great hour in all our lives — if you don’t think so now you will later on," Untermeyer read. quoted Keith from the book. "We were doing part of what had to be done to keep our country existing, not any better than before, just the same old country that we love.

"We will remember the Caine, the old ship in which we helped to win the war. Caine duty is the kind of duty that counts."

Untermeyer then took Wouk's words and brought to today's ceremony stating that all present who served on the ship would forever remember her.

"Kauffman duty, too, is the kind of duty that counts," Untermeyer added, before turning to face the 453-foot-long warship. said and then, speaking to not only the crew, but turning to include the 453-foot warship itself he concluded his remarks. 

"Thank you for your service," he said.