CAMDEN, NEW JERSEY
NEW YORK SHIPBUILDING CORPORATION
USS KITTY HAWK
The USS Kitty Hawk was one of the last major projects completed at the New York Shipbuilding Corporation shipyards before it closed for good in the mid 1960s.
Thanks to Darlene Arendt, granddaughter of former Camden city commissioner Henry Magin, for sharing her memories of the Kitty Hawk's launching.
July 22, 2006
Remembering the Launch
Aircraft Carrier USS Kitty Hawk
My father worked for the New York Shipbuilding Corporation in Camden, New Jersey, from 1934 until it closed down in the late 1960s, and I grew up going to ship launchings. As a young child I remember entering the big gates on Broadway, the long walk to the ship, the long speech, and the ship slipping backwards into the Delaware River after the lady hit it with a bottle, but my best memories are from a launch we didn't even attend, the launch of the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk.
My father had been talking about the Kitty Hawk all week, and on the morning of the launch, as he watched the clock, he turned to me and said, "They've just launched the ship, and I want you to go upstairs, watch for it, and let me know when it gets here." I looked at him, incredulously, and said, "I'm not going to be able to see a ship over those trees." But my father said I'd be able to see it, so I went upstairs to watch for the Kitty Hawk. I was sixteen years old.
We lived along the Little Timber Creek in Brooklawn, two blocks from where the Little Timber Creek, Big Timber Creek and Delaware River come together, but our view of the Delaware River was blocked by a half mile strip of undeveloped Gloucester City property. As I sat watching for the Kitty Hawk, looking northwest towards Gloucester City and the Delaware River, an object did come into view - it looked like a grey block, certainly not a ship, so I looked away. When I looked again, the block had become a large rectangle, still not a ship, so I looked away. The third time I looked, the rectangle had lengthened, was angled downward, had developed a point, directed southward, at the top, and was moving my way - definitely the front of a ship. I called down to my father that it was here, and in the short time it took my parents to come upstairs, the ship had grown to an enormous size. As it moved past our house it towered above the trees, the deck level and above visible over the trees. When it finally passed, and only the back of the ship was visible, we went downstairs, looked out the back door, and could still see the ship. We watched until it was out of sight, and then my father said, "Now we're going down to Red Bank (National Battlefield) to see it again."
As we pulled into the parking lot at Red Bank, I was surprised to see a large number of people up on the hill, looking over the bluff into the Delaware River. We walked up the hill, looked over the bluff, and there was the Kitty Hawk. This time the Kitty Hawk was way below us, the entire ship visible in a single view, an absolutely breathtaking sight. The ship was sitting north of where we were standing, and I remember asking my father why the ship wasn't moving, and my father answering, this was as far as it was going today. I had no idea why the ship would be stopping here, but didn't ask any more questions. We stayed awhile longer, and as my father watched the ship, I watched my father, so proud and joyous, and I watched the other people, many appearing to be retirees, this day a momentous occasion in their lives, too. We eventually went home, and I didn't give the Kitty Hawk another thought until three weeks after 9/11.
I was watching the evening news after 9/11, and at the end of the newscast they showed a video clip of an aircraft carrier moving along on the high seas with the following audio, "The aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk has been ordered to the North Arabian Sea in support of Operation Enduring Freedom where it will serve as a staging base for US special forces." I could not believe what I was hearing, and immediately thought, "The Kitty Hawk? My father helped build that ship. I saw it the day it was launched. Could it be the same ship?" The next day I went on the internet, found the evening news website, and verified that the ship in the newscast was the same ship built in Camden, New Jersey. Then I followed another link and found the following:
Kitty Hawk was laid down by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation, Camden, New Jersey, 27 December 1956; and launched 21 May 1960, sponsored by Mrs. Neil H. McElroy; and commissioned 21 April 1961 at Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, Captain William F. Bringle in command.
I got out a map, found the Philadelphia Navel Shipyard, looked to see what was directly across the Delaware River on the New Jersey side, and there was Red Bank National Battlefield. Then I looked to see what was directly across the Delaware River on the Pennsylvania side, from where the Kitty Hawk had been sitting on the day of the launch, and there was the Schuylkill River - the entrance for ships into the Philadelphia Navel Shipyard. After forty-one years I had an answer to why the Kitty Hawk had stopped at Red Bank - it was waiting to enter the Philadelphia Navel Shipyard, where it would remain for finishing until commissioned 21 April 1961. And I thought about my father and how well he had planned the day of the launch.
These days I watch for the Kitty Hawk on the internet, and when I do, I see my father again high on that hill at Red Bank, looking down on the Kitty Hawk, perhaps saying goodbye to her, perhaps wishing her well on her journey, and what a journey it's been. According to the internet:
The 82,000-ton carrier is often likened to a floating city, the sea-going home to a crew of almost 3,000, an 85-plane air wing with another 2,500 people, and with a 250-foot long flight deck, barber shops, post office and a hospital. At the time it was built, the Kitty Hawk was a "super carrier" - the first in its class. Today, depending on whom you ask, it's affectionately known as "The Old Lady" or - in terms of its military might - the "tip of the spear." "It lives up to both names, yeah, it's old, but it still works well." according to one seaman. Older than most of its crew, Kitty Hawk requires some coddling, but she "always proves herself." According to another seaman, "She works hard and keeps on going, Forty-five is old for any ship, but back in those days, ships were well-built." The Kitty Hawk supported several military actions since 1961, including those in Vietnam, Iran, Somalia and Iraq. The Kitty Hawk came to Japan in 1998 to replace the USS Independence and take its title as the only carrier forward-deployed to another country. The Kitty Hawk - the oldest ship in the U.S. Navy - is scheduled for decommissioning in 2008.
In this fiftieth anniversary year, it's good to remember the USS Kitty Hawk's beginnings in Camden, New Jersey, and it's good to think about the USS Kitty Hawk today - the oldest ship in the U.S. Navy, still on active duty, still making us proud.
A History of My Tour in the "Kitty"
I have a lot to tell about how I was assigned to her, and the ensuing things that happened to me, and/or the ship, during that time.
I reported to the USS Shangri La docked in San Diego, California. We made some WestPac (Western Pacific) cruise's to the Far East. A WestPac cruise was usually 6 months long, so we visited a lot of ports in several countries. A "normal" peacetime cruise generally consisted of the following ports of call; Hawaii, Japan, Hong Kong, Philippines and then back to Yokosuka, Japan then home to NAS North Island (San Diego Bay area). We finally received orders to traverse Cape Horn and proceed to the East Coast. On 16 March 1960, she put to sea from San Diego en route to her new home port, Mayport, Fla. On 23 March, at Latitude 0 degrees 0' 0" and Longitude 88 degrees 30' 0", I made the spectacular evolvement from a Lowly Polliwog to a Trusted Shellback by Neptunus Rex. That's a whole story by itself.
A little side-note; since the mid 1950's when the aircraft carriers had angled flight decks added, they were too wide to traverse the Panama Canal. The Shangri La was the first US carrier to have the angled deck and steam catapults; both invented by the British Navy.
Most of us West Coast sailors tried to get transferred to another duty station. Several of us Petty Officers were retained aboard to make the transition to the East Coast. We were required for training the new men brought aboard from "Boot Camp" and other commands. I didn't want to go because I was married and had young children at home. Since I had to go, I tried to make the most of it. It turned out to be one of the most interesting and informative cruises I made while I was in the Navy.
We proceeded around Cape Horn to Camden, NJ and we were able to visit New York City (The Big Apple). We rode the transit in the city to 42nd street where they drop the ball on New Years Day. We left Camden for Naval Station Norfolk, VA. While we were there we received a request that experienced men were needed to put a new Aircraft Carrier into commission. Most of the West Coast sailors wanted to get back home, so we volunteered for duty. Most of us got our wish. We spent several months attending various training schools (such as shipboard fire fighting, damage control and nuclear, biological, chemical [NBC] warfare). We received all this before we were shipped to Philadelphia to bring the ship to life as a Navy man-of-war. Since we were attached to her when she was put into commission, we are considered "Plank Owner's". Technically we own a part of the Ship. Realistically, that's not true. It's nice to think that you really do own a part of a Navy ship, but in actuality we all own her, since all taxpayers paid for her.
Following a shakedown cruise in the Western Atlantic, she proceeded to NS Norfolk. While we were in port at Norfolk, we received word that we were finally ready to proceed around the "Horn" back to the West Coast. Kitty Hawk departed Norfolk 11 August 1961. We proceeded to Mayport, Florida where we loaded provisions, aircraft and fuel. From there we went to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for underway training. This training is actually a test to see if we are prepared to go to sea and capable of being a "Man-of-War".
Homeward bound!! The next stop was a visit to Kingston Town, Jamaica. The return home was like going in reverse, since we were going back around the "Horn", again. There were a few differences between the two, though. The first one was a very nice surprise in Rio de Janeiro. We were there just in time for Mardi Gras. If you think New Orleans has a good one, you need to go to Rio! This time across the equator and around the "Horn", I was a member of the "Royal Court" and initiated the "Pollywogs".
After a brief stop at Rio de Janeiro, where she embarked the Secretary of the Brazilian Navy for a demonstration of an exercise at sea with five Brazilian destroyers. The attack carrier rounded Cape Horn on 1 October. She steamed into Valparaiso Bay on 13 October and then sailed, 2 days later, for Peru, arriving at Callao on 20 October where she entertained the President of Peru. At San Diego, Admiral George W, Anderson, Chief of Naval Operations, landed on her deck on 18 November to witness antisubmarine demonstrations by USS Henry B. Wilson (DDG-7) and USS Blueback (SS-581), a Terrier missile demonstration by USS Topeka (CLG-8) and air demonstrations by Kitty Hawk.
Good-bye East Coast -- Hello West Coast!! We had returned home to WestPac. The Golden Gate Bridge never looked so good as it did that day, pulling into San Francisco Bay, on our way to NAS (Naval Air Station) Alameda. My wife and kids was there, along with other members of my family. Was it ever so good to see them standing there on the pier waving, pointing, and jumping up to try and see me on the ship.
Kitty Hawk entered San Francisco Naval Shipyard 23 November 1961, for alterations. Following operations out of San Diego, she sailed from San Francisco on 13 September 1962. Kitty Hawk joined the 7th Fleet on 7 October 1962, relieving Midway (CVA-41) as flagship.
After participating in the Philippine Republic Aviation Week Air Show, Kitty Hawk steamed out of Manila Harbor on 30 November 1962, and welcomed aboard Admiral H. D. Felt, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, for a demonstration of modern naval weapons on 3 December. The ship visited Hong Kong early in December and returned to Japan, arriving at Yokosuka on 2 January 1963. During the following 2 months, she visited Kobe, Beppu, and Iwakuni before returning to San Diego on 2 April 1963.
On 6 June 1963, President Kennedy, with top civilian and military leaders, boarded Kitty Hawk to witness a carrier task force weapons demonstration off the California coast. (I was one of his personal guides around the ship. What an honor, and what a man!) Addressing the men of the task group from Kitty Hawk, President Kennedy told them that, as in the past, control of the seas still means security, peace and ultimate victory. He later wrote to President and Madam Chiang Kai-Shek, who had witnessed a similar demonstration on board Constellation (CVA-64). "I hope you were impressed as I was, on my visit to Kitty Hawk, with the great force for peace or war, which these mighty carriers and their accompanying escorts provide, in helping to preserve the freedom of distant nations in all parts of the world."
In September I departed her to go on 30 day's leave, then report for shore duty at NAS Monterey, CA.
Following a series of strike exercises and tactics reaching along the California coast and off Hawaii, Kitty Hawk again sailed for the Far East. While approaching Japan, she learned an assassin had shot President Kennedy. Flags were at half mast as she entered Sasebo Harbor 25 November 1963, the day of the President's funeral and, as senior ship present, she had the sad honor of firing memorial salutes. ( I cried like a baby when I heard the news on the TV at home in Seaside, CA.) After cruising the South China Sea and ranging to the Philippines in readiness operations with the 7th Fleet, she returned to San Diego 20 July 1964.
I read the new account of the USS Kitty Hawk a few moments ago. Wonderful article and it sure brought back memories.
I was home after my first navy enlistment during her construction at New York Ship. I was working at Curtis Publishing over in Sharon Hill, PA and living in Brooklawn, NJ at the time. I had a birds eye view of her construction in the graving dock every working day as I crossed the Walt Whitman bridge to and from Sharon Hill.
July 25, 2006
The Official USS Kitty Hawk Website
NavSource Online: Aircraft Carrier Photo Archive - USS Kitty Hawk
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