NORFOLK, Va. -- The USS Ponce was officially decommissioned Saturday, Oct. 14 during a time-honored ceremony at Naval Station Norfolk.
"It is truly an honor to participate in this momentous and time honored Naval tradition, as we remember the accomplishments, warfighting attitude, contributions, and legacy of the USS Ponce and its Sailors over the last 46 years," said Commander, Naval Surface Force Atlantic, Rear Admiral Jesse A. Wilson Jr.
Ponce is one of the oldest ships in the Navy, commissioned in 1971. After 42 years of sea service and 27 deployments, Ponce was converted from its original amphibious transport dock to an afloat forwarding staging base.
The ship was initially commissioned as the 12th and last ship in the Austin-class of amphibious transport dock ships.
In September, Ponce returned to Naval Station Norfolk after serving five years in the Persian Gulf and the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations.
The ship's nickname is "Proud Lion." USS Ponce's Commanding Officer, Christopher Wells said, “We have the nickname proud lion for a reason.”
He said saying goodbye to the ship is bittersweet.
"We got to return to home port and rejoin our families, but at the same time, it’s really hard to see you know what’s been your home for the last – you know, go away,” said Wells.
Other shipmates said they share the same sentiment. Ponce has a hybrid group of civilians and sailors on board.
“It was great just watching that team work together to get the job done,” said Wells.
The Ship's Master, Zachary Daniels, who is in charge of the civilian portion of the ship said saying goodbye is sad.
“It’s just like moving, it kind of breaks your heart to say goodbye to the old and go on to the new,” said Daniels.
Wells said this ship always had new surprises. The ship has a mix of old technology, needed to run the steam engine, and new technology like a laser weapon installed in 2014.
The Chief Engineer on the ship, Blaine Darling said he's been on the ship for five years.
“A lot of heart and soul was put into this. Bringing this ship back up into operating conditions,” said Darling.
He said maintenance on the ship takes constant work, “An average of 12 hours a day, every day, seven days a week,” said Darling.
The ship's namesake is the city of Ponce, Puerto Rico, which suffered significant damage along with the rest of the island from Hurricane Maria.