“There was Truly Magic Here”
By: Garland Davis
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I wrote this in tribute to a great ship, a rewarding period of my life and an homage to my Midway shipmates. I borrowed liberally from “The History of Midway Magic” and the San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum for facts and dates.
The onset of World War II saw the greatest shipbuilding program of modern times. The progression of American aircraft carrier design led to larger and more heavily armored battle carriers. USS Midway CVB-41, to be the lead ship of new large carriers, was ordered on August 7, 1942. She had the distinction of being the first carrier named after a WWII battle. The battle between U.S. and Japanese carriers at the Battle of Midway in June of 1942 turned the tide of WWII and proved conclusively the value of Naval Aviation. CVB-41 was the third ship and second carrier to bear the name Midway. The first Midway, a fleet auxiliary, was changed to USS Panay in April 1943. The second ship bearing the name was a jeep carrier CVE-61, which was changed to USS St Lo in September 1944.
Midway was constructed at Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company. Midway was the lead ship of three 45,000 ton CVB’s. Her sister ships were USS Franklin D Roosevelt (CVB-41) and USS Coral Sea (CVB-43). Two additional ships of the class were canceled. The Midway class hull arrangement was modeled on the canceled Montana class Battleships and was a new much larger design intended to correct problems in the Essex class design.
Midway was launched on March 20, 1945 and was commissioned on September 10, 1945. She was the largest warship in the world for the first decade of her service. Every aspect of Midway’s construction included the most modern innovations possible. Twelve Babcock and Wilcox boilers powered four Westinghouse geared turbines which developed 212,000 horsepower for a maximum speed of 33 knots. Midway was designed with two catapults, fourteen arresting cables, and six barriers. Her design aircraft compliment was 137. In their early years, the Midway-class carriers were the only ships capable of operating nuclear strike aircraft.
Early in 1947, operating off the East Coast Midway operated F4U-4B Corsairs and SB2-C-5 Helldivers. She conducted three training cruises in the Caribbean before sailing from her home port at Norfolk, Virginia, on another experimental mission. On that landmark cruise, she was accompanied by scientific observers as her crew fired a captured German V-2 rocket from the flight deck on September 6, 1947. 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. The actual ship launch test was only conducted once. There were prior tests carried out at White Sands on a simulated aircraft carrier deck to see what effects the rocket would have if it were to explode on the deck. This test marked the first time such a weapon was fired from a ship at sea or a moving platform. It decisively demonstrated the potential of large rocket fire from surface ships.
Midway spent the following years operating in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. In January 1954, Midway deployed to the Mediterranean for the seventh time. Just before entering port in Athens for a state visit, Midway collided with a replenishment ship, USS Great Sitkin, AE-17. Occurring in the Aegean Sea about 1700 on a Sunday, the ships were conducting a side-by-side transfer of materials in rough seas. Swells were reported to be about 15 feet between the ships. Upon casting off the last securing lines, the Great Sitkin began a sharp starboard turn. This caused her port stern area to sideswipe the Midway’s aft starboard side, just above the waterline, crushing one of the starboard weather deck 5″ gun mounts. There was no fire and damage control made temporary repairs while underway. Also during this cruise, a major fire on the flight deck occurred when an F2H bounced over the barrier and went into the pack. Casualties were four pilots and approximately four crew. This cruise was extended an additional month due to their relief, USS Bennington having a catastrophic port catapult machinery explosion, which killed about 100 of the crew. Bennington had to return to CONUS for repairs before finally departing for the Mediterranean. Midway returned to Norfolk in August of 1954.
In December 1954, with Air Group One aboard, Midway departed Norfolk on a world cruise, which culminated in her transfer to the Pacific Fleet. Joining the Seventh Fleet off Taiwan in February 1955, she became the flagship of COMCARDIV Three, operating from the Philippine Islands and Japan. Shortly after her arrival in the area, Midway participated in the evacuation of 24,000 military and civilian personnel of the Republic of China from the Tachen Islands, off the China coast. She remained in the area patrolling the Taiwan Straits and the South China Sea until June. For this operation, Midway was awarded the China Service Medal. Midway left Yokosuka, Japan and returned to NAS Alameda, California in July 1955. She entered Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Washington and was decommissioned for the first time in October 1955.
While the gradual removal of armament helped to curtail the burden of excessive weight, the advent of the angled carrier deck not only added additional tons of displacement, but became a serious factor in stability. Built as axial, or straight-deck carriers, the problem of cycling and spotting aircraft for either launching or recovery operations remained a detriment to combat efficiency since only one function could be performed at a time. The angled flight deck, pioneered by the British, changed all that.
After being decommissioned in October 1955, Midway underwent a modernization project to give her the capability to operate high-performance jet aircraft. She was fitted with two steam catapults on the bow and a shorter steam catapult in the new angle deck. The purpose of the third catapult was to allow ready deck launches while keeping the landing area clear for recoveries in an “alert” situation. Additional improvements included the installation of a hurricane (enclosed) bow, moving elevator number three to the starboard deck edge aft of the island, enlarging the number one elevator to accommodate longer aircraft, new arresting gear, jet blast deflectors, and the largest aviation crane ever installed on an aircraft carrier. On recommissioning in September 1957, Midway’s load displacement had grown from 55,000 to 62,000 tons
Midway was again decommissioned in February 1966. During the intervening years she had operated in the Pacific Ocean and with the Seventh Fleet conducting combat operations during the early years of the Viet Nam War. After decommissioning she underwent the most extensive and complex modernization ever seen on a naval vessel. This upgrade would take four years to complete, but yielded a much more capable ship and made Midway operationally equivalent to the newest conventionally powered carriers. The flight deck was increased in surface area from 2.82 acres to 4.02 acres. The addition of three new deck-edge elevators could now lift 130,000 pounds compared with 74,000 pounds of her sister ships, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Coral Sea. Two powerful new catapults on the bow, three new arresting gear engines, and one barricade were installed and rearranged to accommodate a change of 13 degrees to the angle deck. The smaller waist catapult was removed since it was ineffective in launching the now heavier aircraft. Modern electronic systems were installed, a central chilled water air conditioning system replaced hundreds of individual units, and Midway became the first ship to have the aviation fueling system completely converted from aviation gas to JP-5. Delays, caused partially by the simultaneous construction of USS Horne and modernization of USS Chicago, and unscheduled repairs to the fire-damaged USS Oriskany, drove the initial modernization estimate from 87 million dollars to 202 million dollars.
On April 16, 1971, Midway began her sixteenth deployment 13,000 tons heavier than her original full load displacement. Arriving off the coast of South Vietnam with Air Wing Five embarked and a crew of 4,500, she relieved USS Hancock, CVA-19 on May 18. This was the beginning of single carrier operations, which lasted until the end of the month. During this time, the ship launched over 6,000 missions in support of allied operations in the Republic of Vietnam. Departing Yankee Station on June 5, she completed her final line period on October 31. Midway returned to Alameda on November 6th, after spending 146 consecutive days at sea. For this deployment, Midway was awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation.
Due to a sudden North Vietnamese invasion of South Vietnam, Midway left on April 10, 1972, for a third Vietnam deployment, seven weeks prior to her scheduled deployment date. On this deployment, Air Wing Five aircraft played an important role in the effort of U.S. forces to stop the flow of men and supplies into South Vietnam from the North. On May 11, aircraft from Midway along with those from USS Coral Sea, CVA-43, USS Kitty Hawk, CVA-63, and USS Constellation, CVA-64 continued laying minefields in ports of significance to the North Vietnamese. Thanh Hoa, Dong Hoi, Vinh, Hon Gai, Quang Khe, and Cam Pha, as well as other approaches to Haiphong. Ships that were in port in Haiphong had been advised that the mining would take place and that the mines would be armed 72 hours later. On August 7, an HC-7 Det 110 helicopter, flying from Midway, and aided by other planes from the carrier and USS Saratoga, CVA-60, conducted a search and rescue mission for a downed aviator in North Vietnam. The pilot of an A-7 aircraft from Saratoga had been downed by a surface-to-air missile about 20 miles inland, northwest of Vinh, on 6 August. The HC-7 helo flew over mountainous terrain to rescue the pilot. The rescue helicopter used its search light to assist in locating the downed aviator and, despite receiving heavy ground fire, was successful in retrieving him and returning to an LPD off the coast. This was the deepest penetration of a rescue helicopter into North Vietnam since 1968. HC-7 Det 110 continued its rescue missions and by the end of 1972 had successfully accomplished 48 rescues, 35 of which were under combat conditions. In October, an aircraft crash landed on Midway’s deck. This aircraft ran into a group of parked aircraft and destroyed eight of them, killed 5 crewmen and injured 23 others. On January 12, 1973, an aircrew flying from Midway was credited with downing the last Mig of the war. Upon the signing of the cease-fire on January 15, Midway returned home. The Presidential Unit Citation was awarded to Midway and Carrier Air Wing Five for exceptional heroism for the period April 30, 1972 to February 09, 1973. This award was a rare presentation during the Vietnam War. During this time Midway was on her third Vietnam combat cruise and spent 208 line days on Yankee Station. CVW-5 had five air combat victories including the last downing of a Mig during the Vietnam hostilities. CVW-5 suffered 15 combat and five operational losses in this period.
On September 11, 1973, Midway left Alameda on one of her most important voyages to date. Arriving in Yokosuka, Japan on October 5, 1973, Midway and Carrier Air Wing Five marked the first forward-deployment of a complete carrier task group in a Japanese port as the result of an accord arrived at on August 31, 1972 between the United States and Japan. Known as the Navy’s Overseas Family Residency Program, Midway’s crew and their families were now permanently home-ported in Japan. In addition to the morale factor of dependents housed along with the crew in a foreign port, the move had strategic significance because it facilitated continuous positioning of three carriers in the Far East at a time when the economic situation demanded the reduction of carriers in the fleet. It also effectively reduced the deployment cycles of her sister Pacific Fleet carriers.
In April 1975, Midway returned to the waters of Vietnam. On April 20, all fixed-wing aircraft of CVW-5 were flown off to NAS Cubi Point and ten USAF 40th Aerospace Rescue & Recovery Squadron H-53’s were embarked. Midway, along with USS Coral Sea, CVA-43, USS Hancock, CVA-19, USS Enterprise, CVAN-65 and USS Okinawa, LPH-3, responded to the North Vietnamese overrunning two-thirds of South Vietnam. On April 29, Operation FREQUENT WIND was carried out by U.S. Seventh Fleet forces. As South Vietnam fell, the H-53’s from Midway flew in excess of 40 sorties, shuttling 3,073 U.S. personnel and Vietnamese refugees out of Saigon in two days, bringing them onto the ship. Midway’s HC-1 Det 2 Sea Kings then transported the evacuees to other ships. One South Vietnamese pilot flew a Cessna O-1 Bird Dog observation plane with his wife and five children out to Midway. He passed a note asking permission to land. The angle deck was cleared and the pilot made a good approach and landed with room to spare. The crew of Midway met him with cheers. For her role in the operation, Midway was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation and the Humanitarian Service Medal.
Immediately following Operation FREQUENT WIND, Midway steamed south into the Gulf of Siam to Thailand and brought aboard over 100 American built aircraft preventing them from falling into communist hands. When they were aboard, the ship steamed at high speed to Guam, where the planes were offloaded by crane in record time. After the offload in Guam and a brief stop in Subic Bay, Midway entered the Indian Ocean and operated there from October until the end of November. On November 25, 1975, during post “MIDLINK” exercises, a fatal accident occurred. While attempting to land on the Midway, an aircraft struck the ramp, bolted, impacted the barricade, and struck another aircraft. Flying debris injured two crew members. Midway returned to Yokosuka in time to celebrate the 1975 Christmas holiday.
In June 1976, Midway participated in Exercise TEAM SPIRIT, an exercise in intense electronic warfare and bombing missions over South Korea. In August 1976, a Navy task force headed by Midway made a show of force off the coast of Korea in response to an unprovoked attack on two U.S. Army officers who were killed by North Korean guards on August 18. Midway’s response was in support of a U.S. demonstration of military concern vis-à-vis North Korea.
1977 saw Midway participating in MIDLINK ’77, a two-day exercise hosted by the Iranian Navy, and included representatives of Pakistan, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.
February 1978 saw Midway joining in with the JMSDF (Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force) for the largest combined exercise to that date. On May 31, 1978, while docked in Yokosuka, Japan, a fire which originated in the exhaust ventilation system, quickly spread through the 3A boiler uptakes on the second deck, and terminated in the main uptake space. The cause of the fire was later thought to be from welding in a vent system containing a fine oil mist which ignited and spread.
Midway relieved USS Constellation, CV-64 as the Indian Ocean contingency carrier on April 16, 1979. Midway and her escort ships continued a significant American naval presence in the oil-producing region of the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf. On August 09, while berthed in Yokosuka, Japan, a fire, caused by a broken acetylene line, broke out killing one worker and injuring 17 sailors. Also in August, the Vice President of the United States boarded Midway in Hong Kong for a courtesy visit. On November 18, she arrived in the northern part of the Arabian Sea in connection with the continuing hostage crisis in Iran. Militant followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini, who had come to power following the overthrow of the Shah, seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on November 4 and held 63 U.S. citizens’ hostage. Midway was joined on November 21 by USS Kitty Hawk, CV-63, and both carriers, along with their escort ships, were joined by USS Nimitz, CVN-68 and her escorts on January 22, 1980. Midway was relieved by USS Coral Sea, CV-43 on February 5, 1980.
Following a period in Yokosuka, Midway was again on duty on May 30, 1980, this time relieving USS Coral Sea on standby south of the Cheju-Do Islands in the Sea of Japan following the potential of civil unrest in the Republic of Korea. On July 29, Midway collided with the Panamanian merchant ship Cactus while transiting the passage between Palawan Island of the Philippines and the coast of Northern Borneo 450 nautical miles southwest of Subic Bay enroute to Singapore. While Midway sustained no serious damage, two sailors working in the liquid oxygen plant were killed, three were injured, and three F-4 Phantom aircraft parked on the flight deck were damaged. On August 17, Midway relieved USS Constellation, CV-64 to begin another Indian Ocean deployment and to complement the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, CVN-69 task group still on contingency duty in the Arabian Sea. Midway spent a total of 118 days in the Indian Ocean during 1980.
On March 16, 1981, an A-6 Intruder from VA-115 aboard Midway sighted a downed civilian helicopter in the South China Sea. Midway immediately dispatched helicopters from HC-1 Det 2 to the scene. All 17 people aboard the downed helicopter were rescued and brought aboard the carrier. The chartered civilian helicopter was also plucked out of the water and lifted to Midway’s flight deck. In September 1981, the Chief of Naval Operations kicked off a tour of Far East Naval Units when he visited Midway while in port Yokosuka.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Midway Food Service was awarded the Edward F. Ney Memorial Award for excellence in food service in both 1982 and 1983 becoming the second ship and first aircraft carrier to win the award in consecutive years. The author is proud to have been the Leading Mess Management Specialist and to have led a Kick-Ass Food Service Division during the period from 1981 until 1984.
In December 1983, Midway deployed to the North Arabian Sea and set a record of 111 continuous days of operations.
From 1976 until 1983, Midway made six Indian Ocean cruises accounting for 338 days. She made 28 port calls in Subic Bay for 167 days, nine port calls in Hong Kong for 40 days, seven port calls in Pusan, Korea for 32 days, seven port calls in Sasebo, Japan for 28 days, three port calls in Perth, Australia for 16 days, three port calls in Mombasa, Kenya for 14 days, three port calls in Singapore for 11 days, one port call in Karachi, Pakistan for three days, and one port call in Bandar Abbas, Iran for two days. Perhaps it was the exotic nature of Midway’s liberty ports that contributed to the “Midway Magic”.
After several years of dependable overseas service, on December 2, 1984, Midway and her crew were awarded their second Meritorious Unit Commendation, for service rendered from July 27, 1982, until May 1, 1984.
On March 25, the final fleet carrier launchings of an A-7 Corsair II and an F-4S Phantom II took place from Midway during flight operations in the East China Sea. The Corsairs and Phantoms were being replaced by the new F/A-18 Hornets. On March 31, Midway moored to Dry Dock 6 at Yokosuka Naval Base to begin the “most ambitious work package in its 40-year history.” EISRA-86 (Extended Incremental Selected Repair Availability) condensed the workload of a major stateside carrier overhaul from the usual 12-14 months, into an eight-month modernization. This included the addition of the catapult flush deck nose gear launch system, the additions of MK7 MOD1 jet blast deflectors, restack and re-reeve of arresting gear engines, installation of larger rudders, the addition of new fire main system valves and pumps, new air traffic consoles, a new viable anti-submarine warfare capability, the construction of intermediate maintenance avionics shops to support the F/A-18 aircraft, and the removal of over 47 tons of unusable cable. Blisters were also built and mounted to the sides of Midway. With this monumental task being completed three days ahead of schedule, the first Air Wing Five F/A-18 Hornet trapped aboard Midway on November 28, 1986.
On January 9, 1987, Midway was reactivated with Battle Group ALFA and departed Yokosuka. On May 22, while en route to Eastern Australia, Midway trapped a VMA-331 AV-8 Harrier operating off USS Belleau Wood, LHA-3. These Harrier operations were the first in Midway’s history. On this cruise, Midway was the first U.S. Navy carrier to visit Sydney, Australia since 1972. Over 7,000 visitors toured the ship during the 10-day port call. On July 10, the launch of a VFA-195 Hornet marked the 76,000th catapult shot from the port catapult since Midway’s recommissioning in 1970. On November 14, the EA-3B “Whale” made its last run from the deck of Midway. The Whale was replaced by a C-2 Greyhound from VRC-50, which embarked aboard Midway on November 9 for an Indian Ocean deployment. During 1987 and 1988, the ship deployed to the Indian Ocean as part of Operation ERNEST WILL, earning the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal.
At the time of her refit in 1986, hull bulges had to be added to create additional buoyancy to compensate for the increased tonnage. However, these ungainly appendages seriously affected Midway’s stability. During sea trials in 1986, excessive rolls in moderate seas took green water over her flight deck, thereby hampering flight operations. A 1988 Senate committee, outraged by the inept modifications carried out in the shipyard, voted to retire Midway early as a cost-saving measure. However, after considerable Navy lobbying the committee was overruled, with $138 million voted to remedy her stability dilemma.
On March 13, 1989, Midway participated in Exercise TEAM SPIRIT in the waters off South Korea for the second consecutive year. From June 7-8, Midway was put on standby after the massacre in Tiananmen Square for possible evacuation of American citizens from the People’s Republic of China.
Midway’s dependability for rapid response was reaffirmed on August 16, 1989 as she celebrated her 44th year of service by deploying again to the Indian Ocean. On August 28, Midway participated in Exercise THALAY, a three-day exercise with Royal Thai Navy ships. On September 9, Midway logged its 200,000th catapult shot since being recommissioned in 1972. On September 30, an F/A-18 Hornet aircraft from the Midway mistakenly dropped a 500-pound bomb on the deck of the USS Reeves, CG-24, during training exercises in the Indian Ocean 32 miles south of Diego Garcia, creating a five-foot hole in the bow, sparking a small fire, and injuring five sailors. On November 10, Midway became the first Navy carrier to pull pier side in Fremantle, Australia. While returning from this cruise, Midway participated in Operation CLASSIC RESOLVE, supporting the Philippine government of President Corazon Aquino against a coup attempt. The operation, run in conjunction with the Air Force and assisted by the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) lasted from December 2 to December 9. For this action, she earned another Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal.
1989 and 1990 saw extensive sea time, including deployments to the Northern Arabian Sea and trips to Australia, Diego Garcia, Hong Kong, Kenya, Korea, Philippines, Thailand, and Singapore.
From 1973 to 1991, Midway’s history is hallmarked by Indian Ocean cruises and port calls at some of the most exotic Far East ports. Being America’s first forward deployed ship, Midway remained on the “knife’s edge” of readiness and maintained a highly visible presence in the region in support of U.S. policy. Midway no longer went in for overhauls, rather her upkeep was managed through periods of EISRA (Extended Incremental Ship’s Restricted Availability). These brief periods allowed Midway to be serviced, but also available at any time. In the post-Vietnam era prior to 1990, Midway earned four Battle Efficiency Ribbons, the Navy and Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal, three Armed Forces Expeditionary Medals, the Humanitarian Service Medal and two Meritorious Unit Commendations.
Midway’s last two years in commissioned service would prove to be perhaps her most historic. In 1990, while celebrating 45 years of service, Midway received official announcement on her decommissioning. An announcement in February confirmed that she was scheduled to decommission in 1991. Even with this announcement, Midway continued to maintain her seagoing reputation by being underway more than most other aircraft carriers. With her unique combination of modernized strength and years of experience, she strived to maintain peace and stability in the Western Pacific.
Disaster struck the Midway on June 20, 1990. While conducting routine flight operations approximately 125 nautical miles northeast of Japan, the ship was badly damaged by two onboard explosions. These explosions led to a fire that raged more than ten hours. In addition to damage to the ship’s hull, three crew members died and eight others were seriously injured in the line of duty. All 11 crewmen belonged to an elite fire-fighting team known as the Flying Squad. When Midway entered Yokosuka Harbor the next day, 12 Japanese media helicopters flew in circles and hovered about 150 feet above the flight deck. Three busloads of reporters were waiting on the pier. About 30 minutes after Midway cast its first line, more than 100 international print and electronic journalists charged over the brow to cover the event. The news media made a major issue out of the incident, as it happened amid other military accidents. It was thought that the accident would lead to the ship’s immediate retirement due to her age.
Despite the announced decommissioning and the fire, Midway’s role as a potent member of the U.S. Naval forces was again reaffirmed when she departed Yokosuka, Japan on October 2, 1990 in support of Operation DESERT SHIELD. On November 2, 1990, MIDWAY arrived on station in the North Arabian Sea, relieving USS Independence, CV-62. For the DESERT SHIELD portion of the campaign, Midway was the only carrier in the Persian Gulf. She was the first carrier to operate extensively and for prolonged periods within the mined waters of the Gulf itself. On November 15, she participated in Operation IMMINENT THUNDER, an eight-day combined amphibious landing exercise in northeastern Saudi Arabia, which involved about 1,000 U.S. Marines, 16 warships, and more than 1,100 aircraft. Midway also made the first Persian Gulf port call for an aircraft carrier when she visited Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates for Christmas of 1990. Midway was also the flagship of the Persian Gulf Battle Force Commander, Rear Admiral Daniel P. March (Commander Task Force 154). Admiral March was the operational commander for all coalition naval forces within the Persian Gulf.
Meanwhile, the United Nations set an ultimatum deadline of January 15,1991 for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. After steaming for two and a half months in the North Arabian Sea, Operation DESERT STORM, the fight to liberate Kuwait, began on January 17, 1991. Aircraft from Midway flew the initial air strikes of Operation DESERT STORM. An A-6E Intruder from the “Nighthawks” of VA-185 flying from Midway became the first carrier-based aircraft “over the beach” during that first strike. During the conflict, Midway’s aircraft flew 3,339 combat sorties, an average of 121 per day during the war. Midway aircraft dropped 4,057,520 pounds of ordnance on targets in Iraq and occupied Kuwait.
The jet aircraft aboard Midway were not alone in taking the fight to the Iraqis. HS-12 conducted two Combat Rescues, rescued and captured a total of 25 Iraqi sailors, destroyed nine mines, and captured the first piece of Kuwaiti soil – a small island (the only property captured or liberated by the Navy). HS-12 also recovered the body of an Iraqi Naval Officer who had apparently been killed by his crew. At the end of the war, HS-12 chased down an escaping speed boat and forced it ashore on another island. The four captured occupants turned out to be members of the Iraqi Secret Police.
After 43 days of combat, Kuwait had been liberated with a resounding defeat of Iraqi forces. Operation DESERT STORM ended at midnight on February 27, 1991. Midway was the only one of the four carriers operating in the Persian Gulf to lose no aircraft or personnel. Midway departed the Persian Gulf on March 10 and returned to Yokosuka, Japan. For her actions during Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM, Midway again received the Battle Efficiency Award and the Navy Unit Commendation.
Midway’s versatility was again demonstrated in June of 1991 with her participation in Operation FIERY VIGIL. On June 16, Midway was given one day’s notice to sortie from her berth in Yokosuka, Japan and steam at high speed for Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines to assist with the evacuation of military personnel and their families following the volcanic eruption of Mt. Pinatubo.
Prior to departing, Midway crewmen worked through the night loading enough food and supplies to provide for 5,000 people for two weeks. Items included 1,100 cots, pet food, and baby diapers and bottles. Within 24 hours of receiving notice of the emergency, Midway was underway with the helicopters of HS-12 as the sole representative of Air Wing Five embarked.
Midway made her best speed toward Subic Bay, slowing briefly near Okinawa to embark six helicopters from HMH-772 and a contingent of Marines. The ship arrived at Subic Bay June 21 and brought aboard 1,823 evacuees, almost all of them Air Force personnel leaving Clark Air Base. Additionally, Midway brought aboard 23 cats, 68 dogs, and one lizard, pets of the evacuees. Midway’s guests were greeted with a clean bed, a hot shower, and a steak dinner, their first hot meal in more than a week.
In a trip which included a high-speed night transit of the Van Diemen Passage, Midway took the evacuees to the island of Cebu in the Philippines. On arrival, HS-12 and HMH-772 flew them to Mactan International Airport. There, the evacuees boarded Air Force transport planes for flights that would eventually take them to the United States.
In August 1991, Midway departed Yokosuka, Japan for the last time, steaming towards her first United States port call in almost 18 years. She had been the first carrier to be “forward deployed” in a foreign country, sailing for 17 years out of Yokosuka, Japan. Arriving in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Midway turned over the duty as the “Tip of the Sword” to USS Independence, CV-62. Independence would be replacing Midway as the forward-deployed carrier in Yokosuka, Japan. This turnover included swapping CVW-5 for CVW-14, the first air wing change for Midway in 20 years. After leaving Hawaii, Midway made a brief visit to Seattle, Washington, where more than 50,000 people visited the ship during a three-day open house.
On September 14, 1991, Midway arrived at her final homeport, Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, California. Her crew then began the tremendous task of preparing the ship for decommissioning and preservation as part of the Ready Reserve Fleet.
As part of her decommissioning preparation, the Navy sent out a Board of Inspection and Survey team to assess the ship’s material condition and evaluate her capabilities. To perform this inspection, the ship got underway for one last time on September 24, 1991. On this day, the ship successfully completed a rigorous series of tests, including full-power sea trials. Midway trapped and launched her last aircraft that day, with the honor falling to Commander, Carrier Air Wing Fourteen, Captain Patrick Moneymaker, flying an F/A-18 Hornet. At the completion of the day’s events, Midway headed for home at 32 knots. Despite her age and imminent decommissioning, the inspection team found Midway fully operational and fit for continued service, a testimonial to the men who maintained the ship throughout her many years. At the end of her career, Midway’s last embarked flag officer, Rear Admiral Joseph W. Prueher noted, Midway had “sprinted across the finish line.”
Midway was decommissioned for the last time at North Island Naval Air Station in San Diego, California on April 11, 1992. She was stricken from the Navy List on March 17, 1997 and was stored at the Navy Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility, Bremerton, Washington.
On September 30, 2003, a long-awaited event happened… after eleven years, Midway was finally underway again! Although only under tow by the Foss Maritime Company’s tugs Lauren Foss and Lindsey Foss, she was heading back out to sea for another voyage. Midway was on a journey to Oakland, California.
October 07, 2003 saw Midway arriving at the Charles P. Howard Terminal in Oakland, California. Restoration work was performed before Midway was again taken under tow on December 31. The Foss Maritime Company’s Corbin Foss towed Midway down the coast of California, arriving in San Diego Bay on January 05, 2004. Midway was temporarily berthed at NAS North Island to load restored aircraft and also add ballast and equipment in preparation for her move across the bay to Navy Pier.
Midway’s final journey occurred on January 10, 2004. Several hundred guests were aboard as she was towed across San Diego Bay to her new home at Navy Pier. With much celebration and ceremony, Midway was berthed at Navy Pier, where she officially opened as the San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum on June 07, 2004. Once again, Midway’s popularity showed as 3,058 visitors went aboard on opening day.
Conceived and built during the desperate days of World War II, the carriers of the Midway class carried a crew of 4,500 and up to 70 aircraft. The 1,000-foot-long Midway was once the largest carrier afloat, growing from 45,000 tons in 1945 to 74,000 tons in 1991. However, she had a displacement about two-thirds that of contemporary nuclear-powered flattops. When operating at sea the ship was refueled every three days, burning approximately 100,000 gallons of oil a day. When first built, the Midway’s bow was open to the sea, and was enclosed in 1957 as part of a major overhaul.
The ability to adapt to new technologies, systems, platforms, and operational needs is nowhere better exemplified than in the design and 50-year operational history of the USS Midway. Designed during World War II, in 1945, this “flattop” initially operated piston-driven propeller aircraft, yet returned from her last deployment in 1991 with the Navy’s most modern, multipurpose strike-fighters. Her original axial-deck design was modified to an angled-deck layout, her original hydraulic catapults were replaced with more powerful steam catapults, and the most basic electronics replaced by advanced sensors and communications equipment.
Midway sailed in every ocean of the world, covering more miles than anyone can count. It is estimated that more than 200,000 young Americans trod her decks, gaining manhood, fighting their country’s wars and sometimes paying the ultimate price. After ultimately serving her country for 47 years, Midway now carries out her final “tour of duty” as a floating museum in San Diego. She is a tribute to the contributions of the armed services and as a dynamic, interactive beacon of education and entertainment.
“Midway Magic” is more than a slogan. The ship operated longer, survived more modernization projects and was forward deployed longer than any other aircraft carrier. It was the crew of the Midway that provided the sorcery. But, like the magician’s hat from which the rabbit appears, the Midway was the vessel in which the magic had been created. Long after the quiet descended on Midway’s empty compartments, her catapults forever silent, her main engines cold and motionless, and her halyards clear, those of us who were part of Midway’s story will remember her and say “There truly was Magic here.”
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A native of North Carolina, Garland Davis has lived in Hawaii since 1987. He always had a penchant for writing but did not seriously pursue it until recently. He is a graduate of Hawaii Pacific University, where he majored in Business Management. Garland is a thirty-year Navy retiree and service-connected Disabled Veteran.