The USS Midway
I could hardly believe my eyes, but there it was — the USS Midway — in the middle of downtown San Diego!
Well, it isn’t actually in the middle of town, but it is moored at the Broadway Pier in the San Diego Harbor; and that is, essentially, downtown. It was February of 2010 and gently warm weather; but as my son said, “A Southern California winter is like a northern New Mexico summer.”
Commissioned in 1945 one week after WWII ended, the USS Midway (CV41), a U.S. Naval aircraft carrier, served through the Korean Conflict, the Viet Nam war, and was the Persian Gulf flagship during Operation Desert Storm. She was also the only carrier to serve throughout the entire Cold War.
It was the largest ship in the world until 1955 and could not go through the Panama Canal. It is over three football fields long (1,001 feet), the flight deck is 258 feet wide at the widest point, and the ship currently weighs 45,000 tons. (It weighed approximately 65,000 tons during active duty.)
More than 4,100 people were stationed on board and it took four galleys (kitchens) to feed them. That is interesting when we consider that many towns across America have a population of less than 2,000. The ship’s electrical system generated 8,000 KWHs, which, I was told, could power a million small homes in 1945, but might provide power for approximately 265-300 homes today.
The Midway was named after the famous Battle of Midway where the USS Yorktown (CV-5) was sunk. Dad was there, but that is next week’s story.
The USS Midway saw active duty for an unprecedented 47 years, and was decommissioned (retired) in 1992. It sailed to Bremerton, Wash., where it was refitted as a floating museum, and finally docked in San Diego, Calif., in January 2004. In the first 12 months as a floating museum, the Midway had 879,281 visitors, which was double the number expected.
Our guide in February of 2010 was Master Chief Mil Phillips (USN, Ret.), one of my dad’s personal friends, and that made the tour more meaningful. Before dad died, he said to Mil, “Chief, give my son the works.” That meant give us a first-class tour. So Chief Phillips spent four hours with Carol and me rather than the regular 2-hour tour; and for extra measure in honor of dad, the Chief waived the entrance fee.
Boarding the Midway on the starboard (right) side, we entered the hangar deck. Here, Mil gave us our safety briefing, showed us where the on-board café and gift shop were, then showed us a 10-minute film on the history of The Fighting Lady. (The USS Yorktown CV-5 was The Original Fighting Lady.)
The flight deck sits 50 feet above the harbor. The island (the part of the ship that sits on the flight deck) is impressive as it stands as tall as a 20-story building. Planes and helicopters are stationed along the flight deck.
Landing a plane on a 1,001-foot long floating runway is not as easy as it looks. For comparison, the average length of a military land-based runway is between 1.5 to 3 miles long. To complicate things, the ship is at the mercy of the sea and weather. Therefore, as the ship is underway (moving), it normally bobs up-and-down and pitches (rolls) from side-to-side which presents a danger for pilots.
For example: on June 23, 1951, Commander George Chamberlain Duncan was coming in for a landing. (During take-offs and landings, the ship heads into the wind, and the planes both launch and land heading into the wind.) But his F9F-5 Panther hit a down-draft just as he approached the stern (rear) of the ship. The Panther crashed onto the stern and broke in half. The flaming fuselage forward of the wing, with Chamberlain in it, careened down the flight deck. Although burned, he miraculously survived the ordeal.
Many of you may have seen that crash. All launches and landings are filmed, and Duncan’s crash was included in three movies: “Men of the Fighting Lady,” “Midway,” and “The Hunt for Red October.”
Various activities also are allowed on board the ship. On Nov. 11, 2012, a college basketball game between the Syracuse Orange and the San Diego State Aztecs was played on the flight deck. Syracuse won, 62-49.
Well, I am out of space, but I hope you visit the USS Midway next time you are in San Diego.
— Gene Linzey is a speaker, author, mentor and president of the Siloam Springs Writers Guild. Send comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed are those of the author.