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Sailor, grandfather serve aboard Big E

Nov. 30, 2012 - 01:09PM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 30, 2012 - 01:09PM  |  
Hull Technician 1st Class (SW/AW) William Martin and his grandfather, Elmer Swain, both served aboard the Enterprise during its 51-year career.
Hull Technician 1st Class (SW/AW) William Martin and his grandfather, Elmer Swain, both served aboard the Enterprise during its 51-year career. (Martin family)
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Can you imagine a warship old enough that both you and your grandfather could have served on it?

The Enterprise is that old.

One of the crew members taking the 51-year-old aircraft carrier out of service is Hull Technician 1st Class (SW/AW) William Martin, a 36-year-old whose grandfather was one of the ship's plankowners in 1961. Martin found out about their unusual connection a few years ago, when he first got orders to the "Big E."

"That's when my mom said, ‘Well you know your grandfather had been on the Enterprise. He was a plankowner,'" Martin recalled in mid-November, after he returned from the ship's last deployment. His mother gave him the plankowner certificate and a photo that belonged to his late grandfather, Elmer Swain, who retired as a senior chief electronics technician. Martin believes Enterprise was his grandfather's last ship.

As many as a quarter-million crew members served aboard Big E over its half-century lifespan. But few of them lived aboard the ship with as much consciousness of history as Martin, who occasionally found himself wondering as he walked down the passageways: Had his grandfather been here?

"I'd go down to the ET spaces and was wondering if maybe his desk was here, you know," Martin said. "I'd always kind of thought about it since I was onboard."

Swain died when Martin was 5 years old. Martin never knew his grandfather well and recalled what others said about him: that he drank Pabst Blue Ribbon and loved the Navy. Enterprise rekindled Martin's memories.

"Sometimes," Martin said, "I wonder if he ain't on my shoulder leading me in the right direction."

Martin is one of the ship's last crew members. He's in charge of one of the ship's zones through the inactivation process. As a welder, he's seen some of the aging flattop's problems close-up. And he said the ship is in surprisingly good shape.

"I think we actually had less repairs this cruise than we did last cruise," said Martin, who has been onboard for three years.

"She's an old boat," he continued. "She popped a few holes here and there, but nothing we couldn't fix."

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