23 February 2012

USS Tulare arrives in Texas for scrapping process:

USS Tulare
After more than 3 decades floating at a Northern California shipyard, the USS Tulare took one last voyage down the Pacific Coast, through the Panama and back up north along the Atlantic Ocean.

Thought it once was the largest and fastest attack cargo transport ship in the Navy fleet after its commission in 1956, this ship that once was a workhorse during the Vietnam War was long ago stripped of its major systems.

So the Tulare made its month-long final voyage hooked to a tow boat that pulled it last week into the Brownsville, Texas, shipyard operated by International Shipbreaking Limited, LLC, which had purchased it.

Work already has begun on the six-month process of dismantling the Tulare.

"Ships are one of the most recyclable large items made by man. Over 90 percent of the ship is recycled," said Robert Berry, vice president of International Shipbreaking.

Most of the USS Tulare will end up as scrap steel that will be shipped to steel mills which will melt the pieces into girders and other items.

Although the Tulare is named after Tulare County, it's imminent demise seemed to go largely unnoticed here until county Supervisor Allen Ishida announced Tuesday that he received an email about it the previous week.

"I didn't know we had a ship. It's probably been mothballed forever," he told the crowd attending the Board of Supervisors meeting.

More precisely, after the Tulare was decommissioned in 1980, it was moored in Suisun Bay, northeast of San Francisco. It remained there until December, when it was sent to a San Francisco-area shipyard to prepare for its trip to Brownsville, which began Dec. 30.

In the email, a former Tulare crew member from Illinois suggested the county contact International Shipbreaking to determine if some parts of the Tulare may be saved and shipped here, said Neil Pilegard, the county's Parks and Recreation manager.

News that the Tulare had just arrived in Brownsville surprised Terry Bergfalk of Porterville, who in 1979 spent five days on the ship during the last leg of its last voyage as a regular Navy vessel, transporting Army troops from Alameda to Hawaii.

At the time, she was president of the Tulare County Navy League and a contributing writer to Navy Times and Navy publications. Because the ship was named after Tulare County and she had ties to the Navy, Bergfalk said she was invited to go on the trip.

"I was the only woman on the ship," she said, noting that by that time, the years of wear on the ship were apparent, as was the fact it lacked much of the technology of newer Navy ships being built.

As if to punctuate the Tulare problems, an engine blew on the way to Hawaii, leaving the ship dead in the water for about 10 hours, Bergfalk said.

She attended the ship's decommissioning ceremony the following year and was given the bronze plaque Tulare County presented to the Navy when the ship was commissioned -†along with two flag stanchions from the Tulare that still sit on her fireplace.

Bergfalk later gave the plaque to the county and it is currently on display at the Tulare County Historical Museum at Mooney Grove Park.

The aging ship on its last voyage was a sharp contrast to how it began, the first of a new type of amphibious ship that could transport troops, tanks, trucks and other equipment for beach landings.

"This class of ships, I guess they developed out of World War II and all the amphibious landings that were carried out," said Ed Mersich, 67, of Elizabeth Colo.

He served as an electricians mate third-class on the Tulare from 1965 to 1968 and now runs a website for former Tulare crew members.

Navy historical records show the ship was originally built as a civilian cargo ship in 1953 but was obtained by the Navy and converted it for military use, which included installing 12 three-inch guns.

"Not all amphibious cargo ships were armed, but this one was armed," Mersich said.

Not that the Tulare used the guns much, as it was usually surrounded by ships with more firepower, he said.

The ship carried a compliment of two amphibious landing craft — boats that could be driven onto beaches to let out or receive troops and equipment — each ranging in length from 30 to 56 feet long.

Also known by crew members as the "Big T" and "Tu-Tu," the Tulare operated in the Pacific, transporting troops and equipment, particularly during the Vietnam War.

One thing that made the Tulare unique was that its system for distilling sea water into drinking water was so much better than distillation systems in most Navy ships that water rationing wasn't required.

And sometimes, the Tulare served during the Vietnam War as a sort of "floating hotel" where troops could bathe and do their laundry because it had so much available water, Mersich said.

"It was quite luxurious by naval standards."

It also was the first ship of its kind, which meant that other fast-attack cargo transports were designated "Tulare-class" ships.

As for how the Tulare acquired its name, that's not clear.

Navy historical records confirm the ship was named after Tulare County, and newspaper articles from the 1950s recount how Tulare County officials commissioned a bronze plaque that was installed on the ship.

"And amphibious cargo ships were named after counties -†U.S. counties," said Mersich, adding that he didn't know why Tulare County was picked. "This could have been pulled out of a hat, for all I know."

Local historians contacted said they also didn't know the story behind naming the ship, nor did a January 1956 Times-Delta article about local representatives attending the commissioning ceremony at the Bethlehem Pacific Coast Steel Corp. yard in San Francisco.

"She is the largest, fastest attack cargo ship in the fleet. She has the first helicopter platform ever installed on a cargo ship," the article stated, quoting Rear Adm. John R. Redman, commander of the 12th Naval District.

"To her officers and men, [the]Tulare will always be something very special. Long after they have left her, she will be a part of them," he continued.

Mersich said every former crew member he has spoken to has fond memories of the Tulare.

But as time went on, the Tulare was outmatched by other, newer ships and other ways to do its mission.

A lot more transport was done by large cargo aircraft as well as government-owned transport ships with civilian crews that were increasingly used to transport troops, tanks and supplies, Mersich said.

In July 1975, the Tulare became a training ship for the Naval Reserve Force. It operated out of San Francisco, until it was decommissioned in February 1980.

After that, it was moored in Suisun Bay as part of the National Defense Reserve Fleet until it was determined to be obsolete and sold to be scrapped for $1.13 million.

"I feel real sad that it's going to scrap," Bergfalk said.

As for what memorabilia might be salvaged from the Tulare for museums here and other places where they may be displayed, Pilegard said there may not be much available.

"Other museums have picked through it," he said, noting even the ship's bell is long gone.

One of its twin, nine-ton, 50-caliber guns was removed from the ship in 2010 so it could be installed on the USS Hornet — now a floating museum -†in Alameda.

Pilegard said he's been in touch with the company taking the Tulare apart and "They're going to look through and see if anything's left."

Source: Visalia Times Delta. 12 February 2012
http://www.visaliatimesdelta.com/article/20120213/NEWS01/202130312

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

I was on the Tu-Tu from 1975 to 1979 as a gunners mate. I noticed 2 small errors in your article. 1. The Tu-Tu carried 10 landing craft, not 2. 2.You identified the gun mounts as .50 caliber. The correct desigination is 3" .50 Caliber. Thank you for a great article. I too was surprised to learn of her scrapping. Alan Brown

Ronald Herren said...

I Ron Herren had served aboard the USS Tulare AKA 112 from 1963 to 1967. I was a Boilerman with a rate of BT-2 ( E5 ). My last two years aboard the Tulare was performing the duties of water tender. The over seeing and performing Boiler Water Chemistry and water chemical control, fuel oil supply, storage and fuel oil transfers and ship ballast control. While at sea was shift top watch in the operation and maintenance of the boilers to provide steam for the ships main turbines for the operation of the ship.
Had spent many long hours at sea on the Tulare during the Vietnam Era. The Tulare had taken to war equipment, supplies and many young men who had walked upon her Decks to never return alive.
To me to see the USS Tulare to end this way is Sad.

Anonymous said...

I served aboard the USS Tulare from July 1976 to July 1977, I was in the gunnery division as a Fire Control Technician. The main function I remember from those days was setting condition 1 Alpha.
We had many gun exercises' I remember them well. We worked hard and played hard.
John Norotn

Anonymous said...

I served aboard the USS Tulare from July 1976 to July 1977, I was in the gunnery division as a Fire Control Technician. The main function I remember from those days was setting condition 1 Alpha.
We had many gun exercises' I remember them well. We worked hard and played hard.
John Norton

mike bell said...

I was aboard tulare from Jan 75 to June 77. She was a great ship with lots of great memories. She was my first home away from home. Mike Bell postal clerk and quartermaster

Anonymous said...

I served on the TU TU and have been trying to find and get in touch with you AL Brown since 79 when I got out. I was an EM3 and made EM2 before discharge. Remember Alameda and Sanity Park. Still miss Grog who died in the motorcycle crash. The Shamrock and Jonneys? Al email me at sdchanman@yahoo.com.

Stephen Crane said...

ENS Stephen Crane: I served on the Tulare during 1969 - 1971 as OE Division Officer. She was my only "Active Duty" experience. The memories were fond enough that I remained in the Naval Reserve for 33 years, retiring as a Captain. Thanks, Tulare, for some great memories!

Stephen Crane said...

ENS Stephen Crane: I served on the Tulare during 1969 - 1971 as OE Division Officer. She was my only "Active Duty" experience. The memories were fond enough that I remained in the Naval Reserve for 33 years, retiring as a Captain. Thanks, Tulare, for some great memories!

Steve Beck said...

Steve Beck
I served on the Tulare 1968 - 1970. What a great ship. I was in the "A" division working out of the machine shop doing ship board repairs on all of the auxilliary equipment. Made two trips to Vietnam, one to Acapulco to escort navy patrol boats and worked on the ship when it was drydoced at Mare Island shipyared in 1970. All of the men on the ship were great. I have many fond memories of my time aboard her.

Steve Beck said...

Steve Beck
I served on the Tulare 1968 - 1970. What a great ship. I was in the "A" division working out of the machine shop doing ship board repairs on all of the auxilliary equipment. Made two trips to Vietnam, one to Acapulco to escort navy patrol boats and worked on the ship when it was drydoced at Mare Island shipyared in 1970. All of the men on the ship were great. I have many fond memories of my time aboard her.

Steve Beck said...

Steve Beck
I served on the Tulare 1968 - 1970. What a great ship. I was in the "A" division working out of the machine shop doing ship board repairs on all of the auxilliary equipment. Made two trips to Vietnam, one to Acapulco to escort navy patrol boats and worked on the ship when it was drydoced at Mare Island shipyared in 1970. All of the men on the ship were great. I have many fond memories of my time aboard her.

Steve Beck said...

Steve Beck
I served on the Tulare 1968 - 1970. What a great ship. I was in the "A" division working out of the machine shop doing ship board repairs on all of the auxilliary equipment. Made two trips to Vietnam, one to Acapulco to escort navy patrol boats and worked on the ship when it was drydoced at Mare Island shipyared in 1970. All of the men on the ship were great. I have many fond memories of my time aboard her.

Steve Beck said...

Steve Beck
I served on the Tulare 1968 - 1970. What a great ship. I was in the "A" division working out of the machine shop doing ship board repairs on all of the auxilliary equipment. Made two trips to Vietnam, one to Acapulco to escort navy patrol boats and worked on the ship when it was drydoced at Mare Island shipyared in 1970. All of the men on the ship were great. I have many fond memories of my time aboard her.

Rolando Imperial said...

I just came across this article as I decided to research my ships and the "Tu-Tu" was my first one after boot camp. I served aboard as an ETNSN in OE Division from 1977-1979 when she was designated a Training ship and it was an honor to be a member of her final crew. I used to scale over the side and down the roped net to get to the landing crafts to ensure the green (A/N VRC-46) boat radios were ready for when the call to set Condition 1 Alfa was announced. I loved this ship and it made me love the Navy. I went on an retired as a LCDR 29 years after stepping aboard my first ship - USS Tulare (LKA-112). - SN Rolando Imperial (rolando.c.imperial@gmail.com)

Ronald Herren said...

it was good to read your posting

Michael McDermott said...

Just saw this. I spent many a day walking the decks of this ship as we went parts hunting for the USS Hornet. One of my favorite ships to visit along with the USS Holland. Along the way I took many pictures of her inside and out.

http://www.usshornet-cv12.com/Suisun/AKA-112%20USS%20Tulare/index.html

Ronald Herren said...

Yes I have seen your pictures I'm glad you posted them. I had visited the USS hornet couple times it's been a while I like to revisit again and visit the gun mount that was taken off the Tulare it was like a transplant part of her are still exist.