This was the final voyage of the USS Enterprise.
Today, the fifty-one year old carrier’s career came to an end with a ceremony at the Naval Station Norfolk and was attended by thousands of former crew members, ship builders and their families. She was the eighth ship to bear the name Enterprise. She will not be the last. CVN-80, a Gerald Ford-class ship will continue to bear the name Enterprise.
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus stated in a video message that the third Ford-class aircraft carrier would bear the name Enterprise. She will be laid down in 2018 after the Ford and the USS John F. Kennedy will be completed. The fate of the current Enterprise is grim, however. The removal of her nuclear fuel will render her incapable of being turned into a museum. She was, however, the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier
Former interior communications electrician Kirk McDonnell served onboard the Enterprise for four years from 1983 to 1987 and stated that “It’ll be a special memory. The tour yesterday was a highlight of the last 20 years of my life. I’ve missed the Enterprise since every day I walked off of it.”
The conversion to nuclear power allowed the ship to stay out at sea for very long periods of time, and meant that the ship could carry twice the aircraft fuel and ordinance that a conventional aircraft carrier could at the time. The Enterprise is the only ship of her class, and the only ship to have eight nuclear reactors compared to the two of the others.
The ship has earned the motto “We are Legend” due to participation in every conflict that the US has been part of since the Cuban Missile Crisis. At the time of the 9/11 attacks, the ship was heading back to Virginia. When then Captain James A. Winnefeld daw the attacks, he gave the order to head the ship to southwest Asia. Winnefeld would go on to be promoted to Admiral and serves as the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Chief of Naval Operations Jonathan Greenert stated that “She just served on the cutting edge at the tip of the spear when she returned here in November. It’s shown that the aircraft carrier can evolve as a platform with many payloads relevant for five decades and will be part of our national security for the foreseeable future as we bring on the Gerald Ford to replace the Enterprise.”
Mabus’ announcement of the next Enterprise drew a standing ovation from those gathered to see the ship decommissioned. There had been petitions to have a new ship named Enterprise. Larry Kosnopfal, one of the ship’s original crew, stated “It just seems to be a neat name for a ship. It’s better than being named for a politician.”
The future commanding officer of the USS Enterprise will be handed a 200lb time capsule filled with memorabilia from the Enterprise including notes from the sailors, insignia, and small pieces of the ship.
The name Enterprise has been part of the Navy since before the United States came into being. The first USS Enterprise served on Lake Champlain during the Revolutionary War. The ships have been known as “Big E” since the first carrier to bear the name, CV-6. That USS Enterprise would give her name to the fictional USS Enterprise NCC-1701. In part, the popularity of the Star Trek Enterprise is what drove non-military members to want to see the name continue.
“You treat her like a lady, and she’ll always bring you home.”