—— It’s not till you’re on board that you fully realize what an amazing ship this is. Can you share with us a little about how the USS Midway came to be?
The Midway, as most people probably know, was named after the Battle of Midway—the most famous sea battle in the history of the US Navy. That battle was really a line of demarcation that represented one of the very first times that a battle at sea was fought without coming into visual contact with the enemy ships. Up until that time, battleships would come in and launch their shells at an enemy that they had visual contact with, but all that changed after the Battle of Midway. It was really the validation, if you will, of naval aviation’s capabilities. The battle between the American and Japanese fleets took place in the skies and the fighter planes that each ship carried. It was significant because it really represented the end of the battleship-era and the beginning of the aircraft carrier-era. After that battle they decided that an aircraft carrier should be named to commemorate the battle, so back in ‘42 when the President gave the go ahead to start building her, they knew it was going to be the USS Midway. It’s interesting that she was actually commissioned 10 days after we signed the treaty ending hostilities with Japan in WWII.
—— I understand the Midway was a forerunner of modern aircraft carriers?
It really was. Midway signaled the beginning of the larger super carriers and for 10 years she was the largest ship in the world; she was too big for San Diego harbor and had to wait out past Pt. Loma and she was even too big for the Panama Canal. Midway was the very first aircraft carrier that was built with a steel fight deck; prior to that they were all built with wooden decks, but the jets where getting too heavy for the old wooden decks and they would catch fire. She was modified numerous times over her 47 years of service, the longest serving ship in the history of the Navy, and led the way with many naval firsts, first angle deck, and was a pioneer in ship based rocket launches. She was the truly the first of what would be come the super aircraft carriers.
Midway was truly a city at sea. Five years in the making, she is 1,000 feet long, 250 feet wide and weighs 45,000 tons; the hull alone weighed 29,000 tons. On board Midway had four engine rooms and 12 boilers producing 212,000 horsepower, and to make her less susceptible to catastrophic torpedo damage Midway contains more than 1,750 watertight compartments. Throughout the ship more than 2,500 miles of copper conductors connected 12,000 electrical lamps. With a full allotment of personnel she carried 4,500 men and served 13,000 meals a day before she was officially decommissioned here in San Diego and made the journey north to Bremerton, WA.
—— A lot of people don’t realize the strong bond that exists between the Midway and Japan, could you tell us a little about that?
Of course, you know Midway spent the latter part of her life, the last 19 years, in Japan, operating out of Yokosuka. When America finally got authorization to homeport a carrier in Japan, the USS Midway was the first, starting in 1973…and she never came back till she was decommissioned in 1992.
—— So just about all of the military personnel stationed in Japan, as well as, many of the local people knew the Midway in some form or another?
Absolutely! Not only was the Midway home to more than 250, 000 naval personnel throughout the years, but all the work that was done to the ship while it was in Japan was done by local Japanese. Not to mention that many of the sailors on this ship met their wives in Japan and started their families while they were stationed there. From all this there developed a real kinship between the Midway and the city of Yokosuka. As a matter of fact, one of the things we’ll be doing on Memorial Day is paying tribute to Mr. Ichiro Masuoka, aka “Mr. Navy”. Our Chief Naval Officer, the head of the entire US Navy, was so enamored with the work that he was doing on our behalf, between the Midway and the Japanese Government, that he dubbed him “Mr. Navy” and that nickname kind of stuck throughout the years. In fact, Mr. Masuoka felt such a strong connection to this ship that before he passed away one of his dying wishes was for his memorabilia to be transferred to the Midway. Well, just recently we received it from his wife Mrs. Masuoka, who was just on board visiting. That’s why we are so excited about opening up the Mr. Navy exhibit, because he was one of the leaders that bridged the gap between our countries.
—— It’s ironic, isn’t it? An aircraft carrier named after one of the fiercest battles between America and Japan, ends up being Japan’s aircraft carrier and grows to be a goodwill ambassador between the two countries and for the entire region.
Exactly! Midway’s mission was as much diplomatic as anything else and a large component of that was humanitarian; wherever she was needed she was there. “Born in war, she retired in peace,” I believe Admiral Robert Kelly said. Midway’s home was Japan for so long that people there really had a reverence for her and the Midway for Japan. This was considered the top operational aircraft carrier in the western Pacific. It earned the moniker Midway Magic, because while most of the ships are on a cycle, 6-months on and 6-months off, the Midway was a carrier that never rested. Whenever there was a problem or there was a mechanical breakdown, a need for supplementary forces, they’d always call on the Midway! And so she came to be known as Midway Magic.
—— Everyone who’s been around her must have a favorite Midway story.
No doubt. One of the most enchanting stories about the Midway took place just after she was decommissioned. You see once a ship has been decommissioned it no longer moves under its own power; they have to tow them to their final resting place by tugboat. Finally, Midway, with its rudders locked in place, was being towed out of San Diego harbor. Tugboats were leading her out and as they rounded Pt. Loma and began heading north…all of a sudden Midway started pulling west. Something like that should have been impossible, but she wanted to head out to deeper water…almost as if she was trying to head back to Japan one last time! The tugboat crew was at a loss to explain how Midway seemingly had a will of her own, but they indulged her, cut their engines and floated out to the reluctant warrior. A few moments later, Midway settled back in behind them heading north. It was a fitting final gesture and just another part of the Midway Magic.
—— So over time Midway grew to become more than just the sum of her massive parts and grew to embody the spirit of all those that passed her way?
We saw that when we first opened up when the many who served came back to visit. We had huge groups that made up her early crews from 1945 that came back for her opening and they came from all over. It became clear that this ship and her spirit was of national importance to the personnel and the people that she had hosted and helped all over the world.
—— I guess you’ve borne witness to more than a few emotional reunions on board?
Oh sure, very much so. Some silent, some in tears; we’ve had the whole gamut of emotions.
I remember one fella who came on board and said, “Come on man! I’ve just got to take my mom down to show her where I lived!” That’s not uncommon. The people that served all have such a deep connection to Midway and are very special people; I’m in awe of every one of them.
—— Did you and Midway ever cross paths during your long naval career?
We did. I don’t have the background that a lot of the docents and shipmates here have with Midway, but I came into contact with her on more than one occasion. I put in 30 great years with the Navy as a helicopter pilot and retired as a Rear Admiral. I was never assigned to Midway, but I’ve landed on the ship a number of times doing vertical- replenishments, bringing them their groceries and stuff…. that was out in the South China Sea. One thing I can tell you is that everybody knew about the Midway! It always had a great reputation and we’re working on adding to that reputation in her second go around here in San Diego as a world-class museum.
—— I noticed on the flight deck, in addition to some of the wonderful airplanes, you’ve got quite an assortment of helicopters. Which ones did you fly?
The truth is I flew everyone one of those. I started off in this very squadron, in the HC-11, and I instructed for about 800 hours in the Huey.
—— How did the Midway find its way back to San Diego and become the museum that we see today?
Well in the early ‘90s the folks here in San Diego, lead by our founder Alan Uke, went forward to petition the Navy to bring the Midway back here as a museum. Alan’s thinking was that this is a great Navy and Marine Corp town, with a long and proud legacy, and yet there was no real monument to this so “Why don’t we bring an aircraft carrier, the Midway, to San Diego and open it up as a museum?” People thought it was a crazy idea at the time, but he built a wonderful team that got very involved in lobbying the Navy and addressing the concerns of the city. Finally in the mid-‘90s it seemed like this could actually become a reality. Sure, there were times when it looked like it might not happen, but thanks to the new heroes of the Midway, who fought its last battle, they found a way to get her to San Diego. Now that we’re here the people and the community have really embraced us. In the 10 months we’ve been open we’ve seen over 700,000 visitors and I think that this is really becoming the kind of venue that San Diego can be really proud of.
—— So can you tell me a little bit about what the “new” Midway has to offer?
Slowly but surely, we are weaving our way into the fabric of downtown San Diego, becoming a wonderful world-class museum, developing education programs for our children and serving as an after-hours venue for special events. We’re open everyday from 10-5 as a museum, and we’re opening up more of the ship all the time. Right now we say “the ship is the trip” because touring the various parts of Midway is the main attraction, with all its planes, helicopters and hardware. As you can see we don’t cordon-off the planes like some places, so you can really interact with them and even go inside. We’ve got a gift shop, restaurant, flight simulators and exhibits with more on the way. One of the nicest things we offer, with every admission, is a free guided audio-tour in English, Spanish and by mid-May Japanese, which is being recorded as we speak. It’s funny though, for some reason some of our veterans are hesitant to use it. They come onboard and they’ve got their wife and children and I say to them, “Sir, the guided audio-tour is free of charge. We give it to all our guests, doesn’t cost you a penny.” and they’ll bellow, “I don’t need an audio-tour! I’ve been on these ships my whole life!” “Yes sir, I understand. You know I’ve done a couple of years in the Navy myself….” and some of them, God bless them, just don’t want to have anything to do with it, but its one of the best things you can do onboard and its free!
—— What do you do here after-hours and with your education programs?
Well, the only reason we close at 5pm is because of our after-hour events; we host special events that start at 6:30 and we need some time to transition from a museum to special-events. We can welcome up to 3,500 people onboard and evening aboard the Midway is special—there’s not a better view in the city. Finally, our most important mission is our 3-part education program; we’ve got an over-night program, lessons designed for CA’s 3rd-12th grade curriculum and we host field trips. Our over-night program has already welcomed over 5,000 kids! They come on board at 5:00, we serve’em a Navy dinner down on the mess decks and they get to eat where the sailors ate. They get to sleep on the bunks 3-high, just like the sailors did, we stand watches at night, and the next day they tour the rest of the ship. One of their favorites is the flight simulator. Every group is mandated to have a certain number of adult chaperones, but frankly I’m not sure who’s having more fun the kids or the adults! We’ve also developed lessons that coincide with the state teaching curriculum. We looked at what the requirements are and designed our lessons around what is applicable on the ship. We just deployed our electricity and magnetism curriculum. We’ve designed lesson plans and teaching materials for the classrooms and when the kids come on board we take them around to different places on the ship to show them how it’s really applied. They really ooh and aah when they see what these giant machines can do. Kids love it and it really stimulates the learning experience.
—— What does the future hold for the Midway?
We want to keep improving what we’ve already got, making it more interactive, and keep adding aircraft and opening up more of the ship. We just opened up below the water line and so you can go down into the engine spaces. Later, we’ll be opening up access to officers country, you’ll be able to see the wardroom, where the officers eat, and where they cook their meals, where they have their lounge and get their haircut and then down into the laundry. How do you do laundry for 4,500 people? Well, you’ll be able to see it all. A little further down the road, we’re looking at opening up a theater. As a matter of fact, we just received permission from the Hope family to name our theater after Bob Hope…the Bob Hope Memorial Theater. It’s fitting because when Bob Hope would go to entertain the troops stationed over in Japan and the western Pacific, he would often hold his shows onboard the USS Midway! So eventually we’ll have a theater where you can come and watch films about naval history and Bob Hope movies of course! We are moving so fast and have come so far in less than a year…but there is still so much more to do. We want to make this a place where the public can come and get a taste of what it’s like to be on an aircraft carrier.
(05-01-2005 issue, Interviewed by Terry Nicholas)