For five decades, the nuclear powered aircraft carrier Enterprise plowed the seven seas to protect the freedoms of American citizens and guarantee freedom of the seas for all. From the Cuban missile crisis through its participation in conflicts arising out of the 9/11 attacks, “The Big ‘E’” was the tip of the spear of American foreign policy.
Today, in front of 12,000 former crew, their families, and friends, the United States Navy formerly retired Enterprise from active service.
The 1,123-foot (342-metres) long Enterprise was commissioned in 1961 with eight nuclear reactors on board, and the next year was deployed to participate in a blockade of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Since then, it has played a role in a number of naval missions, including deployments to Vietnam and to the Middle East as part of the U.S. response to the September 11, 2001, attacks. It returned from its final deployment about a month ago, said Navy spokesman Mike Maus.
Nicknamed the “Big E,” the Enterprise was the oldest active duty ship in the U.S. Naval fleet, according to the military, and was the eighth U.S. military ship to bear the name Enterprise.
The roughly 12,000 people who participated in the ceremony for the USS Enterprise include many former crew members and their friends, Maus said. The ceremony was held in Virginia at Naval Station Norfolk.
The Enterprise will stay at Naval Station Norfolk for several months and then will move to a shipyard in nearby Newport News, Virginia, where its nuclear fuel will be removed from the vessel, Maus said.
After that, the ship will be towed to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Washington state, where its nuclear reactors will be dismantled and the Enterprise will be scrapped, Maus said.
There are no plans to turn the Enterprise into a museum, as has been done with other historic warships.
The Navy said in a statement that inactivation and defueling of the Enterprise will have “major impacts on the structure of the ship” and that it would be too costly to “return the ship to a condition that would support it becoming a museum.”
Even today, Enterprise was an impressive weapon of war. Its 8 nuclear reactors powered the ship to speeds up to 34 knots. It carried a crew of 5,000 seamen and airmen and up to 90 aircraft. It was the longest naval vessel in the world in its time, displacing nearly 95,000 tons — a truly fearsome manifestation of American power.
Enterprise was the second oldest commissioned warship in the US Navy, superseded only by the three masted frigate Constitution. She and her crew have much to be proud having served this nation with honor and courage for so long.