May is among the more popular months for commissioning ceremonies. This is the first in a series for Military Monday featuring currently-serving Navy ships celebrating significant milestones in their careers: 10, 20, 30 and even 40 years. The first featured ship is USS Nimitz (CVN 68).
When USS Nimitz (CVN 68) was commissioned May 3, 1975, at Naval Station Norfolk, there was much fuss and fanfare befitting a nuclear-powered supercarrier bearing the name of a legendary naval officer, Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz.
“Only America can make a machine like this,” said President Gerald R. Ford at the ceremony where more than 20,000 attended. “There is nothing like her in the world.”
Other dignitaries included Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger, Secretary of the Navy J. William Middendorf, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. James L. Holloway III, and the father of the Nuclear Navy, Adm. Hyman Rickover.
WHAT ELSE WAS GOING ON?
* Captain & Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together,” was playing on the radio as the top pop song of the year. (Fun trivia question: What was the Captain’s name? The fabulously named Daryl Dragon).
* The top-grossing movie of 1975 – “Jaws” – kept people out of the water. Richard Dreyfuss maybe had Nimitz in mind when he quipped: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” after mechanical shark Bruce chewed up the back of Robert Shaw’s boat
* Getting an office fax machine was the “next big thing.”
* Gas for cruising Main Street was cheap at .53 cents a gallon for those 70s muscle cars: Chargers, Camaros, Corvettes and Cutlesses.
* The recession saw unemployment rise 8.1 percent, while the salary of a petty officer third class (E4) at $5,220 a year was well below the median income of $11,800 and a median-priced home of $42,600.
Nimitz would make her first deployment in July 1976, receiving her first Battle “E” award. A second deployment was as uneventful as the first. Soon after, the carrier began filming as the time-traveling star of the 1980 film “The Final Countdown.” The mind-bending plot has the supercarrier going through a freak storm in 1980 only to find itself – and her crew — in the Pacific on Dec. 6, 1941.
Tensions were increasing as Nimitz sailed on her third deployment in 1979 during the Iran American Embassy hostage crisis. It was from her decks Operation Evening Light was launched to rescue the hostages, but the mission was aborted after a helicopter crashed while refueling.
While deployed again in June 1985, Nimitz was sent to the coast of Lebanon in response to the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 by two Lebanese gunmen. Nimitz’ Airwing 8 bombed several sites in Beirut during the 67 days they flew sorties over the country.
On Sept. 1, 1997, Nimitz began a circumnavigation of the world that concluded March 2, 1998 at Newport News, Va., where the carrier would begin a 3-year nuclear Refueling and Complex Overhaul that ended June 25, 2001.
By March 2003, the carrier was deployed to the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Nimitz and CVW-11 were awarded the 2003 “Battle E” and “Flatley Award” in 2004.
As Nimitz marked her third decade of service, the ship would be the star of the small screen, the 10-part PBS documentary series “Carrier” while the supercarrier was deployed to the Persian Gulf on May 7, 2005. The carrier received another “Battle E” in 2005, while the PBS series, released in 2008, would earn an Emmy award.
After only four months in San Diego, Nimitz was deployed again in January 2008. In the Western Pacific for less than a month, the ship and her embarked Hornets tangled with Russian Tu-95 “Bear” bombers as they flew to within a few miles of Nimitz at an altitude of only 2,000 feet. The Hornets intercepted and chased the bombers back to within Russian airspace. The carrier received yet another “Battle E” for 2007 and in 2009 received the Meritorious Unit Award for her back-to-back deployments of 2007-2008.
In 2012, Nimitz changed homeport yet again, this time to Naval Station Everett, Wash.
SO WHERE IS NIMITZ NOW?
After participating in a series of exercises for two years, the now 40-year-old carrier has relocated to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Wash., for a scheduled 16-month maintenance cycle.
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