Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

12 Years after Missile Blast, Stark Retired

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

12 Years after Missile Blast, Stark Retired

Article excerpt

Despite the pomp of the Navy's ceremony decommissioning the USS Stark at Mayport Naval Station yesterday, Diana Pierce Ellis could not hold back the tears for her husband and 36 of his shipmates.

They died aboard the frigate in 1987 when it was struck by two missiles fired accidentally by an Iraqi jet fighter.

"It's like burying them all over again," said Ellis. She attended the ceremony yesterday putting the warship out of service with her daughter, Randi Lynn, 14, and son Logan, 12, who wears the ship's number, 31, on his T-ball uniform.

Her husband, Randy Pierce, was aboard the warship in the Persian Gulf when the two Exocet missiles struck the ship's left side, exploding into the combat information center and berthing areas where dozens of the crew were sleeping.

"For as long as the ship has been floating, he's been alive. He's been out there. He died at sea. Now she's gone and it's like letting him go again," she said.

Heroic firefighting efforts saved the ship and it was returned to service.

"Her scars are invisible. Her wounds will never heal," said Rear Adm. Henry G. Ulrich III, an earlier commanding officer for the Stark and guest speaker for the ceremony ending the ship's 17-year career.

"Stark has written her history," he said, recounting the ship's accomplishments, but said it would always be remembered "for the 37 men she committed to the sea. This is right. This is just. This is how it should be."

Cmdr. O. Wayne Young, the last commanding officer, ordered the commissioning pennant and flags to be lowered for the final time as the last eight sailors walked down the gangway from the 445-foot-long fast frigate.

The ship has already been stripped of its weapons, missiles and radar.

"It has been a pleasure and an honor to lead this fine warship," said Young, who took command of the vessel in July 1997. …

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