Goodbye, sailors!

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The USS Iwo Jima took its leave from Pier 88 this afternoon, heading south along the Hudson, as Fleet Week festivities concluded.

The Jersey riverwalk was empty, save for a few landscapers riding mowers that drowned the roar of the massive assault vessel’s engines as it backed its way into the river, surrounded by Coast Guard and harbor patrol boats, shortly after 1 o’clock.

By 1:30, the massive ship had reached Battery Park, headed for sea. Flying from its mast was the flag presented by President George W. Bush — only the second ever given to a Navy ship by a U.S. commander-in-chief.

Launched in February 2000, the Iwo Jima made it maiden voyage from Mississippi to Florida on June 23, 2001, carrying more than 2,000 World War II veterans. Many were survivors of the battle that gave the ship its name and motto: “uncommon valor.”

The ship also was part of “Operation Enduring Freedom” when it was deployed to the Mediterranean in April 2003. A few months later, it had made its way to Liberia to help stabilize the war-torn region.

And in August 2005 it was part of the rescue mission following Hurricane Katrina, sailing up the Mississippi to New Orleans. The Iwo Jima served as the landing and launching pad for more than 1,000 helicopter machines there, while providing hot meals, showers, drinking water and berthing to service officers.

Yet that’s not what makes the ship special around here:

The Iwo Jima was the first ship on the waterfront open to the public after 9/11. It also docked here for Fleet Week in 2002 and 2004.

Perhaps we’ll soon see it again.

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(All photos by Jerry DeMarco. For use, please contact me at GerardJDeMarco@gmail or at 201.943.2794.)

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