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YOKOSUKA, Kanagawa Pref. — The aircraft carrier USS Independence, having been deployed at the U.S. base here for nearly seven years, bid farewell to Japan Tuesday, receiving an emotional sendoff from the sailors’ families and friends.

The Independence, the U.S. Navy’s oldest and only forward-deployed carrier, will be decommissioned and relieved by the USS Kitty Hawk, which is to arrive Aug. 11.

Since its commissioning in January 1959, the 80,000-ton carrier has served in such conflicts as the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars, and has also played a significant role since its 1991 deployment to Yokosuka by serving in the 1996 Taiwan Strait crisis and the recent tension in the Persian Gulf.

“It’s a sad day that the USS Independence leaves Yokosuka, Japan, but it’s also a happy day because the USS Kitty Hawk will be back here next month,” Capt. Mark Milliken, commanding officer of the Independence, told reporters aboard the flattop.

In describing the mood of his sailors on departure, Milliken said it is “mixed,” with half of them returning here aboard the Kitty Hawk and the rest to be stationed elsewhere. “Those of us who are not coming back are very sad and will miss (the relationships with the people here) … there were a lot of tears today,” he said, voicing appreciation for the hospitality and logistical support given by the Japanese.

At a farewell ceremony on the pier in front of the carrier, representatives of the Maritime Self-Defense Force and other local authorities expressed their gratitude for the Independence’s presence in Yokosuka. “Since commissioning, you have made an immeasurable contribution to peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region,” said Vice Adm. Makoto Yamazaki, commander of the Maritime Self-Defense Fleet, adding that the Independence has also contributed greatly to the operational capabilities of the MSDF through joint exercises.

As the massive carrier pulled away from the pier Tuesday, a crowd bid farewell to the sailors by releasing balloons, holding up written messages and crying out sailors’ names.

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