By Alex Lippa
---- — HAMPSTEAD — In 1983, John Ingemi was one of the first men to step foot on the USS Klakring prior to its maiden voyage. Last weekend, that experience came full circle for Ingemi.
Ingemi, a Hampstead resident, was the last to step off the USS Klakring at a decommissioning ceremony in Mayport, Fla., Saturday.
He and 25 of his fellow sailors were honored for being part of the ship’s first crew. The 450-foot-long ship carried close to 200 sailors at any given time, he said.
“It was very emotional for me,” said Ingemi, 49. “We went through a lot together as a crew and I saw a lot of faces I hadn’t seen in years.”
Ingemi first deployed from Bath, Maine, where the ship was built and commissioned. He spent five years on the guided-missile frigate, traveling into dangerous waters. The ship went into the Persian Gulf and engaged in combat with enemy ships off the coasts of Iraq and Iran. Ingemi was a key member of the crew, working in the combat information center.
“When combat happened, that was the place to be,” Ingemi said. “We operated the weapons, sonar and electronic communication. We were the ones who realized the threats and made judgment calls on how to proceed.”
He joined the Navy in 1983 when he was just 18. Following in the footsteps of his uncles, he said it was an obvious choice.
“I just knew I always wanted to serve my country,” he said. “It wasn’t always pleasant, but it was a great experience.”
Ingemi has continued to serve the public as a volunteer firefighter in Hampstead. He also is a full-time software sales executive.
In Florida, Ingemi reminisced about those days and traded stories.
“I would compare it to a high school or college reunion, but it was much different than that,” Ingemi said. “These are people who I was with when we went into combat and faced down people who wanted to do us with harm.”
The event was organized by Chris Whalley, a former ship commander from Maine. He reached out to his former colleagues through social media.
“When you serve on a ship and have a good crew, it always hits home,” Whalley said. “We had all lost touch with each other and it was really a wonderful experience.”
Ingemi said he expected the weekend to make him feel like he was getting old; instead, he felt revitalized.
“For a brief second, I felt like I was 18 again,” he said. “I wished I could set sail with her one more time.”
But bells were rung, flags were lowered and the ship was officially retired. Before that happened, the crew left the ship one by one, in reverse order of how they entered it in 1983.
“I felt honored as I left the ship,” he said. “I remembered the impact it had on my life. It gave me my first sense of responsibility and it is something I’ll never forget.”