Battleland

Obit for a Carrier

  • Share
  • Read Later
Navy photo / MC 3rd Class Jeff Atherton

The USS Enterprise heads home last fall after her 25th, and final, deployment since her commissioning in 1961.

The U.S.S. Enterprise has left the oceans. She is survived by 10 flat-topped behemoths. Services will be private.

Last month, the Big E, also known as CVN-65, left active-duty Navy service in a formal deactivation ceremony at Pier 12 in Norfolk, Va., attended by nearly 12,000 family members and close friends.

She was the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, able to cruise at 30 knots, thanks to reactors generating more than 200,000 horsepower.

(PHOTOS: A Month with the Military)

ent1

Navy Photo / PM 2nd Class Douglas M. Pearlman

The Enterprise in the Atlantic a decade ago.

At 1,123 ft. (342 m), she was the longest warship in the history of the world.

She was the eighth vessel to bear the name Enterprise.

This Saturday will mark the 50th anniversary of the start of its maiden voyage from Norfolk. “She will reign a long, long time,” Navy Secretary John B. Connally Jr. predicted at her commissioning, “as queen of the seas.”

Admirals and sailors — not to mention Presidents — like to speak of these 100,000-ton monsters as “4 1/2 acres of sovereign U.S. territory.” So it’s a grim moment when one slips into history. Kind of like losing a state, or at least a territory. Albeit one that can move.

For a half-century, Enterprise carried about 60 aircraft around the globe, flinging them skyward from its four steam-powered catapults and enabling their landings with four arresting cables designed to catch their tailhooks. In May 2011 she became the fourth carrier to achieve 400,000 arrested landings.

But that’s all in the past. Hives of contractors are now buzzing aboard the Enterprise, docked at Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia, removing the tools, furniture and other flotsam that made Enterprise home for more than 100,000 sailors since she was commissioned in 1961.

120121-D-TT977-009

Navy photo / MCS 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta aboard the Big E in 2012.

Spray-painted orange lines now deface her deck, not unlike those inked on a patient before surgery. The steel will be cut open so cranes can plumb the ship’s depths and haul away close to a half-billion dollars’ worth of gear that can be used aboard other ships.

(PHOTOS: Inside the Armed Forces: November)

“After seeing the ship in action,” Lieut. Commander Sarah Self-Kyler told the hometown Virginian-Pilot newspaper last month, “it’s kind of depressing.”

The designation of ships with feminine pronouns suggests that for those who served aboard, Enterprise was more than mere metal; she was mortal. So do the nearly 50,000 Likes the ship has chalked up on her Facebook page.

And as with all aging relations, old salts’ questions don’t sound that different from those asked by young grandchildren as their parents’ parents pass from this life, even if the Navy’s official answers are as unsatisfying as those from Mom and Dad.

What’s going to happen to her?

Hydraulic systems will be drained and expendable materials, tools, spare parts and furnishings will be removed. Additionally, tanks containing oil and other fluids will be drained and cleaned, any hazardous material will be removed, and the ship’s electrical and lighting systems will be de-energized. Concurrent with inactivation, the ship will be defueled using the same proven techniques that have been used successfully to refuel and defuel over 350 Naval nuclear-powered warships.

Why can’t we just fix her up and keep her sailing?

The U.S.S. Enterprise has been in service for over 50 years. Many of the major components and other equipment are nearing the end of their useful life, and it is not cost effective to further extend Enterprise for combat operations.

Well, why can’t she be turned into a museum?

The cost to maintain a ship as a museum is generally cost prohibitive. As the ship is inactivated, equipment that may be of historic interest will be reclaimed and passed on to museums or appropriate Navy commands so Enterprise‘s many contributions to the nation’s defense over the past half-century are remembered.

Some of Enterprise‘s old sailors recall her fondly, if a bit mysteriously. “1978–1980,” one notes. “Did the WesPac78 w/Enterprise. An experience I won’t soon forget!”

Others are more somber. “Was on her in Cuba, attack squad 64 black lancers back in 1962,” one posts. “Said good by 2 weeks ago in Norfolk with two of my squadron buddies. I cried.”

(PHOTOS: Remembering the Cuban Missile Crisis)

One woman wishes she could have attended Enterprise’s deactivation ceremony last month. “I would have like to have attended on behalf of my uncle,” she says. “He worked on the Enterprise when she was first constructed. He insulated pipes with asbestos. He died in 1974 from the asbestos. The print he received of the ship, with the letter from management attached on the back, hang on my bedroom wall. He was proud of his participation in building this ship.”

ent5

Navy photo

The U.S.S. Enterprise on Jan. 14, 1969.

Others recall her grimmest day: Jan. 14, 1969, when, while in the Pacific, a Zuni rocket accidentally exploded under the wing of an F-4, setting off an inferno that killed 27. “We fought hard, real hard, to keep her afloat during the 1969 fire please don’t let her die like this,” one former sailor pleads.

Yet most seem pleased just to have the chance to bid her fair winds and following seas. “I know that the Enterprise isn’t the youngest girl at the ball, but she can dance with the best of them,” one says. “My respect to the ship and the men and women who served on her.”

Enterprise will spend six months at Norfolk before being towed — towed! — some eight miles (13 km) or so to Newport News shipyard, where her keel was laid in February 1958, for more demolition work. Defueling her eight nuclear reactors (a pair per prop shaft) will begin there. Then she will be towed — there’s that word again! — 14,000 nautical miles around Cape Horn, at the southern end of South America, for final disposition at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Washington state.

CJTFEX '96

Navy Photo / Mike Carrado

At sea aboard the Enterprise, 1996.

In addition to the Navy’s 10 currently steaming carriers, three of the new Ford class are now under construction. The U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford will set sail in 2015, followed by the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy in 2020.

The third ship of the class, the U.S.S. Enterprise, CVN-80, is slated to sail in 2025.

PHOTOS: War/Photography by Geoff Dyer

39 comments
EdwardBuck
EdwardBuck

SHE WAS A GREAT SHIP AND WILL BE MISSED BY ALL THAT SERVED ON HER . PO3 BUCK

eet0505
eet0505

I served on the Big E  as a radioman from June 1977 till May 1978. Went on Wespac 78 and got off in the Philippines in May of 78 and was flown back to San Francisco, Ca to be discharged, and back to civilian life.  At the time I didn't like shipboard life, but  it gave me good memories.  The beds were like a shelve with about a two inch mattress, and a M*A*S *H  type blanket.  It was an adventure that I will never forget. Also got to see a Russian spy ship that sailed along side of us one time. Also made a lot of friends on board. 

littlesister
littlesister

I sure wish I could have seen the Enterprise in person, My brother lost his life on deck. April of 1976. I would like to know if he was really messing around when he died..

MikeDontchaknow
MikeDontchaknow

I'd rather see her torn asunder or at the bottom of the ocean rather than see her as a museum.  IMO that's not the proper way to treat a warship.  Warships belong at sea and not as some dog and pony show so kids can spill cokes on her flattop and dispose of their bubblegum on the bulkheads and angle irons.


It was a good run Big E, I'm proud to served on her.

WillSmith
WillSmith

Sinking her to serve as a reef would be better than cutting her to pieces. She could still be enjoyed and remembered for 100+ more years by divers, while providing a home for marine life as an artificial reef. 

RobGaston
RobGaston

Fix your photo credits. Mass Communication Specialist is MC, not MCS. Pearlman was a Photographer's Mate, which was PH not PM.

Dimitri
Dimitri

Worked on the Enterprise for about a year as a civilian building hanging scaffolds a few years back..Glad to be part of history.

jaskazo
jaskazo

I first "saw" the big E when enroute to the Domican Republic crisis when my radar operator said "This island is moving".  Instead of going around the islands, loosing time, she went thru them.  It was nearing sunrise, as I remember, so I went from CIC to the port side and looked.  I never saw a ship so big (at that time).

We (an LSD) could only do 14 knots so our second surprize was when she brought out into clear waters and her skipper kicked her in the (perverbial).  I had to look again  because we could not believe her speed.  The rear end was so low in the water she looked like a dragster with a green light.

Cannot understand taking her all the way around - my ship (now most of her is owned by Gillett) was torn down in Texas.  What a cost this is to the public - for cutting her into razor blades?  Does not make sense - would like to know why.

mtclifford
mtclifford

We could scrap six more and still have twice as many carriers as the next country on the list.


You wanna cut back spending, get rid of the military industrial pork barrel complex. 

srbm
srbm

I was one of the fortunate people to tour the Enterprise when she was docked in Alameda during the Vietman war years of late 1960's. It was 1967 and I got to board the great ship and stand on her top deck, it seemed to go on forever. I remember each time she left the San Francisco Bay  the traffic was stopped on the Golden Gate Bridge at extreme low tide and she would go through the gates with just enough room on each side and I believe 18 inch from the top of her radar to the bottom of the bridge. Those experiences are some of my greatest memories.  Thank you Enterprise.

Lara.C
Lara.C

After having served aboard ENTERPRISE for 5 years, I attended the very lovely farewell ceremony.  When it was announced that there would indeed be another ENTERPRISE, there was a collective intake of breath among the attendees and I don't think there were many lips without grins or eyes without extra moisture, just for a few seconds.  It was one of those Moments, and then it passed.  I am glad I was able to experience it. 

dbm77
dbm77

I'm 58 years old and I remember reading about "The Big E" when I was in elementary school.

Catori
Catori

Look - there goes part of the national debt, that was approved by Eisenhower & is now blamed on Obama.

CarlZacchara
CarlZacchara

A fitting tribute to the Big E would be to designate the new carrier..CVN-65-A.


ssh1469
ssh1469

I went to the inactivation ceremony with my father who served aboard during its second deployment.  He was there during the missile crisis as was Sen. John McCain and was on its first round the world voyage.  He worked in the photo lab and one of his pictures was found in the inactivation ceremony program book.  He showed us where he worked and said "this is where I hung my Playboy calendar."  My daughter was mortified.  I grew up listening to his naval stories.  Now, I get to be a part of those memories.  As formidable as it was, the ship was definitely showing its age.  I hope they use the same care in its deconstruction as they did with its construction.  It is ironic that my birth date is the same day as the day of the missile explosion that claimed many sailors' lives.  At the ceremony, the naval secretary announced that CVN80 would be christened Enterprise.  The crowd roared in excitement and pride.  My dad teared up several times on his last visit aboard the Big E.

AndyBittner
AndyBittner

The writer should look up the word, "flotsam", and only use it as is appropriate. It is used incorrectly in this article.

tom67459814
tom67459814

I sailed on the Saratoga with VMAQ 2 back in the mid 80's, best and worst of times ! Do miss night time flights ops.  does any one else recall that when you are passing the straights of Gibralter on the way back from the med how you can smell the change from the med to the Atlantic Ocean.  Majorica :-)

Smarg
Smarg

The Navy is no longer the same.  Male/female prostitute rings aboard ships satisfy the Worst Generation of homosexual sailors.

God help us.

SteveChappell
SteveChappell

My older brother served on Big E for a couple cruises in the late 80's, early 90's.  I was fortunate enough to be able to take a tour a couple times...easily my favorite carrier that I toured (Nimitz, Kitty, Connie).  It is good to know that the name will return to the seas and our defense in 2025.

tycointl
tycointl

Why not sink her and turn her into a natural reef?  that way she could continue to serve in a different manner, but still continue to serve...

MattW
MattW

Goodbye and thanks for your service, and thanks to the many servicemen and servicewomen whom you sheltered for over half a century, for their sacrifice and commitment.

BobKlingenberg
BobKlingenberg

It's good to know there will be another Enterprise. This is an off spring whose capabilities will be an order of magnitude more powerful. The old lady would be proud.

TomTrujillo
TomTrujillo

Good bye Big E!  I thought she was going to be my ship in 1981 when I completed aircrew training in San Diego.  I wound up on the USS America CV66 n Norfolk VA of all places (Big E was a west coast carrier at the time.)  It would have been nice.  Though not a carrier, in a couple years there will be a new USS America (LHA6) in the fleet, and in 2025 a new Big E.  Things will be back to normal!

macattack2142
macattack2142

Will Bush Jr. do a final Tap dance number on the flight deck in front of an " America's Economy destroyed! Mission Accomplished! " sign for all to see?!!!!!!??????


Inquiring minds want to know!

Raffee
Raffee

Wow.....how do I start I can't believe the Enterprise will not be around anymore. My father and Uncle both served on that ship from 1976-1980. Both of our families lived in Alameda California at the time. I remember being so proud of the fact that my dad was on the Enterprise. My brothers and I would always let the other kids know if your dad wasn't on the "Big E" he wasn't  nothing. The Corral Sea was docking right across the pier. My dad was on that too at one time. Also, the Kearsarge (Sorry about spelling) but it was the Enterprise that he spoke with the most pride. He was on that WesPac 78 cruise and he would just laugh his head off talking about it. I am currently living in Dc and wish I had known about the decommissioning I surely would have made the drive. My dad passed away in November 2007 and he would speak with a great deal of pride about the "Big E". Well so long and God Bless those she served and those who served on her.

PatrickReilly
PatrickReilly

@WillSmith  Won't happen.  much of the ship design was used in current carriers-making divers exploring her a no-no.  Besides, they already have Oriskany.


PatrickReilly
PatrickReilly

@jaskazo  Prestty serious s**t, eh?  I was on  trials after a yard period-old man decided to have a bit of fun at 30+ knots by putting the rudder hard over.   Yee-hah!  

BraxtonLeeAndersonIII
BraxtonLeeAndersonIII

@mtclifford While not a fan of the Military Industrial Complex and NEVER served in the Navy either.  We are a country that sits on two Oceans therefore we need a two Ocean Fleet. With the capability of policing the THREE Oceans on the Planet and the Mediterrean Sea.  I don't see no less than 8 Carriers to do that.  With the other 2 waiting in the wings since these things after all are Nuclear Powered. 

PatrickReilly
PatrickReilly

@Lara.C sharp breath followed by one helluva lot of cheering-protocol be damned!  I was there as well-you hit it spot on!

ChrisGabayaSr.
ChrisGabayaSr.

@Catori  I'm no fan of Obama but this mess the country is in started when FDR decided to make this country a welfare state. We'vr been in spend and tax mode since the early 30's.

dbaker13
dbaker13

She will be missed, glad to hear that a another is on the way.  My father served on the Enterprise in the mid 70's as part of VF-1 stationed out of Miramar.  I know if he was around today he would be saddened but understand that her time is up.  I have some fond memories of her and Raffee is right, if your father wasn't on the Enterpriese, the he wasn't on any ship that really mattered.

My son is now in the Navy as a nuclear engineer, maybe he will get a chance to serve on the new Enterprise, I know that his grandfather would really have liked that.

God Bless all those who have served, continue to serve and will serve our country.

macattack2142
macattack2142

@Raffee 

I salute your Father and all those in your family before him that served! :) Sorry to hear he's passed! :( I know how you feel. That ship served and protected us during  some of the best years our lives, well my best years during the eighties! I also had  a father in the Army reserves LT. Colonel. Take care and God bless.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,105 other followers