Thousands attend a ceremony retire the aircraft carrier Enterprise from 51 years of service. (Mark D. Faram / Navy Times)
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Aircraft carrier Enterprise, nicknamed "Big E," is seen at its homeport in Norfolk, Va. (Mark D. Faram / Navy Times)
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On the day the Navy officially took the aircraft carrier Enterprise out of service after 51 years in the fleet, the service announced that the name Enterprise won't be absent long from the fleet.
The third Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier, CVN-80, will become the ninth ship in the Navy's history to be named Enterprise, Navy Ray Mabus announced Dec. 1 in a pre-recorded video message that was played at the inactivation ceremony.
"Rarely has our fleet been without a ship bearing the name I chose to maintain this tradition not solely because of the legacy it invokes, but because the remarkable work of the name Enterprise is not done," he said. "The USS Enterprise was the first of its kind, and for 51 years its name has been synonymous with boldness."
Commissioned in 1961, CVN 65 served for more than five decades. It participated in the blockade of the Cuban Missile Crisis, launched strike operations in Vietnam, and conducted combat missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The announcement invoked a rousing ovation from the crowd that included former crew members and Navy dignitaries such as Adm. Jon Greenert, chief of naval operations, who praised Big E's service.
Capt. William C. Hamilton, the ship's final commanding officer explained to the crowd that the ship is only being inactivated, for now, because it can't be decommissioned until it's reactor's fuel has been removed and the reactors shut down for good.
That work will be accomplished in Newport News at the Huntington Ingalls shipyard. Once that work is completed, the ship will be towed to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard on the West Coast, where her nuclear reactors will be removed and the rest of the ship dismantled.
Hamilton thanked the former crew members in the audience for their service, but chose to single out retired Navy Capt. Eugene B. "Red" McDaniel.
On May 19, 1967, McDaniel, then a lieutenant commander, and Lt. James K. Patterson were shot down over North Vietnam on May 19, 1967, while on a mission to bomb a truck repair facility at Van Dien, Hai Duong Province, North Vietnam.
Both McDaniel and Patterson, both members of attack squadron 35 flying from the Enterprise, ejected safely and established contact with aircraft in the area. McDaniel was captured the next day and taken to Hanoi. Though Patterson was initially known to be alive on the ground, he is still considered missing in action.
McDaniel, too, was originally classified as MIA until 1970, when Hanoi acknowledged he was captured. McDaniel was released in 1973 after six years of captivity.
Once back in the United States, McDaniel was awarded the Navy's second-highest award for bravery, the Navy Cross, and other decorations that includes two Silver Stars the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Bronze Stars with Combat "V", and two Purple Hearts for the wounds received at the hands of the North Vietnamese.
That torture resulted from his active role in camp communications during an organized escape attempt by his fellow prisoners.
Hamilton said that McDaniel returned to active duty and commanded both the supply ship Niagara Falls and the training aircraft carrier Lexington before retiring from the Navy.
"Until today, Capt. McDaniel has never returned to the Enterprise, the ship he launched from in 1967," Hamilton said. "He considers his return today the completion of that mission he started May 19, 1967."