Navy veteran John Baker hopes to journey from Kansas to lay a lei across the bow of the USS Oklahoma City before the vessel makes it final Pacific voyage Feb. 17.
After 55 years of service, the USS Oklahoma City will end its naval career serving as target practice during a training exercise near Guam next month.
"It'll be a sad event," said Baker in a telephone interview from his home in Winfield, Kan., "but at the same time, it's nice to know she will serve one more useful purpose by allowing men in the Navy to practice their skills."
Baker, 54, now serves as president of the USS Oklahoma City Association that has a mailing list of more than 500 sailors.
Baker served on the Oklahoma City from 1964-66. That was after a 1957 transformation that converted the 610-foot warship from a cruiser with 12 six-inch guns and 12 five-inch cannons to a guided-missile cruiser capable of firing Talos missiles.
"She fired many naval gun fire support missions during the Vietnam War," Baker said, "and in August 1965 was featured on the cover of Life magazine firing right off of Da Nang."
Master Chief Paul Ramirez, 44, said his tour on the USS Oklahoma City was the reason he stayed in the Navy.
"She was my first love," said Ramirez, who has spent 24 years on six Navy ships.
When he was piped aboard the cruiser in 1977 for the first time, the Oklahoma City was the flagship of the 7th Fleet, home-ported in Yokosuka, Japan.
"It was great," he said. "We had the band aboard. We were the ambassadors abroad and got to go to different ports on goodwill missions."
Launched on Feb. 20, 1944, the USS Oklahoma City joined Carrier Group 38.1 for the Okinawan campaign of World War II and served as part of the occupational forces stationed in Tokyo Bay until Jan. 30, 1946.
In June 30, 1947, the ship was decommissioned for the first time and placed in the U.S. Pacific Reserve Fleet in San Francisco.
After being converted to a guided-missile cruiser, the Oklahoma City was recommissioned on Sept. 7, 1957.
During the Vietnam War, it fired missiles against North Vietnamese radar sites and served as 7th Fleet flagship.
It was decommissioned in 1979 and mothballed in California.
Baker, whose last visit to the Oklahoma City was in 1995, hopes to fly to Hawaii to make one more trip through the ship's wardroom and bridge to remove some items for a museum in Oklahoma City.