Launched on September 10, 1945 the USS Midway, CVB-41 was the largest carrier ever put to sea. For nearly 50 years she saw action in every major US conflict during that time period. Though at the time of her decommisioning she was no longer the biggest, she still remained the "best of the west". Like we used to say, there's the east coast way, the west coast way, and then there's the MIDway!". For the most complete history of the USS Midway please check out Troy Prince's excellent The History of Midway's Magic. It took Troy years to compile this history from numerous sources. Kudos to him on a job well done. Also, look forward to reading Scott McGaugh's soon to be released book on the USS Midway, Midway Magic. The author interviewed over 300 Midway sailors to tell their story. This page will touch on several events in the Midway's history with links to photos and documents that document Midway's Magic.
The shake down cruise began on November 7, 1945. The USS Midway deployed on a 57 day cruise in the Caribbean of which 51 days were spent on air and gunnery practice simulating all kinds of war time conditions. The cruise also included a stop at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. On March 1, 1946 The USS Midway weighed anchor at Hampton Roads, VA and set course for Operation Frostbite, in the icy waters of Davis Straits between Labrador and Greenland. Task Group 21.11 was tasked with operating in severe weather and conditions. They encountered high winds, heavy seas, snow, and green water over the bow. Icebergs were found as well. Testing helicopters for the first time in SAR missions and refueling escorts in adverse weather conditions were among the highlights of the operation.
On September 6, 1946 the USS Midway launched a captured German V-2 rocket from the flight deck in an project called "Operation Sandy". During the same time-frame the Army was launching many of these V-2's at White Sands, NM while developing their own program. The purpose of Operation Sandy was to see if a large rocket could be launched from the deck of an aircraft carrier with little to no modifications. Operation Pushover was a test at White Sands, New Mexico prior to Operation Sandy to see what damage would happen if a V-2 catastrophically failed during launch from the deck. A V-2 was literally "pushed" over on a replica section of flight deck. From the photos I can just say I'm glad I wasn't working under that section of deck. The following photographs and booklet were provided by Bob Rohrlack (USS Midway 1946-47) who was present during Sandy and Tracy Dungan.
The USS Midway returned to the North Atlantic in September 1952 for Operation Mainbrace. This NATO operation took place North of the Artic Circle.
During the fall of Saigon, South Vietnam on April, 29,30 1975 the USS Midway was instrumental in the overall recovering of over 7,000 evacuees, plus 989 Marines. During the evacuation many helicopters were pushed over the side to make room for more coming in to landing. The climax came in the evening when a South Vietnamese Colonel who was unable to find transport for him and his family stole away in a Cessna O1 Bird Dog observation plane. Without a radio and clue of what he was going to do when he got there he made a heading for the US fleet. He managed to make his intentions known to the CO of the ship that he wanted to land by making several passes. In a controversial decision the CO commanded the tossing overboard of many helicopters to clear the landing area. The South Vietnamese Colonel made a perfect landing and he and his family have been living in the US since.
I had the great privilege to be a crew member for Midway's final voyage... from NAS North Island to Navy Pier in San Diego. This will become Midway's final resting place to serve as a floating museum. I arrived at Harbor Excursions pier before Oh-Dark-thirty (0600) to board the boat that would take us over to North Island where we would board the Midway. There was already a good sized crowd collecting. They allowed us to start boarding just after 0600 and I was lucky enough to be first down the ramp. Soon afterwards we were loaded up and on our way. Approaching the ship like this in the early morning and aboard the Harbor Excursion boat was reminiscent of coming back to the ship after liberty in Hong Kong or Pattaya Beach, except without all the drunk sailors
No operation like this is without some SNAFU and this was no exception. Apparently Naval Security was not aware of our incoming arrival and there were no harbor authority folks around. Everything got squared away pretty quickly and after about 15 minutes the barrier was opened and we were allowed in. There were busses waiting at the pier to take us the last 200-300 yards to the ship, but I was having none of that. I walked.... rather briskly more to take in the experience than out of haste.
After stepping aboard I took a moment to pause and look around. The smell was unmistakable and I knew I was home again. Home to Hotel-41. Gone was the OOD... gone was the noise of a ship making ready to sail... gone was the crew... their ghosts were there though in abundance.
I stepped into Hangar Bay 2 and a 20 year absence was suddenly erased. However, there were a lot of things missing. The E-2 that was always parked at the very aft end of Hangar Bay 2... the drop tanks hanging from the overhead... engine isopods in rows... though the missing MAA check in table was a welcome absentee.
Hangar Bay 1 was filled with tables and chairs for the guests, a stage and podium, drink and food stations, a cake table, a large projection screen displaying photos and information about Midway... Behind the screen were all of the catapult tracks. Walking around I recognized all my regular egress ladders to the flight deck and VA-115 Maintenance Control. I also found the the old VA-115 AQ shop which moved before the end of my tour, and the hatch leading the Eagle Upper-B.
Most folks were eating and drinking coffee and juice... not this kid! After shooting some hangar bay photos I beat feet to the flight deck. It was so strange walking through the hatch between Flight Deck Control and Blue Shirt Locker onto the flight deck and not hear the noise of diesel engine tow tractors and huffers flying up and down the deck and just the electricty running through the air. There were only a couple other visitors on deck and with the exception of an A-7, A-6, and E-2 the deck was empty. Bomb Alley was empty as was the area forward of Elevator 2. It was so weird seeing no drop tanks there or the GSE parking lot. I made a couple of laps around the deck taking inventory, shooting video, and photos.
Shortly after that I recognized Troy Prince of MidwaySailor.com and one of his shipmates, Gene Hall. After intros we walked around the flight deck some more reminding one another of things and times long past. I finally let hunger take the best of me and I grabbed a danish from a food stand under the Island. I really have to hand it to the catering crew. They were available when we wanted something, yet for the most part were unobtrusive. It would have been nice to have them serving food up on the doghouse during flight ops that's for sure.
During the next few hours we visited areas of the ship that were familiar and areas we'd never seen before like a CWIS and Sea Sparrow launch sponson and the ladders and passageways through Admiral's Country. It was the first time I ever walked on blue tile and didn't get nervous. We also walked back through the AIMD jet shop to the stern of the ship and watched the sea and anchor detail make ready for setting sail.
Back up on the flight deck we watched the ship swing around towards Navy Pier. We found and chatted with Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, the Navy's only ace in the Vietnam war. It was a great thrill talking with him and he was kind enough to let us get our picture taken with him. Then we mugged it up for the Midway.org photographer on hand. Following that, Gene and I got our pics taken at the point between the cats mock launching the A-6 on the starboard cat since we were both troubleshooters. We also managed to find some loose chunks of non-skid for a souvenir (The goofiest things some people think are important).
There was supposed to be a flyby of T-28's, but we wanted to catch the ceremony on Hangar Bay 1. The speeches were great, particularly Admiral Mixson's and Scott McGaugh's. After the ceremony we mingled around for a bit, ate some cake and then back up the flight deck. We stayed until they finally chased us off. I'm happy to say I was one of the first onboard and one of the last to depart. I spent a little time on the pier taking in the scene and chatting with a couple of old shipmates, before heading back to my hotel.
I came back later in the afternoon with Troy and Gene to check out the Midway from the park aft and portside of the ship. It really is in an excellent location and the view from the park in the sunset was fantastic. I can't think of a better retirement home for CV-41.
This couldn't have been a better trip for me. The "Crossing Of The Big Bay" was everything I had hoped for and a lot more. I can't wait to come out again this June for the official opening of the San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum. I want to express special thanks to the many volunteers. Those folks wearing the "yellow" caps that helped visitors get around the ship and find things, the SDACM folks including Theresa Randall, and Admiral Mixson. Congressman Cunningham for his help and support, Alan Uke for coming up with the idea in the first place and never taking 'No' for an answer, and especially Scott McGaugh who sponsored me to get aboard and unselfishly took the time out of his extremely busy schedule to take me out to dinner the night before and share Midway stories with me. Thanks Scott!!!