USS Midway and other sights of San Diego
Late last month, I was in San Diego for the annual American Society of Microbiology meeting. While there I was able to combine business with a little pleasure. The meeting was in the San Diego Convention Center downtown by the water and just across the harbor from the Naval Air Station. From the window of my hotel, I could look out and see three aircraft carriers, the Nimitz (CVN-68), the Carl Vinson (CVN-70), and the Ronald Reagan (CVN-76).
During the week I was able to break away and visit the USS Midway (CV-41), which is preserved as a museum ship in San Diego harbor. After paying our shekels, we boarded the ship and started our tour on the hangar deck. The admission price includes use of a self-guided audio tour system. You given a digital player with a numeric keypad and a pair of headphones. At any of the marked stations, you can key in the number and get a description of that aircraft, station, etc. The information seemed well presented, but my coworker and I seldom used our though, as we both had a good deal of basic knowledge and using the headphones made it harder to talk to one another. If you are going, I recommend taking along your own pair of earbuds or light weight headphones if you have them, as the supplied headphones are a bit clunky.
The hangar deck houses a number of exhibits of WWII era aircraft, including a Corsair, an SBD, and an Avenger. There are a number of interesting photo exhibits and other stuff there as well. One exhibit I really liked was a cut away view of a Pratt and Whitney 2800 Double Wasp radial engine. It was geared to a motor so you could see the workings of the pistons, crankshaft, propeller gearings, etc. of the radial as it turned. There were a number of stations for flight simulators and such (which we ignored in our quest for more warbirds). Unfortunately, the only camera I had along was the one in my Crackberry, and most of the photos from inside didn’t turn out well.
Working our way aft, we then proceeded onto the flight deck, where the jet collection is housed. The collection included everything from an F-18 to an F-9 Panther and all appeared in pretty good condition. We spent a lot of time wandering around all of the jets and taking in size (or lack of it in the case of something like an A-4) of the birds. The museum has an enthusiastic staff of volunteers that were on hand to provide seminars and information along the way. They had two stations on deck with volunteer veterans describing the procedures for landing and launching an aircraft from the deck of a carrier. We didn’t stop to listen too much, but the gentlemen giving the talk were enthusiastic and doing a fantastic job of educating the general public as to the working of the carrier.
The museum staff provides a guided tour through the ship’s island. On the day we were there the aircraft control room was closed off for some repair work, but we went through the chart room and command bridge.
After the tour of the island, we went below and toured through some of the crew spaces that were opened up, including the infirmary, some mess halls, the machine shop, etc. I definitely would not have wanted to be on board if I was too tall or claustrophobic (neither of which is a problem for me).
The highlight of the trip to the Midway for me though was the time we spent talking to Ed “Wendy” Wendorf. Mr Wendorf was an F6F Hellcat pilot in WWII, flying from the deck of the second USS Lexington (CV-16) with VF-16. He was an ace with 8 kills by his account who took part in the operations at Tarawa and Guam, including the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot. We spoke to him for about half an hour and he told us about some of his experiences during the war. Among the anecdotes, he related how he arrived at Pearl Harbor for his duty assignment only days before the squadron was due to set out for the front. He had trained in Wildcats and had no experience in Hellcats. With a veteran of the squadron flying along side, he was able to get in a few touch and go’s on the mock carrier deck painted on the runway before they shipped out for their carrier. On the way out he was able to get in a few carrier landings before they reached the combat zone, but went into combat with about 10 hours of flight time in the F6F. He also provided some interesting insight into the rotation of squadrons that went on in the American fleet during the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot. The approach of the Japanese aircraft in uncoordinated groups allowed the American air controllers to vector an entire group onto the target, then return that group to the carrier decks for rearming while the second fighter group launched to meet the next threat. The American knack for organization and efficiency was a weapon every bit as lethal as guns and machines. He also told us about his harrowing approach and landing after being wounded in action. He had a Zero latch onto his tail and had a 7.7mm bullet crease his scalp. Fortunately the 20mm shells didn’t get Wendy, but something got hold of his Hellcat, as he had lost hydraulic power and his tail hook was not functional. He was having to keep one hand on his scalp wound to keep the bleeding under control but managed to lower the gear and make a one-handed, one-eyed approach to the Lexington with no flaps and no arrester hook. He manged to get the plane in and careened into the barrier with no more injuries than the bullet wound. He and I also found some common ground – we both grew up in Central Texas (Wendy is from West, Texas and I am from Gatesville, Texas), so we talked about Central Texas and kolaches for a few minutes.
On our way out another veteran of WWII was manning the place by the SBD. The gentleman was a Helldiver pilot, but we were hungry at this point so decided to move along. Besides, he was getting a lot of attention from three attractive young ladies and seemed to be enjoying himself greatly. Seemed a fitting reward for his service to our country, so we decided not to get in the way with more talk about days gone by :).
Overall, I really enjoyed my trip aboard the Midway and definitely recommend it if you find yourself in San Diego.