Goodbye to an old friend.

Goodbye to an old friend.

Joseph E. Dorey

I read in the paper the other day about the passing of an old friend. She was only 40 years old.

I was glad to know her and proud to serve with her. She was haze gray and traipsing up and down her ladders usually left dark stains on the bottom of your uniform. The temperature in her engine rooms was unbearable. The showers had a push-button nozzle to save precious water.

Ol’ 66 often suffered from growing pains. But she was home and she was ours.

USS America (CV 66) was decommissioned in July 1996. But recently she “set sail” again for one last mission.

After spending the last nine years in a Philadelphia shipyard awaiting a decision on her fate, America was towed to sea and used to learn more about the effects of explosives on ships. She did not come back.

My initial reaction was not good. A Sailor’s first ship is like your first car, first girlfriend–first adventure. I had always hoped that she would be bought by some city or state and used as a museum. There are many such exhibits around the nation. At the very least, I’d hoped that Congress would name a new super carrier after this great warship. So far that hasn’t happened, and I fear she will fade from memory. Not mine, of course.

She was the fifth ship so named, but I hope not the last. Somehow a lot of spirit went down with “the big dog” that day. As a member of America’s final deployment crew, I was impressed with her history and perseverance.

She had served honorably in Vietnam as a “youngster.” She had launched sorties in the Persian Gulf War from the Red Sea. On her last “Med Cruise” her air wing dropped some of the first ordnance in Bosnia. She came home to Norfolk that year to another Battle “E” award. You could say she wasn’t much to look at (especially compared to the latest carriers in the fleet), but she was always more than capable of performing her mission.

I was there to see her being towed out of the Chesapeake Bay on her way to Philadelphia and remembered the sound of CAPT “Benny” Suggs blaring over the IMC, “On the Big Dog! Good morning shipmates. Today we are….”

That CO was always good about informing the crew of our location and mission. Mail Call was very important back then, as there was little e-mail and no web surfing. But we did have entertainment from the antics of the XO and fire marshal on live TV during “DC Time” and bingo games. And yes, “Groundhog Day” was still the most played movie on the cable (at least it seemed that way).

You could call it entertainment of sorts when we finally ran our semi-annual PRT on the flight deck, in a light rain, sailing North through the Suez Canal. Talk about a slip and slide situation. We really needed a wave off. But we did it and sailed on. It was better than trying to do it on liberty.

That final deployment was the last time I stopped in Trieste, Italy. There was a great little card there, the last one before the bus took us through the shipyard and to our pier. The place had cold beverages and plenty of familiar music.

I couldn’t help but laugh a bit when late one night the music turned to an “oldie, but goodie,” as they say, and “all the crew there joined in. It was the Temptations classic rendition of “My Girl.” The song was actually before my time (no, really), but the sight and sound of those guys singing their hearts out in unison was a special moment. The fact that the crew was all male back then probably cut down on the embarrassment factor that a mixed crew might have today. They were not singing about the ship, by the way.

To pass the weeks, on Friday nights, we watched taped prize fights on the VCR in our shop. Not sure you would do that today. Other shops ceremoniously smoked cigars to end their week. I know you wouldn’t do that today.

Yes, there was always a proud feeling for me to say that I was a Sailor on America. Call it patriotism or whatever, maybe FLS (first love syndrome), I don’t know. I hope an appeal to my local congressman and senators will bring back that feeling for Sailors of the future. I’d like to be around when that happens. The hull number will be different, but the “Don’t tread on me” spirit will surely be the same.

Dorey is the managing editor of All Hands.

COPYRIGHT 2005 U.S. Navy

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