Today is a big day for carriers. An emotional one at that.
“A bittersweet day”, as described by Admiral James F. Caldwell, Jr of the United States Navy. Today, USS Enterprise (CVN-65) is to be decommissioned. She was the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the fastest supercarrier, the longest naval ship ever and the longest serving US Navy aircraft carrier.
As per the orders of the US Chief of Naval Operations, Enterprise is decommissioned as of 1602 hours (UK time), 3rd February 2017. I watched most of the 1 hour and six-minute livestream of her decommissioning ceremony on the Huntington Ingalls Industries Facebook page. I must say, it was more emotional than I thought. The speeches of Rear Admiral Brain K. Antonio and aforementioned Admiral Caldwell. Man, they were good! They gave a lot of insight to their stories of Enterprise and what made her live up to the nickname “Big E”.
Because Enterprise had quite the legacy to live up to. The original Big E, Yorktown-class USS Enterprise (CV-6), earned 20 battle stars, making her the most decorated US ship of World War II and indeed of all time. At one point in the War, CV-6 was the only US fleet carrier functional in the Pacific. It was Enterprise versus Japan. her, along with the then-upcoming onslaught of Essex-class fleet carriers, Independence-class light carriers, 100+ escort carriers and the carriers in the British Pacific Fleet, won that fight. CV-6 returned to the States as a war hero. Sadly, she was never preserved.
Upon the launch of her career, CVN-65 managed to once again capture the public’s love and affection. Setting records straight out of dry dock; she was in fact the largest ship in World upon launch. As per the words of those Admirals I mentioned; she struck fear in the eyes of America’ enemies whilst being a major strategic and humanitarian tool for the Navy. With her truly astonishing EIGHT nuclear reactors, she was the most powerful power-generating object on the planet at launch. She was faster than most of her escorts. In one instance, she beat destroyer leader USS Leahy (DLG-16) in a race! And that was a smaller fleet unit designed to be fast! Come 1964, she became the core of World’s first all-nuclear task force, aptly named Task Force One. In Operation Sea Orbit, from 31st July to 3rd October 1964, three ships conducted an unrefuelled cruise of the world in 65 days. They totalled 30,565 miles without refuelling! Those three ships were the Big E, along with the first nuclear-powered surface warship USS Long Beach (CGN-9) and USS Bainbridge (DLGN-25). They made history that year, demonstrating the logistical and strategical power of nuclear-powered ships.
That is probably one of the most iconic photos in naval history. After this, she went on to deployments to Vietnam, Korea, suffered a fire in 1969, and eventually fought in the Iraq War.
She had quite a run. But obviously, all good things must come to an end, and I write this blog post today with a heavy heart. I never saw the ship in person, and I have only been alive for a relatively-small portion of her service life. But the impact she made and the technological marvel she is digs deep in me. I admire this beautiful and magnificent carrier. But what happens next? Now she is decommissioned, she will be stricken from the Naval Vessel Registry and prepared for a tow from Newport News Shipbuilding, around South America, to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for the removal of her radioactive systems and eventual scrapping. In the livestream I mentioned, a plaque of a Big “E” in remembrance of Enterprise was showed off. It was made from the steel from CVN-65.
That plaque will be placed aboard the next Enterprise, and as much steel as possible will be reused for the construction of this new carrier. Third carrier of the Gerald R. Ford-class supercarriers.
USS Enterprise CVN-80.
“Let’s make sure history never forgets the name Enterprise.”