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Old Dec 16 2012, 02:30 AM   #1
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Default USS Enterprise inactiation from POV of an enlisted man

This is based on the inactivation ceremony I attended. I have tried to keep the facts correct. The story is from the point of view of an enlisted crew member, whose father was on the first cruise.

Paul finished his last our group, A veteran who had served on the ship in the 1969. The old veteran had wanted to show his son and daughter his work station and bunk. Paul listened as the man had told stories about his time aboard the Big E, as the ship was fondly called. The man talked about some of the stunts that he and his ship mates had pulled. Sneaking girlfriend on board. Getting into fights with marines during shore leaves. He told his kids how he had met their mother at a hospital in Hawaii. He had gotten sick and she was the nurse that had taken care of him until he was well again.

Paul and most of the crew had been giving tours all week. This was the last day and his last tour. As much as he had enjoyed showing past crew members the ship he was glad when he was able to led the veteran and his family off the ship. He would now be able to go to the small apartment he had moved into last week. He was tired and wanted to be alone for a while.

When he got home he pulled his dress uniforms out of the closet to inspect them, again. His pants were navy blue with sharp creases going down the front of them. His shirt was also black. It had a collar that went part way down his back and was trimmed in white. He had three gold stripes on his long sleeved shirt cuffs. On his upper arm were two gold v shaped stripes. Above that was a gold up side down triangle with a rounded top. In side the triangle was a small emblem that represent his specialty. Above the triangle was an eagle with its wings spread out. The shirt had three rows of double buttons. Under the dress shirt he would wear a white collared shirt and a tie the same color as his uniform.

On his chest he wore the ribbons he had been awarded. Below that he wore the medals he had been awarded. There were a total of five medals, but, he was proudest of his Silver Star, earned when he kept a lone gunmen from opening fire on a group of soldiers by throwing himself on to the man, knocking him down. He saved had saved eight men that day. He still did not know how the man had gotten close enough to the mess tent to open fire.

His shoes were also black. A very shiny black. He checked both pairs. He cleaned them, again. There was not a speck of dust to be found on either pair of shoes. Both pairs were so shiny that he could see his reflection in them. Only then did he set them back in the closet.

Lastly he check his brand new white dress hats. He had bought two of them and had not removed them from the plastic wrapping they had came in. The were both still in pristine condition.

Since his father had served on the shake down cruise and he had served on the last cruise the higher ups had decided that he should be take part in twenty-one gun salute, he was in charge of firing the first of the two cannons. He was also chosen one to present the captain's flag to the granddaughter of the ship's sponsor. Finally he would also be the first crew member to disembark after the officers.

He had been drilled in his duties until he could do them in his sleep. He had practiced loading and shooting the cannon for hours. Paul had been shown the exact spot he would receive the flag and where he was to stand to present the flag several time in the past week. He had walked up and down the steps he would be leaving the ship by until he knew the exact number of steps there were and how steep they were.

When he was not going over his duties he was making sure the men under him knew what their duties were. Most of them were on crowd duty. Directing people where to go and handing out programs. They also had to be in place when the crew was called to disembark. One other man from his unit was taking part in the 21 gun solute, he was shooting the second cannon.

His unit was also in charge of making sure the flight deck and mechanic’s area was in pristine condition. Every door knob, rivet, and screw had been polished. The floors and walls had been scrubbed, every window washed. Their area had been given a white glove inspection at least three times a day all week.

Even with all the practice and perorations taking place Paul was still nervous, What if the cannon did not fire like it was suppose to? What if he held the flag wrong or fell going down the ships steps?

He pulled his uniforms out for the forth time that day. All was in order, no stray lint, no dust had appeared on his shoes, his hats were still wrapped up. He put them back into the closet.

Paul laid down, but, he could not stay asleep for long. He kept dreaming of things that could go wrong. Everything from him falling down the step to a terrorist attack. He gave up after a few hours.

His mother, two brothers and his sister were all staying at a hotel near by. Paul's mother had bragged to all her friends when he had been assigned to the Enterprise. She had put the picture he had sent her, of him in his uniform, on the mantel next to his father's picture in his uniform. On the wall above the mantel was a large picture of the USS Enterprise (CVN 65). When he had told her about the inactivation ceremony and invited her as well as his brothers and sister she had accepted immediately. They had arrived on Monday and would go home the following Monday. He hoped to be able to spend time with them on Sunday. He had been too busy since they had arrived preparing for the ceremony to see them much.

At breakfast his mother, Tina, went on about how things had changed since his father had served. Back then she had to write letters and wait, sometimes months, for a reply. Now Paul could get on a computer and send email or even talk via computer. His mother went on to say how much she wished she could have communicated with his father, Joshua Harding in the same way.

Tina recalled the crowd and excitement of the launching of the new ship. Reporters were every where with their huge cameras. Nothing like they had now a days. It was so crowded a person could hardly move. She had kissed their father just before he had climbed the steps. It was a long year before she was able to kiss him again. Paul's mother dabbed her large brown tear-filled eyes with a napkin. His father had died ten years ago. Paul's seventy-six year old mother missed him more every day. Suddenly Paul saw his mother as being old and tired.

Paul had never thought about his mother being old before. She had always been the strong one. She was on a little over five feet tall, but had always seemed much larger to him. She had spent a lot of time raising the four kids by her self. His father would be gone for a year or more at a time. He would be home for a few months, than be gone again. Paul's mother had always made sure the knew how much their father loved them all. Being married to a sailor was not an easy life.

Suzzie had been born nine months after their father's deployment. Hank, Paul's oldest brother had been born nine month after their father's return. Tristan was born three years latter. Paul was a surprise, coming ten years latter. His parents had given up on having more children when Paul came along.

Hank and Tristan were chatting about all the places they had lived. When they started talking about their father and some of the things they had done together Tina started getting up set. Talking about him seemed to remind Tina of what she had lost. She dabbed her eyes.

It was his tall fifty-two year old sister, Suzzie who decided to change the topic, “So where are you going to be station now?”

“Here at the base for now. Not sure for how long,” Paul answered her. Glad to change the subject.

“I hope you can come home for the holidays.” Tina, Paul's mother, said hopefully.

“I will do everything I can to make it,” Paul promised.

Paul hoped he could get time off. Norfolk Virginia could get cold in the winter. It would be nice to spend a couple of weeks in Arizona, where the temperature rarely got below seventy degrees. Paul admitted it would also be nice to visit with his family. He had not seen his two nephews ages eight and ten or his six year old niece in three years. He had invited them, but it had been decided that they were too young to sit still for the ceremony. They had been left home with their other parent. None of Paul's in-laws could get the time off work. Paul hated to admit it, even to himself, he was glad they had not been able to come. The Enterprise had been in the family since 1962. The ending should be with just the family.

Paul left the others still eating and making holiday plans. They would come over latter. Not wanting to take the chance of getting anything on his uniform Paul had not worn it to breakfast. He took his leave and headed to the base to change.

Paul arrived on base in time to dress before the 0800 inspection. Once inspection was over he was dismissed until it was time to report to the flight deck, where the two cannons were. Paul was too nervous to walk among the people arriving for the afternoon ceremony. He found a quiet spot he could sit with his thoughts. Than feeling restless he got up and started walking through the ship.

The ship looked great. She had red, white and blue banner lining the front middle, with a huge U.S flag hung in one spot. In anther spot was a flag, just as large, bearing the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) emblem. The awards the ship had received, some by past USS Enterprise ships and some by this ship, had been repainted and gleamed in the sun.

The thought that the great ship would no longer be patrolling the waters was upsetting. Paul had been hearing stories about the ship for as long as he could remember. His father had loved to talk about the ten years he had spent as an air plane mechanic. He had been in charge of inspecting the parts used on the air plane. Paul had been proud to be following in his father's foot steps. He had even been given the same bunk his father had roomed in. His only regret had been that his father had not lived to see him board the ship. He had been assigned to the ship only a month after his father's death. He always had the feeling that somehow his father was watching over him and was proud of him.

Paul had been in the navy for close to nineteen years, starting as a seaman and raising to the rating of chief petty officer, in charge of air plane safety. His duties were much like his father's. He inspected air plane parts, before they were installed. He than checked to make sure they had been installed correctly.

Paul had several hours before he had to be ready to shot the first cannon. He spent the time prowling the ship. He passed most of his ship mates doing the same. Each wearing their dress uniforms and every medal or ribbon they had been awarded. All of them looked very solemn and a bit sad.

He went up to the flight deck and looked down at all the people crowding onto the pier to watch the inactivation ceremony. Most of them wore patches, hats or shirts proclaiming the fact that they were veterans of the USS Enterprise (CVN 65). Paul was happy to see them. The old girl was receiving a grand send off.

Even the weather was cooperating. The temperature was unseasonable warm, around sixty three degrees. The sky was cloud free, with only a small wind blowing. You could not ask for a better day.

The brass including, Captain William C. Hamilton, and Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Jonathan Greenert as well as nine past captains. There were many high ranking officers sitting in the VIP area. From the angle he was at he could not tell what the ranks were. He had never seen so much brass in one place before. They started taking their seats. A video started playing of the history of the USS Enterprise (CVN65) on the two large screens that had been set up. After it had played through a few time one of the speakers got up and asked everyone to take their seat. It was his cue to report to the cannons.

He did not pay much attention to the speakers. At this point they were thanking everyone for coming and explaining why it was an inactivation ceremony, not a decommissioning. He had heard it all before. In order for it to be a decommissioning all the fuel had to be removed, but the engines had to be intact. With the engines being powered by nuclear power the engines, or reactors, had to be removed first, or something like that. He was never real clear on the subject.

At last the signal was given for the 21 gun salute to begin. Paul loaded the cannon and waited for the order to be given, then fired off the first shot. He reloaded as the second cannon went off. He took a quick look at the crowd, most of them looked startled, as if they had not expected the loud boom of the cannon. He reloaded and shot the cannon until his cannon had been shot eleven time. The other cannon had gone off ten times. A cloud of smoke hung thickly in the air He sighed in relieve, nothing had gone wrong.

He quickly walked to his next assignment. The flag presentation. He paced back and forth behind the huge ship's flag until he heard the command for the captain's flag to be lowered. He walked in the measured steps he had practiced to receive the flag. He then walked solemnly to stand between the two podiums that had been set up for the speakers. When the time came he held the folded flag, with just one star showing, in front of him for all to see. He then made a sharp right turn and handed the flag to the granddaughter of Mrs. William Franke, the ship's sponsor. She took the flag and gave nod of thanks for the flag. He made another sharp turn and walked back into the bowels of the ship. He had been to nervous to noticed what the grand daughter looked liked. He only remembered that her hands were shaking as they accepted the flag.

Paul found his place in line of crew members who were getting ready for the order to disembark for the last time to be given. An officer inspected each crew member. Several had to straighten up their shirts or straighten out their medals, Two had been told to neaten up their hair.. The officer look Paul over and gave him a quick nod. He had passed inspection.

The crew members were all talking quietly. Talking about their time aboard the ship. None of seemed real. Especially to Paul. It just did not seem possible that the ship, the Big E, the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) would be no more. The ship that held so many memories, some bad, some good for so many veterans was being dry docked. Paul's eyes started watering.
There were two sets of steps one set on the far left, the other set was on the far right side. Paul was with the half of the crew assigned to the left steps. Paul looked around, most of the crew members also had watery eyes. They looked at one another and smiled encouragement to each other. They would get through this together. Just as they had gotten through tough assignments before.

He could hear the video message of the Navy Secretary Ray Mabus He was announcing that the next air craft carrier built would be named the USS Enterprise (CVN 80). The crowd outside went wild, yelling and cheering.

Paul heard the command to disembark. He looked straight ahead. As the last officer on his end of the ship started down the steep Paul took one last look behind him.

“Good by, old girl. You have served us proudly. I thank you,” Paul whispered to the ship.

He stood up straighter, taller and followed the last officer down the stairs. The rest of the crew members assigned to the steps on the left were following him. They joined the officers and crew member coming down from the right set of steps on pier in front of the ship, facing the crowd. Paul noticed that most of the crowd were wiping their tear filled eyes.

The captain gave the order for the last of the flags to be lowered and the lights to be turned off. Paul allowed his mind to wander, he did not want to hear the last orders that would put the first nuclear air craft carrier out of action. To all that had served or who had family who had served aboard the ship, it was much more than just a ship. It was home. The ship would be part of them forever.

At last the crowd was thanked for coming and the crew dismissed. The USS Enterprise (CVN 65) would have no more mission, would patrol no more waters, would no longer make the world a safer place.

Paul hoped and prayed he would be able to serve on the next nuclear air craft carrier built, the USS Enterprise (CVN 80). He smiled, at least the name, Enterprise, would continue.


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