In January 1971, I saluted the Ensign (flag) from the quarterdeck of the USS Intrepid for the very last time in Quonset Point, RI and immediately headed west in my new Camaro. My 3.5 years of service with the U.S. Navy was complete.
Some 40 years later, I finally got to pay homage to the Fighting I, anchored in the harbor on the Hudson River in New York City. That was my personal mecca.
That was a nostalgic moment to say the least, and even forced a hint of a tear that rolled down my cheeks. Yes, you can go home.
Everyone has to start somewhere. I became a journalist in the U.S. Navy in 1967, and my final tour of duty was on board this anti-submarine warfare aircraft carrier, which steamed from Beeville, TX to Halifax, NS, hunting Russian eavesdropping trawlers while serving as a training base for reserve Navy pilots. An education in journalism, which began in the Navy in 1967, has served me well for the rest of my professional career.
When I heard that the Intrepid, harbored in San Juan, PR in the 1980s, was being saved from the scrap heap and would be hauled to New York City to eventually become a floating air and sea museum, I was thrilled. There are thousands of ships in the Navy that are either mothballed, decommissioned, or sold off for scrap. The Fighting I was going to have second chance at life. A band of brothers who served on the ship, from its commissioning in 1943 as a warship in World War II pooled their resources to save the carrier from being sold off and ground into razor blades.
Once onboard, I got to go below decks and see the dining room mess hall where everyone ate, look over a replica of a berthing compartment where sailors slept in beds chained together four-high, and walked onto the bridge and the conning tour where I took thousands of photos of planes taking off and landing and where I interviewed the captain of the ship on numerous occasions back in 1970.
New York City at Christmas is a real visitor's delight. I stayed with my brother and his wife on the Upper Eastside of Manhattan in Morningside Heights, directly across the street from Columbia University and Barnard College.
President Obama’s tiny dorm room at Columbia was nowhere to be found. New York is all about navigating the labyrinth of an intricate subway system. My brother, a retired Michigan attorney and a former Navy officer in his own right during Vietnam, was my official tour guide. Besides the Intrepid, we toured the United Nations, saw the skaters at Rockefeller Plaza, took in the musical The Fantastics in Times Square, walked through Macy’s and dropped in to meet the local staff at Patch.
Hard to believe more than 8 million people live on a plot of ground some 12 miles long and about 6 miles across. New York is so congested, there is no room for alleys between buildings. Garbage is taken in giant bags to the curb at night and completely removed by early morning. Frankly, New Yorkers were very friendly. I’ve gotten over my Midwestern phobia that all New Yorkers are either loud and pushy or both. That was hardly the case. Most New Yorkers seem to be warm and friendly and helpful to out of towners. Just ask, and you’ll get help.
Now, I’m sort of hooked on the place. I needed more time to go up into the Empire State Building, go out to Ellis Island and see the Statue of Liberty and maybe even take a side trip to Brooklyn or Jersey for a Kosher corned beef sandwich.
I’m glad I went back. I’m especially glad in my own little way, I could help out the Intrepid tour entourage. The tour guide told visitors the ship had a wooden flight deck until its last days of service. I told him that was not so, that the ship had a steel deck to land those heavy, modern jet fighter planes and he thanked me for setting the record straight.
In New York, there’s so much to see and do. I’m glad I went.
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