USS Curts decommissioned at Naval Base San Diego: Ceremony held after 29 years of missions

Ship named after WWII vet Adm. Maurice E. Curts

SAN DIEGO - The guided-missile frigate USS Curts was decommissioned Friday in a ceremony at Naval Base San Diego.

The vessel, dubbed ".38 Special" by its first crew, served in Operation Desert Storm and deployed on anti-smuggling missions. The nickname is derived from its hull number, FFG 38.

In the Persian Gulf War, crew members captured an Iraqi garrison on Qaruh Island, taking 51 Iraqi prisoners. The Curts crew also destroyed mines, sank an Iraqi minelayer and supported combat helicopter operations during the Battle of Bubiyan Island.

While the frigate was based in Japan in the 1990s, it rescued hundreds of people when Mt. Pinatubo exploded in the Philippines. It was later stationed in San Diego.

In 2004, Curts received national attention for seizing 12 tons of cocaine in the largest maritime cocaine interdiction in history. In its recently completed final deployment to the Eastern Pacific and Caribbean Sea, the crew seized more than $26 million in cocaine and marijuana, detained more than 30 traffickers and scuttled seven vessels, according to federal authorities.

"It was a very good ship, very reliable, outstanding crew, just a fantastic opportunity," ex-sailor Steve Phariss told a local media outlet.

The driving rain matched the mood of the 20 original crew members called plank owners.

"She's been a part of my life for 30 years; it's sad," said John Woodbury.  

Another plank owner, Paul Huscher agreed.

"It's an emotional day, it really is," Huscher said.

"One of the things that saddens me is that I have to leave my sailors and that we all will scatter to the four corners of the earth," said the ship's last captain, Cmdr. Fermin Espinoza.

The ship is named after Adm. Maurice E. Curts, who became a hero when U.S. forces returned to the Philippines in World War II. He was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions during the amphibious landings on Leyte and during the Battle for Leyte Gulf from Oct. 17-29, 1944.

At the time, Curts was captain of the light cruiser USS Columbia. According to his Navy Cross citation, he maneuvered his ship through enemy-infested waters, defending U.S. forces against air attacks and assisting in the sinking of at least one Japanese battleship, a cruiser and six destroyers.

The Michigan-born Curts, who rose to become commander of the Pacific Fleet before he retired from the Navy in 1960, died in 1976 at the age of 77 and is buried alongside his first wife at Arlington National Cemetery.

The Navy is gradually paring down the numbers of Oliver Perry-class frigates in favor of destroyers and the versatile new littoral combat ships, which are designed for fighting in coastal waters. According to U-T San Diego, the Curts will be towed to Hawaii and offered for sale to foreign navies. It will be scrapped if there are no takers.

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