Well, That’s Sad

The Hawk Checks Out

May 18, 2009: The American carrier, USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63), after a four month delay, was finally decommissioned in Bremerton, Washington on May 13th. The Kitty Hawk served for 48 years and 13 days.

That name is an instant memory flash every time. I can immediately smell the wet heat of a Subic Bay afternoon and the shippy stink of the old girl, her naked flight deck broiled and baked in the sun.

I’d been at Dungaree Beach when her birds flew off and then overhead on their way to Cubi Point NAS (the end of the runway was directly behind me). What an incredible, exhilarating, deafening twenty minutes that was! The section flights of Tomcats and Intruders at full throttle, each trying to outdo the previous with the snap of their banks and the precision of their formation. All, I swear to God, at what seemed to be about 100 feet off the deck. Flippin’ rippled the water around my knees.

And then she came into the mouth of the bay, making her way majestically to the waiting tugs, their fire hoses spraying a mad welcome, like a hundred city fountains gone berserk.A day later, a couple of us had wangled a tour.

One of my most persistent memories is catching the tips of my fingers in the chain links that pass for railings in the narrow stairwells ~ the same chain links that the ship’s crew slid up and down like they were greased firepoles. One of those skills you pick up, I guess.

Inside, she was cramped, smelly, dangerous for both head and shin…and amazing. She hummed with life in port, even with half her crew out in town and the rest trying to work through the hangovers. It was my first taste of a living ship ~ a vastly different experience than the USS North Carolina in her museum stillness.

Some of the guys with me had been out on her when our sister squadron had done carrier work-ups, so that made the tour a little more personal. They dragged me to where the Marines are berthed and, sure as shittin’, there was arresting gear stuff running under the racks, in a not-so-subtle bit of Navy “take that”. The cable, as you can imagine, runs damn near twenty-four-seven during ops, so, as a Marine, even if your time on deck is over? You get treated to the cable being pulled out and rewound in your sleep.

When at last I got back out on deck, the heat hitting my face like a mugging and blinking at the brilliant light, I witnessed the most indelible memory maker of the whole couple hours. With all the birds at Cubi, the flight deck was just bare naked acres of bubbling, oozing asphalt and aviation fluid spills, heat shimmers and mirages. Dantesque. All I could think about was my flip-flops melting on my way to the boarding ladder. Or worse ~ getting glued to the deck, pulling off mid-stride and my bare puddies…oh, ick. Mentally shaking myself not to act like such a ‘girl’, I glanced up at the stern. And there, in the middle of that primordial morass, was a sailor. Sunbathing. In his skivvies. Laying on a miniscule white military towel (for the uninitiated: a couple inches larger than a kitchen towel), with his overhanging, unprotected calves and shoulders on the festering deck, a ball cap under his skull and the fumes of his profession rising around him like a curtain. Complete with tiny boombox nestled on a plastic sack.

That’s what I remember about the USS Kitty Hawk.

Sleep well, old girl. And thank you.

9 Responses to “Well, That’s Sad”

  1. Mr. Bingley says:

    What a great memory, Sis.

  2. Yojimbo says:

    And thank you for sharing all of those wonderful memories with us. I know what you mean about the noise, we have F-16s flying over us all the time.:)

  3. Yojimbo says:

    And thank you for sharing those wonderful memories with us.

  4. Julie says:

    What a beautiful tribute. The way you described it, it was as if we were there with you.

  5. JeffS says:

    Thanks, Sis. That’s a a great story. I hope the Kitty avoids the breakers, but we shall have to wait and see.

  6. Skyler says:

    What a great writer.
    It would never have occurred to me to get a tour of a carrier while I was at Cubi. I recall a few of them being in port at the time and I didn’t see any of that. I probably would not have noticed the sailor that you seemed to notice with such great regard, either.

  7. WunderKraut says:

    Awesome memory!
    If you remember, you are part of one of my childhood memories…sort of…I have vivid memories of El Toro and F-4’s taking off over our VW bug in 1981.

  8. Cullen says:

    The chief I sit across from PCSd here from the Kitty Hawk. It was sad for her, too.

  9. Oh, I remember, Herr Kraut! Us Jarheads and the raceway made it the noisiest corner of Orange County. {8^P
    I have Crusader to thank for the stroll down the memory decks. He sent me the story this morning and I sniffled when I read it, because instantly ~ there I was again.
    I’m glad you all enjoyed my sharing it with you. Tickles me. Thanks.

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