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Thirty years ago, on April 11, 1992, the carrier Midway was decommissioned at North Island Naval Air Station. It opened as the USS Midway Museum in San Diego in June 2004.

From The San Diego Union-Tribune, Sunday, April 12, 1992:

Carrier Midway is retired— again

By Steve LaRue, Staff Writer

With its epitaph, “born in war, decommissioned in peace,” the 47-year-old aircraft carrier Midway was retired from active service at North Island Naval Air Station yesterday in a ceremony filled with memories, tears and the roar of naval aircraft.

“It was a sad job to take a ship performing at her peak and tear her apart,” Capt. Larry Ernst told about 1,200 guests and Naval personnel.

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Sailors watch the decommissioning ceremonies for the U.S.S. Midway at North Island Naval Station.

Sailors observed the decommissioning ceremonies for the carrier Midway at North Island Naval Air Station.

(Robert Gauthier / The San Diego Union-Tribune )

Recalling what he called “poignant memories of a fine lady,” he said, “Without question, she was a great ship. The attachment we feel for her is very hard to explain but is very, very real.”

The Midway was launched as the world’s largest warship on March 20, 1945, at Newport News, Va., but is smaller than modern aircraft carriers today, and is one of two carriers to be mothballed because of federal military budget cuts.

Kettle drums and a lone trumpet played “Fanfare for the Common Man” by American composer Aaron Copland at 11:50 a.m. yesterday as the ship’s company ceremonially filed off the decks for what is thought to be the last time.

Navy Secretary H. Lawrence Garrett III called the ship “a symbol of America’s determination to fight for freedom” and said:

“She has nursed naval aviation from the days of propeller-driven aircraft to the most sophisticated jets,” he said.

Then came the aircraft, like ghosts of the ship’s namesake battle and the vessel’s recent past. Three World War II vintage SNJ trainers buzzed over the flight deck. Then two F4F Grumman Wildcats, a Navy fighting plane of 1942, droned over. Then, four F/A Vigilantes, which saw service in Operation Desert Storm, screamed overhead.

About 200,000 sailors and Marines knew the Midway as “my ship” during six decades. On Monday, almost all of the ship’s 4,500-member crew will disband and follow new orders to a shrinking number of U.S. Navy ships and stations around the world.

Then, the newly repainted Midway will be towed to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Wash., joining a mothball fleet that includes the carrier Hornet and the battleship New Jersey.

About 200 crew members will join the ship in Washington and complete the mothballing before also being transferred.

On Friday, Errico Russo, 66, came back on board the ship for the first time since a one-year tour of duty that he began in 1945 as an 18-year-old cook.

“I had tears in my eyes,” he said.

“Then I remembered all the good times I had as a kid and the good times and the things I learned. It was an honor to serve aboard her.”

Bob Dunham of Fairfax, Va., who came aboard the Midway in 1945 as chief gasoline officer, looked up at the 70,000-ton ship yesterday and said, “She’s beautiful.”

Dunham had lived through crippling Japanese bombings of his previous carrier, the wood-decked Intrepid, in the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

“Knowing that the the Midway had an armored deck, I thought to myself, ‘This is an opportunity to get even.’ There had never been a carrier like her.”

Richard Parker of Coronado, a retired Navy captain, was a dive bomber pilot who was used to landing on the 83-foot, teak decks of the carrier Wasp, also in the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

“This was about twice the size of the Wasp,” when he joined the Midway in 1945, he said.

But the Midway never launched an aircraft in anger against the Japanese because VJ Day, commemorating victory over Japan, came eight days before the ship was commissioned, on Sept. 10, 1945.

A three-member official Japanese delegation attended yesterday’s ceremony, headed by Minister Hiroshi Hirabayashi, second in command of the Japanese Embassay in Washington, D.C.

He spoke of the Midway’s 17 years of being home-ported at Yokosuka, Japan — from 1973 to 1991 — as the first U.S. aircraft carrier to be based in a foreign country.

“Looking at this ship, I feel we have come a long way. After the war, this ship was evidence of the solidarity of the U.S.-Japan security alliance. That’s why I feel a little sad to see the decommissioning of this great ship,” he said in an interview.

It was the Midway’s third decommissioning. The ship was decommissioned in 1955 to have an angled flight deck installed, and in 1965, only to be refitted in 1970 for a combat cruise to waters off Vietnam during which the ship launched 6,000 air attacks.

“She has plenty of fight left in her,” said Adm. Robert Kelly, Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. An epitaph of “born in war, commissioned in peace” is a fitting one for a warship, he suggested.

The carrier was named for the Battle of Midway, June 3 to 6, 1942, when three U.S. aircraft carriers fought four from the Empire of Japan northwest of this mid-Pacific island, with none of the ships ever coming close enough to see an enemy vessel.

All four Japanese carriers were either sunk or severely damaged. Japan also lost 3,500 sailors and airmen, including many crack pilots. The carrier Yorktown was sunk in the battle, but the Americans lost less than half as many planes and suffered one tenth as many casualties as the Japanese, and stopped their island invasion.

“The very name Midway has meant the decisive turning point from defeat to victory, from despair to hope,” said Chaplain Paul Murphey, who served aboard the Midway during the war in the Persian Gulf.

Source: This post first appeared on sandiegouniontribune.com

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