KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — It’s not too often that a sailor takes to sea on a ship’s first voyage, and then attends its retirement.

Tracey Moore remembers the 1988 maiden voyage aboard the USS Lake Champlain, a missile cruiser, like it was yesterday.

“That was actually calm weather. We were riding 40-foot swells,” said Moore.

Moore is what the Navy calls a plank owner. He was a member of the crew when the Lake Champlain was placed in commission. The former Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class was aboard the ship as she was decommissioned in San Diego on September 1.

“It was a proud moment, a sad moment to be able to see them take that flag down for the last time,” said Moore.

Hundreds of former sailors and current active duty Navy officers and staff were there to bid farewell to the ship they had nicknamed, “The Champ.”

“When you hear other sailors talk, about the Lake Champlain. They always looked up to it because it was the best of the best,” said Moore.

“It was awesome to be able to see the ship again. I haven’t seen the ship in 31 years,” said Moore.

Moore said that walking the deck again was awesome and so was seeing his buddies again. The sudden recognition of remembering the face, but not the name, was special.

“It’s just like catching up with them the next day. Even though you haven’t seen them forever,” said Moore.

Moore was 18, right out of McMinn County High School, when he volunteered to join the Navy in 1987.

“I was the young man who you heard that ran off and joined the military. My mom found out that I was going in the Navy, two weeks before I left,” said Moore. “She was not happy.”

When asked what made him go into the Navy, Moore only had one thing to say.

“I wanted to serve my country,” said Moore.

Moore and many of the original crew members were aboard The Champ during the first Gulf War in early 1991. When Mt. Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines in June 1991, the ship evacuated more than 800 people covering 2,500 miles in five days.

“We made three trips in. 300 people each time. We would evacuate them out to an Island about 400 miles away,” said Moore. “When you look at the clouds, it looks like it’s really bad weather. But it’s not. It is ash clouds.”

The Champ may be retired, but the memories its crew shared and the legacy they made will live forever in their hearts.

If you know a Veteran who could be recognized, send Don Dare an email at or give him a call at 865-633-6923.