Wednesday, February 24, 2021

A Look Back At The Aircraft Carrier USS Kitty Hawk's 1987 SLEP Overhaul In Philadelphia

I've been thinking about the fate of my old ship, the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, which is now decommissioned and awaiting her demise in Bremerton, Washington. 

I'd love to see the old carrier become a floating museum at the Philadelphia Navy Base, as other carriers live on in other cities. But converting a decommissioned carrier to a museum is an expensive affair that few cities can afford. 

So I'm preparing for a sad ending for a great ship that saw and made history. 

In 1961 my late father, a former WWII Navy UDT frogman, took me to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard to see the commissioning of a new aircraft carrier, the USS Kitty Hawk, CVA-63. 

I reported aboard the Kitty Hawk in 1970 as a 17-year-old seaman apprentice. I served aboard for two years and did a WESTPAC cruise. 

The aircraft carrier operated on "Yankee Station" off the coast of North Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin in the South China Sea. The carrier's aircraft performed sorties against North Vietnamese and Viet Cong positions in support of U.S. and South Vietnamese ground troops.

The aircraft carrier also made port of calls to Hawaii, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Sasebo, Japan.   

This was quite an adventure for a young man.  

The USS Kitty Hawk returned to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in 1987 for a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) overhaul. (See top photo). 

I took my wife and infant daughter to the welcoming ceremony.  

At the time, I was serving as the civilian administrative officer of a Defense Department command in Philadelphia. Our DoD command oversaw many of the contractors who worked on the Kitty Hawk's overhaul. As the administrative officer, I oversaw security, safety, public affairs and other support programs for the command. 

In my public affairs role, I organized several visits to the Kitty Hawk for our military and civilian employees. They were the contract administrators, quality assurance inspectors, engineers and others who dealt with the Kitty Hawk's SLEP program. 

It was a most interesting experience to return to my old ship after all those years.

The Kitty Hawk may end up being sunk or broken up for scrap metal, but the role the aircraft carrier played will live on in history, and live on in the memories of her former sailors.  

Note: The three photos of me on the Kitty Hawk were taken by Joe Piazza.

You can click on the above photos to enlarge. 

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