When the USS Kitty Hawk Veterans Association held a reunion in Nashville at the end of October, one thing was on everyone's mind: The ship was going to scrapped despite years of efforts and fundraising to turn the aircraft carrier into a museum.
Naval Sea Systems Command spokeswoman Colleen O'Rourke told the Kitsap Sun in October the Kitty Hawk was headed for the scrapyard after years of being held in reserve status at the Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility in Bremerton. This was the Navy's plan all along, ever since the ship was decommissioned in 2009, although it had not yet been officially announced until that point.
The former Kitty Hawk sailors felt blindsided by the news.
They had previously believed they would at least get a chance to save the aircraft carrier from the fate of being towed to the scrapyard, which is what happened to the last three inactive aircraft carriers moored in Bremerton.
The association thought it was only "a matter of time" for the Kitty Hawk's fate to be decided after the newest nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, joined the fleet on July 22, said Jason Chudy, USS Kitty Hawk Veterans Association membership coordinator and webmaster.
But by the time the ship was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on Oct. 20 following the Ford's commissioning, the Navy had already long since already decided the ship's fate.
It is unlikely that decision will change, said Navy Office of Information spokesman Lt. Seth Clarke.
"Per current Navy policy, only those vessels that are pending decommissioning and determined to be historically significant or have a high probability of donation are considered for donation," Clarke said.
Clarke said the Navy is not required to make ships available for donation.
The Navy can dispose of ships in a variety of methods, including scrapping them, releasing them to be turned into museums, selling them to foreign nations, transferring them to another government agency or using them as target practice.
The method of a ship's disposal is determined through a complex process. The Chief of Naval Operations and the Secretary of the Navy ultimately decide which method is the "most advantageous to the U.S. Navy," Clarke said.
Chudy said the Kitty Hawk veterans believed the ship would become available for donation after the Ford joined fleet, and then they would be able to submit an application to obtain the ship to turn it into a museum.
"We were patiently looking for that," Chudy said.
But "then boom, instead being of released, it's going to scrap," said USS Kitty Hawk Veterans Association President Jim Melka.
Since 2001, when the associated decided to pursue making the Kitty Hawk into a museum, the organization has raised more than $5 million of donation pledges, Melka said.
"It came as a very big surprise," Chudy said. "We'd seen nothing, heard nothing leading up to this decision. We didn't hear anything from them about scrapping."
Melka heard the news about the ship's fate when he received a phone call at 10 o'clock the night before the reunion.
"It was devastating," he said.
The next day, Melka had to break the news to the former Kitty Hawk sailors who gathered in Nashville for the reunion.
"It was heartbreaking," Melka said. "I had to explain to them what happened and we didn't have any answers."
Some of the ship's original crew members were in tears when they heard the news, Melka said.
Melka, who served aboard the aircraft carrier from 1965 to 1967, said he grew up on the Kitty Hawk.
"I was 17 years old. I got off just before I turned 21. It was a great ship. I learned a lot. I grew a lot. I just had a good time while I was on the ship," Melka said.
For former Kitty Hawk sailor Chudy, who served aboard from 2006 through the ship's decommissioning in 2009, the news was all too familiar.
"It was kind of a double whammy as a former Independence sailor, which was last ship to be towed to Brownsville," Chudy said. "It's disheartening to know the same thing is what's happening to the Kitty Hawk."
The Kitty Hawk vets aren't planning on giving up on the ship quite yet. The association is encouraging "all former crew members, friends and family, really anyone who has an interest in seeing this historic ship turned into museum," to write to their representatives in Congress and Navy officials, Chudy said.
"We understand that it might be a losing battle, but we don't want to give up without a fight," Chudy said. "We'll put our blood sweat tears into effort to save ship. Once every avenue has been exhausted, we'll move on from there."
If the association is unable to turn the Kitty Hawk itself into a museum, Melka and Chudy said the veterans would consider building a land-based museum.
"There are no Forrestal or Kitty Hawk carriers left." Chudy said. "Most have been scrapped or sunk. We can't let these ships fade into history."
Some of the Kitty Hawk's notable moments in history include tests to determine aircraft carrier suitability for the U2 high-altitude reconnaissance planes in 1963 and the ship's collision with a Russian submarine in the Tsushima Strait in the Sea of Japan in 1984.
A race riot aboard the Kitty Hawk in 1972 that ended with almost 60 injured men "initiated reforms in the Navy culture," according to the ship's history.
During the ship's active service, the Kitty Hawk participated in combat operations during wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. The Kitty Hawk was the fleet's only permanently forward-deployed carrier in Yokosuka, Japan, from 1998 to 2008.
The Kitty Hawk was the last active service navy aircraft carrier to be powered by an oil-fired steam plant. Today, all 11 active service aircraft carriers are nuclear-powered. Those ships will likely never be turned into a museum because they are torn-up too much when the reactor is taken out of them during the decommissioning process.
"There's none better than the Kitty Hawk for this honor. Kitty Hawk is the only Cold War era carrier left to be turned into the museum," Chudy said. Since it's unlikely the newer classes of nuclear-powered ships will be released to be turned into museums, "It's the last hope."
Five former aircraft carriers have been turned into museums. The USS Midway, which served from 1945 to 1992, was the last aircraft carrier turned into a museum in San Diego, California.
There are currently no other aircraft carriers available for donation hold. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson decided to re-designated the former USS John F. Kennedy from being eligible for donation hold on Sept. 26, to be dismantled as well, according to Navy spokesman Clarke.
Clarke said Adm. Richardson made this decision due to the "lack of a viable donation application," since the ship was first made available for donation in 2009.
The former Kennedy's page on the Naval Vessel Register has not yet been updated to reflect this decision.
To date, the Navy has donated 48 vessels to be used as museums and memorials across the country to various non-profit organizations and states.
Source: kitsap sun. 28 November 2017http://www.kitsapsun.com/story/news/local/2017/11/28/uss-kitty-hawk-veterans-devastated-aircraft-carrier-headed-scrapyard/836475001/