By DINA ARÉVALO
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
He came from Nashville, Tenn. to say goodbye to what he called a piece of history. “It was sad. And, (it provided) closure, too,” said Daniel Costin as the silhouette of the USS Ranger slowly faded from view at the far end of the channel.
The Ranger, one of four angled deck supercarriers commissioned for the U.S. Navy in the 1950s, arrived in the Rio Grande Valley on a sweltering Sunday afternoon on its way to be dismantled. Commissioned in 1957, the ship served primarily in the Pacific, earning 13 battle stars in the Vietnam War. She also served in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf before being decommissioned in 1993.
The South Padre Island side of the jetties at Isla Blanca Park were lined with hundreds of spectators, many of them veterans, like Costin, who had served aboard the ship during her nearly 60 years of service.
For many of those former sailors, the moment was bittersweet. “Well, I was on the last voyage, so it’s kind of hard,” said Weslaco resident Carlos Alvarez. He paused for a moment as emotion played across his face.
Alvarez served on the Ranger’s decommissioning crew, the last compliment of sailors to serve before she was decommissioned to Bremerton, Wash. Afterward, he served aboard another supercarrier, the USS Kittyhawk.
Not every veteran who came to say goodbye sailed on the Ranger. Juan Palomo, of Brownsville, worked on the Ranger while she was in port in California. “She came into Long Beach Shipyard,” he said. “I was stationed out there in a shore facility and she went in for, I believe it was a year,” he said.
Palomo served as a hull technician for 20 years. His duties entailed making repairs to the structure, piping and sheet metal work of a ship. “I had the pleasure of working on her. I learned a lot on there,” Palomo said. “My first experience on a carrier was the Ranger,” he said.
“It’s bittersweet for me because it’s a lot of history, a lot of things that I remember doing as a young man,” he continued.
That reflection on the ship’s history was a common sentiment among those gathered along the rocks to say farewell. “We know where she’s going,” said Costin. “But we also know she’s a page in history, well, a book. … considering the role she played, not only in America’s defense, but also in the public face,” he said.
That public face Costin spoke of was what made the Ranger a recognizable icon to civilians, as well. The ship appeared in the films Top Gun, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Flight of the Intruder. It also appeared in the television shows The Six Million Dollar Man and Baa Baa Black Sheep.
As the tug boats continued to pull the ship into the Brownsville Ship Channel where it will be dismantled by International Shipbreaking, Ltd., the spectators began to turn to one another to reflect.
Earlier in the afternoon, Alvarez had remarked, “It was an honor serving on the Ranger. It was great meeting all those wonderful people that I met, a lot of the shipmates that I had.”
In coming to say goodbye, he met one more. Alvarez and Costin introduced themselves and learned they had served aboard the vessel together, but had not previously met. Surrounded by family, they stood at the base of the Cristo de los Pescadores statue, trading stories and laughing.
“It’s kind of surreal,” Alvarez said. “Kind of hard to see her go.”
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