Monday, November 5, 2012


Last Friday I was helping some brothers of Project 52 load a container of supplies headed to the Dominican Republic.  There were about 9-10 of us...some in their 20's, some middle-aged and then there was a few older souls.  Afterwards, I struck up a conversation with Kurt about his family and he inquired of mine.  When I told him of two of my sons serving our country I could see his ears perk up.  He thanked me for their service.  He knew what commitment meant.

Kurt proceeded with his "knowing words" as he spoke of his service career.  I could see it in his eyes as he returned to1967, the year he enlisted in the Navy.  That was 45 years ago....but Kurt was right in the timeline.  He talked of his basic training at Naval Station Great Lakes near Chicago, Illinois and then onto his assignment with the USS Enterprise.

Minute by minute, Kurt was reliving his days on the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and I was getting a history lesson.  I'm not sure who came away the better for our conversation that day.  In practical terms, I should call it a draw.

USS Enterprise on the move...... 

"How many days would you go out at a time", I asked.  "Sometimes 60 days", he recalled.  "And how many people were aboard", I questioned.  "Nearly, 5,000", he shot back.  That's when my wheels started churning imagining a small town floating in waters in virtually every part of the world.  And most importantly, providing protection for our country.

Kurt shared a whole bunch more with me, but I knew when I got home I'd have to dig more.  Just what did the USS Enterprise mean in the grand scheme of things?  Well, here's a couple tidbits:

"In October, 1962, only nine months after she was commissioned, the Enterprise was dispatched to its first international crisis.  Enterprise and the other ships in the Second Fleet set up quaratine of all military equipment under shipment to communist Cuba.  The blockade was put in place on October 24th, and the first Soviet ship was stopped the next day.  On October 28th, Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev agreed to dismantle nuclear missiles and bases in Cuba, concluding the Cuban Missile Crisis, the closest the U.S. and USSR have ever come to nuclear war.

In the Fall of 2001, Enterprise aborted her transit home from a long deployment after the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington D.C., on September 11th and steamed overnight to the North Arabian Sea.  In direct support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Big 'E' once again took its place in history by becoming one of the first units to respond in a crisis with its awesome striking power."    

Pretty impressive, don't you think?  But along with her moments of glory came one not so memorable.  As I read the following paragraph, I remembered Kurt telling me of this incident. although he glossed over it in pretty short order.      

"During the morning of 14 January, 1969, while being escorted by destroyers US Benjamin Stoddert and USS Rogers, a MK-32 Zuni rocket loaded on a parked F-4 Phantom exploded due to ordnance cook off after being overheated by an aircraft start unit mounted to a tow tractor.  The explosion set off fires and additional explosions across the flight deck.  27 lives were lost and 314 men were injured.  15 aircraft were destroyed.  Additional damage to the Enterprise caused her to be put in for repairs at Pearl Harbor for a number of months."

A view of the Enterprise after rocket explosion in 1969

"Is she still running", I asked Kurt, not wanting to appear any dumber than I was with the comment, but I was curious.  "I'm not sure", he said. "Just not sure.  Haven't been any where near her since I completed my service".  Moments later we shook hands and headed our merry ways.  All along, I'm thinking, this would be a great item to share.  Then this story hit me right between the eyes on Sunday night:   

"The world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier ended its remarkable career at sea on Sunday when it pulled into its home port for the final time after participating in every major conflict since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

The USS Enterprise began shutting down its eight nuclear reactors almost as soon as it arrived at its pier at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia, where thousands of cheering family members and friends welcomed the ship home from its 25th and final deployment after nearly eight months at sea. The ship will never move on its own power again and will eventually be scrapped in Washington state, making its final voyage a sentimental one for those who have sailed aboard "The Big E."

Copies of the ship's daily newspaper, "The Shuttle," were in short supply as sailors looked for memorabilia to take with them. Countless personal photos were taken by sailors throughout the ship as it approached shore.

"It's exceptionally emotional and exceptionally satisfying," Rear Adm. Ted Carter, commander of the Enterprise Strike Group, said as Naval Station Norfolk came into view and his sailors manned the rails.

However, Carter is the first to say that the Enterprise's final deployment was anything but a sentimental victory lap. The ships' fighter planes flew more than 2,200 combat sorties and dropped 56 bombs in Afghanistan while supporting U.S. and international ground troops. In a show of force to Iran, the ship also passed through the strategic Strait of Hormuz 10 times, a figure that Carter said is more than double the typical amount.

The Enterprise has been a frequent traveler to the Middle East over its career. It was the first nuclear-powered carrier to transit through the Suez Canal in 1986, and it was the first carrier to respond following the Sept. 11 attacks, changing course overnight to head to the Arabian Sea.

An entire room on the ship serves as a museum to its history, which includes a large photo of the burning Twin Towers placed in a timeline that wraps around a wall.

The Navy will officially deactivate the Enterprise on Dec. 1, but it will take several more years for it to be decommissioned as its reactors are taken out.  About 15,000 people are expected to attend the deactivation ceremony, which will be its last public ceremony after several days of tours for former crew members.

Those who have served on the ship have a unique camaraderie. It is the second-oldest ship in the Navy after the USS Constitution, and its age has frequently shown.  Sailors who work on the Enterprise have a saying: "There's tough, then there's Enterprise tough."

Things frequently break down, and spare parts for a ship that's the only one in its class aren't made anymore.
"She's just old, so you got to work around her," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Danielle Almaraz, an electronic technician. "We have to make our own parts sometimes because it just doesn't exist."

Those deployed on the Enterprise knew life wouldn't be easy at sea, a fact highlighted last year when former commanding officer Capt. Owen Honors was fired for airing raunchy videos that he said were intended to boost morale. During a hearing in which Honors was trying to avoid being kicked out of the Navy, he and his lawyers frequently referenced the difficult conditions on board. Honors was found to have committed misconduct, but ultimately allowed to stay in the service. He is retiring in April.

Some of the ship's original crew members from 51 years ago -- known as plank owners -- were among the 1,500 civilians who joined the Enterprise for its last two days at sea, known as a Tiger Cruise.

JFK watching flight ops from Big "E's" bridge

"This is the end of an era that I helped start, so I was just honored that the captain invited me on board. There's no way I'd turn that down," said original crew member Ray Godfrey of Colorado Springs, Colo.

The aircraft carrier is the eighth U.S. ship to bear the name Enterprise, with the first one being confiscated from the British by Benedict Arnold in 1775. Current sailors and alumni like Godfrey are lobbying to have a future carrier also named Enterprise. The ship's crew created a time capsule to be passed along to each Navy secretary until a new ship carries its name.

Other memorabilia on the ship, such as a pair of black fuzzy dice that hang in the ship's tower that were donated by the film crew of the 1986 Hollywood blockbuster movie "Top Gun," will be stored by the Naval History and Heritage Command".

Last Friday became a special day for me.  Not that I thought it would be when the day started.  But meeting Kurt and hearing about his life on the USS Enterprise was one I will recall for quite some time.  Goes to show you, there are a million stories out there....if you just make time.



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