The USS Mid­way

Siloam Springs Herald Leader - - NEWS - Gene Linzey

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 masters.ser­vant@cox.net. The opin­ions ex­pressed are those of the au­thor.

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