Farewell, Enterprise

USS Enterprise (CVN-65) in 1968.
USS Enterprise (CVN-65) in 1968.

USS Enterprise (CVN-65) was the spearhead of the 1960s nuclear navy. The mighty aircraft carrier offered Cold War technology and capability hardly rivaled until the launch of the Nimitz class. Years ago, my cousin gave me a Navy ball cap with the likeness and hull number of CVN-65 embroidered on the front. Now I want to find the hat and wash it:  Enterprise is destined for the scrapyard over the next decade, and like a kid supporting his favorite team, I want to proudly display my memorabilia.

I read about the laborious scrapping of Big E” in Wired. Soon after, I discovered an extraordinary collection of history from USS Enterprise at the Naval Historical Center. The section here is a treasure trove of photos, op reports, and history. In the 1960s, Enterprise would join forces with other nuclear forerunners like cruiser Long Beach and destroyer Bainbridge. (This would have been the model group for an ambitious nuclear fleet, but that dream would never reach fruition. Today, only carriers and submarines are propelled by nuclear systems.)

Over the next decades, the Enterprise flight deck would move and launch whole generations of combat and support aircraft. The ship was involved in missions around the world. To travel was certainly a benefit to her many sailors, but there were also hazards along the way. Tuesday marks the tragic 1969 explosion and fire that killed 26 personnel:

A catastrophic fire erupted on board Enterprise (CVAN 65) while she trained in Hawaiian waters during the forenoon watch on 14 January 1969. Gas turbine exhaust fumes from a No. 6 MD3A Aircraft Starter Unit – known as a ‘Huffer’ – apparently heated a Mk 32 Zuni warhead fitted onto a McDonnell Douglas F-4J Phantom II of Fighter Squadron (VF) 96. The warhead evidently exploded and the resulting fire ignited fuel and ordnance that spread an inferno across the aft end of the ship. The crew bravely fought the fire and saved Enterprise, but lost twenty-six of their shipmates killed, two men missing, presumed dead and not recovered, and three hundred seventy-one wounded. The fire also destroyed fifteen aircraft and damaged a further seventeen. Big E completed repairs at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, before continuing on her WestPac deployment.

As an amateur naval historian, I would fail to render an appropriate description of Enterprise‘s service record in this humble blog. But the warship is just a giant hulk without the dedication of hard-working NCOs, officers, flag staff, engineers, pilots, crews, and contractors. For ages, this ship was taken out and taken home with the sort of respect one should have for a mighty ship. To the carrier Enterprise and those who served aboard her, let this post be a sign of my admiration and gratitude.

Photo:  Naval Historical Center


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