Remarks on the Decommissioning of USS KAUFFMAN (FFG-59)

Norfolk Naval Station

This ceremony has special poignancy for those of us who attended both the launching of KAUFFMAN in 1986 and her commissioning a year later. KAUFFMAN was one of many ships that went down the ways in those great years for our navy, as we built up toward President Reagan’s goal of a 600-ship fleet. What we witness today is the shrinkage of that fleet.

Yes, the newer ships around us here in Norfolk are far more capable than the Perry class of frigates like KAUFFMAN, but the world – and America’s responsibilities within it – have not shrunk. As long as we have commitments in the Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, the South and East China Seas, not to forget our home waters, numbers will continue to count.

Like you, I look forward to the day, perhaps soon, when the US Navy will grow again – not just with brown-water gunboats but with real capital ships, able to go in harm’s way and keep us safe from harm.

It has become common, if not quite trite, for people to say to those who either wear or have worn the uniform of our country, “Thank you for your service.” When this is said to me, I accept the sentiment gratefully, remembering an ugly time in our recent history when the military was vilified.

I also think of the time I was stopped for speeding in a small Montana town. It may have been a speed trap, or maybe I wasn’t paying attention to the signs, but the officer proceeded to write a ticket. Then he stopped and asked, “Sir, are you a veteran?” Thrilled at the sudden prospect of reprieve, I said, Why, yes, I am. The officer handed me a very valid ticket and said, “Thank you for your service.”

Well, there is no doubt that the two Admirals Kauffman deserved thanks for their monumental service to the United States, as does this ship and her crews, past and present. It was my special privilege to know Rear Admiral Draper Kauffman, a true American hero, and his wonderful wife, universally called Mrs. K. She exemplified the long and proud tradition of Navy families who meet difficulties and dislocation with cheery resolve.

It was also my pleasure to know this ship’s sponsor, the late Elizabeth Kauffman (or Beth) Bush, daughter of Admiral James Kauffman. When she was born in Annapolis in 1922, her parents asked their friend and neighbor, Mrs. Wallis Spencer, wife of an early naval aviator, to stand as godmother. Mrs. Spencer agreed, but she didn’t prove a very attentive godmother; she had other ambitions. In due course, she divorced Commander Spencer, married a rich man named Simpson, divorced him, and married the ex-king of England. So much for her goddaughter’s moral upbringing.

Well, a ship’s sponsor is very much like her godmother, and Beth Bush gave this ship all the love and attention she never received from her own godmother.

There are many stories that can be told about a ship and the people connected with her. Herman Wouk’s great Navy novel, The Caine Mutiny, ends with the decommissioning of the old destroyer-minesweeper CAINE. In words that Captain Concannon could echo this morning, the CAINE’s last skipper tells this to her crew,

“Every hour spent on the CAINE was a great hour in our lives. If you don’t think so now you will later on, more and more. We were all doing part of what had to be done to keep our country existing, not any better than before, just the same old country that we love…. CAINE duty is the kind of duty that counts. The high-powered stuff just sets the date and place of the victory won by the CAINEs.”

Substitute one name for another, and there is the solid ring of truth: KAUFFMAN duty is the kind of duty that counts. That duty may have been routine, wet, hot, cold, dirty, and boring, but for close to 30 years it formed the sinew of a great fleet and a great fleet’s mission.

Sheerly by virtue of its size, a frigate brings its crew closer to the sea, closer to the action, and closer to each other. Over time, crew members here this morning and those who preceded them will agree that every hour spent on KAUFFMAN was a great hour in their lives.

Having done her duty, USS KAUFFMAN is now retired. It is altogether appropriate, and not trite, to say to ship, crew, and Kauffman family members alike, Thank you for your service. Our country is better for it.

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