Thursday, December 04, 2008

Into the sunset...

Metaphorically, at any rate!

It's taken me a while to gather my thoughts to write this post...since before Veteran's Day.

35 years ago, the day before Thanksgiving, I boarded the USS Kittyhawk at North Island. At 17, I had Thanksgiving dinner away from home for the first time aboard her, and soon after we departed for points west. I celebrated my 18th birthday aboard her.

I rode her all the way to Mombasa, Kenya visiting Hawaii, Subec Bay, Hong Kong, and Singapore along the way... with some time off the coast of Vietnam along the way. With over 5,000 of us on board, there were places we had to pass up that smaller ships would have been able to visit. We rode out a typhoon off the Phillipines with not only our own aircraft aboard, but more that they flew out to get them out of the islands because they were safer aboard ship! When we left Kenya we were the first carrier to ever sail into the current hotbed of the world's attention, the Persian Gulf. Along the way, I became a "Shellback", and somewhere lost my boyhood as well.

Not all of us that left on that cruise were lucky enough to come home.

The above photo is the Kittyhawk arriving in San Diego for the last time. The photo is from her archive...I don't think they'll mind me using it. The following is a snippet of the press release announcing her arrival:

"As the oldest active-duty warship and last diesel-fuel powered aircraft carrier in the Navy, Kitty Hawk made history during its return to the U.S.: it is the only aircraft carrier to have more than 100,000 launches from one of its waist catapults.

Throughout its lifetime, Kitty Hawk has had 407,511 arrested carrier landings and 448,301 launches."

Amazing numbers!

If anyone would be interested in more of her history, this link has a summary of the service of the first "super" carrier.

My Dad spent a lot of time through the years trying to convince me that I couldn't keep cars as pets; I realize that there is no way we as a nation can afford to keep a fuel-oil carrier sailing one minute longer than necessary. I also know that the sailors serving on the nuclear carrier that replaced her won't miss the fuel oil/jet fuel cocktail (in my day there was also avgas mixed in for flavor) that found it's way into our freshwater through the tank venting...

That photograph is her entering Puget Sound for decommissioning. I shall hope that not every city that wants a carrier for a museum has one yet! I shall hope that perhaps that although most likely she'll never launch another aircraft, that destiny has something else in mind for her besides being scrapped or sunk as a reef.

I have met men who served aboard before me, and ones who have served aboard her since. She is a touchstone in millions of lives at this point, and I shall hope that she finds a way to remain "alive" for each of us!

May the rest of the week be kind, and may your weekends be wonderful!



Josephine said...

A moving post Alan. A big important time of your life. Unlike other places we work, I guess warships have one unique character - they were young once, then they grow old, then they retire. Is that one way in which they mean so much, a way you kind of measure yourself too?

Green tea said...

Love it Alan..

Anonymous said...

Lovely post. Did you ever get to call in on Sydney. I remember back in the late 60's early 70's we had many American Servicemen come to Sydney for R&R. I don't think they got much rest but I'm sure they had lots of recreation.

Dr. Deb said...

Oh Alan, I had no idea you were there.

Anonymous said...

Alan. Wow.
I have read a lot of your works here on this blog and gotten to know you - the you you share - the good husband, human being and blogging friend. Little snippets of friends and family and Friday evenings. The ending of a career, a weight loss and some great funnies. This however was such an insight into what occurred so long ago to start your journey to manhood and to bring you to the person you are today.

thank you for sharing

Shauna Baggtt said...

I don't know if you know it but I served on the USS Ranger, same class as the shitty kitty and the Forest fire, my danger ranger was home away from home. I lived on that ship for 8 years, oh my the time on her was fantastic as an engineer, snipe if you will. She was beautiful, and the memories will never leave my mind well after I am gone. I loved the navy and know how you feel too. I crossed the equator 8 times and seen 33 countries serving the navy for 14 years.
Yes Alan I am a shellback and damn proud of it too.

So here's to my fellow sailor. Lovely post sir.


robin andrea said...

Quite a touching homage to an old carrier.

Anji said...

You've certainly been visiting! I'm glad you were one of the survivors.

This week I'm giving an English lesson to a man who works on the oil ships off the coast of Africa. I think your post will provide an excellent subject to fill in the hour. If you don't mind!

kath said...

Wonderful post Alan.... I am sending it to Cory who served on her too....


Samantha said...

Attention on deck, attention on deck, now hear this, the smoking lamp is lit!

Ten Hut, there's an officer on deck!

She was so Yar she was!

Call me a wishy, washy, sentimentalist, but it's always hard to see a beloved ship sail off into the sunset. Some who knew her called her the shitty kitty, but not many people know just exactly what she was.

Way, way more than a war ship, she was a seaborn city. Several hospital's, and everything one could want from a city. She never slept, and something was always going on. Sure, there could be water issues now and again, and when needed to she could be a weapon of war. But there was a softer, warmer, more loving side to her. Humanitarian aid, support and comfort, medical care, education and so much more where this old girls life blood. Most people think of flattops as a place to launch aircraft, but wow, if you get to know her, she's so much more than a weapon of war.

Yeah, I too am hoping she's service as a museum, because honestly, more people need to know just what a marvel a super carrier is, be she fuel, or nuclear.

We as a nation are know for putting men on the moon, and probes to the outer planets, but a super carrier is a wonder in her own right.

I really hope they turn her into a museum. Folks need to stand there next to her and look up, and up, and up! They need to put a handful of jets up top with an SUV for scale, and have folks walk out onto the deck and see this.

I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Thanks for sharing this Alan.

Debbie K said...

The memories of those who served on her will live on for ever.
I worked briefly on Aircraft carriers & have the utmost respect for those who served on them. Thank you so much for sharing this part of your life with us.

CrackerLilo said...

So I learned a bit more about you today. Wonderful.

I could say so much, but it all adds up to this: I'm so glad you were able to step off of the boat.

May the week be kind!

ryssee said...

Can't add much to the comments above. I can only say, wow, what an excellent post.

TaraDharma said...

Great post, Alan. It's a small world: I have been aboard her as well, for a civilian tour on her many trips to San Diego. And then, well, last August when I saw her from afar and took a photo with you in mind. A lot of history on that old ship.