The USS Mohawk, a historic battleship that had been resting at a San Carlos Island dock, was sunk for its final service as a veterans' memorial reef July 2.
The 165-foot Mohawk's biggest claim to fame was it radioed Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower with the critical news weather was clearing for the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944.
The warship had been docked at Kelly Brothers Marine Construction off Main Street, where it was stripped to make it environmentally safe and outfitted with twin machine gun replicas.
The last remaining ship of the Battle of the Atlantic - the longest continuous military campaign during World War II - was dropped into the Gulf of Mexico roughly 20 miles offshore Sanibel. Lee County received a $1.3 million grant from the West Coast Inland Navigation District to prepare and sink the vessel.
Mike Campbell, Lee County natural resources senior environmental specialist, said the ship was positioned for sinking July 1. Miami's PNL Towing, which brought the ship to Southwest Florida, did the towing with an assist tug from Kelly Brothers.
"This makes the ship a lasting memorial," said Campbell. "The plan was to sink it on Independence Day but we didn't have enough people working that day."
The former U.S. Coast Guard cutter was gutted of all wiring and residual hydrocarbons.
"We removed anything that was loose or could be dislodged or float off from the ship," said Campbell. "It was lowered by explosive cutting charges."
Divers and anglers will now find her in 90 feet of water near Charlie's Reef, which was installed July 1999 roughly 28 miles due west of Red Fish Pass. More than a dozen artificial reefs lie within a 15-mile radius off Sanibel and Captiva, which enhances snorkeling, scuba diving and fishing.
A study by Florida Sea Grant and University of Florida researchers estimated anglers and divers who use Lee County artificial reefs spend nearly $60 million annually.
Before its final port, the historic relic docked in Key West at the Miami Dade Historical Maritime Museum until it began rusting through the bottom.
Breaking it down for parts would have netted close to a $250,000, but officials decided the more patriotic option was to donate it for an artificial reef.
"This ship is most likely one of the most historically significant pieces ever to be used for this purpose," said Campbell when the boat arrived at San Carlos Island. "It's all about honoring our veterans and providing a positive economic impact on our community."
Commissioned in 1935, the USS Mohawk was assigned to North Atlantic escort operations. She launched 14 attacks against submarines between Aug. 27, 1942, and April 8, 1945.
Lee County's artificial reef program, active since the early 1990s, is funded by state, federal and private grants.
"It is a great honor," Campbell said "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Lee County to be able to participate. This is the last ship of the Battle of the Atlantic, the last ship of what they call the famous class of ships."