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September Commissioning Milestones

By Devon Hubbard Sorlie, Communication and Outreach Division, Naval History and Heritage Command

Only two ships celebrate major commissioning anniversaries this month, USS Simpson (FFG 56) at 30 years and USS Carter Hall (LSD 50) coming in at 20 years.

30 Years Since Commissioning – USS Simpson

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And, this month will be a double whammy for Simpson! The frigate decommissions at the end of the month as the last remaining frigate (other than the historic ship USS Constitution). And for at least a few days, Constitution and Simpson will be the only two frigates to sink an enemy combatant using shipboard weapons.

USS Simpson was commissioned on Sept. 21, 1985 at Newport, R.I. The Oliver Perry-class frigate is the first U.S. Navy ship named for the late Rear Adm. Rodger W. Simpson, who earned the Legion of Merit for his rescue of 7,500 Allied prisoners of war from Japanese internment camps on April 6, 1944, saving the lives of the sick and starving who likely would not have survived to Japan’s surrender the following year. He also helped free and evacuate POWs in August 1945 following Japan’s verbal surrender.

Following her commissioning, USS Simpson was homeported at Mayport, Fla.

What Else Was Going On in 1985?

  • The price of a gallon of gasoline was around $1.18 during that week in September 1985. Unemployment was 7.2 percent.
  • The median income for a family was around $23,618 out of 88,458 households.
  • The E-4 basic monthly salary (without Basic Allowance for Housing) was $757.40 a month,$9,204 annually
  • Paying only $2.75 per ticket, movie goers were enthralled with Michael J. Fox with “Teen Wolf,” fresh off his other 1985 hit, “Back to the Future” released in July. Vying as the top tunes on the radio that month were Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” vs. “Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and The News.
  • “Lake Wobegon Days” had people chuckling as they read Garrison Keillor’s yarn about a little community in Minnesota, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”
  • On the sporting field, Michael Spinks beat Larry Holmes in 15 rounds to become the Heavyweight Boxing champion.

Simpson’s Ship Highlights

Just a few months following her commissioning, USS Simpson took part in the search and recovery mission after the Jan. 28, 1986 explosion of spaceship Challenger.

Two years after that, while on deployment in the Middle East, Simpson came to the aid of sister frigate Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58) after the ship struck an Iranian mine April 14, 1988. Simpson participated in Operation Praying Mantis, a retaliatory strike against Iran. Simpson sank Iranian mine patrol combatant Joshan and an oil platform.

Throughout the rest of Simpson’s 30-year career, the frigate routinely deployed to support the 5th and 6th Fleet areas of responsibility and participated in numerous multi-national exercises. The frigate’s final deployment began in November 2014 and returned seven months later in June.

Where is Simpson Now?

Following the Sept. 30 decommissioning, Simpson will be towed to Philadelphia to be assessed.

20 Years Since Commissioning – USS Carter Hall

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100126-N-2000D-018 BONEL, Haiti (Jan. 26, 2010) An MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopter lands on the flight deck of the amphibious dock landing ship USS Carter Hall (LSD 50) as the ship operates off the coast of Haiti. The ship was part of the Bataan Amphibious Relief Mission supporting Operation Unified Response, a joint operation providing military support capabilities to civil authorities to help stabilize and improve the situation in Haiti following a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated the island nation on Jan. 12, 2010. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Hendrick Dickson/Released)

USS Carter Hall (LSD 50) was commissioned Sept. 30, 1995 at Julia Street Wharf in New Orleans, La. The Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship is the second U.S. Navy ship to be named for the historical estate in Clarke County, Va., built by Nathaniel Burwell to honor his grandfather, Robert “King” Carter, a wealthy plantation owner and acting governor of Virginia in 1726-27.

The colonial mansion on 8,000 acres overlooking the Shenandoah Valley was once the headquarters for both the Confederate and Union troops during the Civil War. It is now the headquarters of Project Hope’s international health sciences education and training program.

The first USS Carter Hall was landing dock ship LSD-3, which served the Navy on and off between 1943-69.

The second Carter Hall is a Harpers Ferry-class dock landing ship, which is a cargo variant of the Whidbey Island-class of amphibious ships built with a shortened deck for better vehicle and cargo storage for Marines. The ship is homeported at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Va.

What Else Was Going On in 1995?

  • The price of a gallon of gasoline was around $1.11 during that week in September 1995, while unemployment stabilized to around 5.6 percent.
  • The E-4 basic monthly salary (without Basic Allowance for Housing) was $1,056, but the average cost of a home tapped in at $155,000. Movie goers were no doubt deeply disturbed after watching the psychological thriller “Se7en,” where Kevin Spacey’s serial killer used the seven deadly sins as his inspiration, pursued by detective partners Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt.
  • The top tunes on the radio included “Fantasy” by Maria Carey.
  • “The Horse Whisperer” by Nicholas Evans was a top read in September, the fictional story of a Montana horse trainer caught up in a romance with the owner of the horse he is hired to rehabilitate.
  • Dan Marino, quarterback to the Miami Dolphins, graced the cover of the September “Sports Illustrated” magazine’s NFL Preview

Carter Hall’s Ship Highlights 

Over the past 20 years, Carter Hall has routinely deployed from its home port to the 5th and 6th Fleet to participate in maritime security operations.

On June 2, 2007, the landing dock ship fired several shots across the bow of Danish ship MS Danica White after the ship radioed Somalian pirates had boarded the ship and taken control. Carter Hall managed to destroy three smaller ships the Danish ship was towing, but the pirates cruised into Somalian waters, ending Carter Hall’s pursuit of the ship. After 83 days, the Danish firm paid a ransom for the release of the crew and ship.

Carter Hall was among the first ships in Operation Unified Response to bring humanitarian relief to Haiti after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake ravaged the county Jan. 13, 2010.

The ship was sent on a similar humanitarian response on Oct. 31, 2012, after Hurricane Sandy devastated much of the northeastern coast of the United States.

Where is Carter Hall Now?

Carter Hall returned from a 2014 deployment to go into an Extended Drydocking Selected Restricted Availability at General Dynamics’ NASSCO shipyard in Norfolk. Although the ship will have to celebrate its 20th anniversary in the shipyard, it is expected to be operational sometime in October. The ship recently received a new commanding officer, Cmdr. Christina Dalmau, during an Aug. 7 change of command ceremony onboard the ship.