NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- The latest chapter in the nearly 59-year saga of the now ex-aircraft carrier Enterprise played out on Friday in a decommissioning ceremony held on the ship's hanger bay as the ship continues to be dismantled in Newport News, Va.
But it's not quite over, yet.
"This ship led the way," said Capt. Todd Beltz, the ship's final commanding officer, noting the ship's place in history as the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
Now, the ship is being officially decommissioned and stricken from the Navy's rolls.
"For all this aircraft carrier has meant to this nation, it's the people that bring this ship to life," Beltz told the small group assembled on the ship's hanger bay on Friday. "As we say goodbye to this ship we all care so much about, I feel it is appropriate to underscore the contribution of the thousands of sailors who have kept this ship alive ."
Beltz noted that this ceremony was taking place on the eve of the 59th anniversary of the ship's keel laying, which happened Feb. 4, 1958. He made special note that the ship's final moments as a commissioned ship were being spent in the shipyard's Dry Dock 11, same dry dock where she was built nearly six decades ago.
Commissioned in 1961, the ship served the nation during the Cuban Missile Crisis, continued through the Vietnam War and made her 24th and final deployment in 2011 launching her last 1,450 combat air strikes into Afghanistan.
The ship was formally deactivated at a large ceremony at Norfolk Naval Station in 2012 after 51 years operating in the fleet. Later she was towed across the harbor to Newport News to begin de-feuling her nuclear reactors, which is required by law before the ship could formally be decommissioned.
With that done, the final chapter has yet to be written, however.
Right now, Beltz said the ship will be dismantled further in Newport News. After that, current plans are to still tow the ship around South America and up the west coast to Bremerton, Washington, where the final "recycling" of nuclear ships happens. Currently all nuclear-powered ships go through this recycling at Bremerton, though there's still other options under consideration for the Enterprise, he said.
At her commissioning on Nov. 25, 1961 was Machinist's Mate 1st Class Ray Godfrey, then a young sailor from Montana who had recently converted from being a conventional engineer, into the navy's fledgling surface nuclear power program.
Godfrey was there the day the ship commissioned and was one of the nearly 3,000 sailors who marched aboard "Big E" that day when the order to man the ship was given. He'd been onboard five months when the ship joined the fleet and stayed onboard until July of 1966.
One of the ex-Enterprise's first crew members, Ray Godfrey, who served aboard the ship from before she commissioned in 1961 to 1965, talks about his time as a 1st Class machinist's mate onboard the ship.
Photo Credit: Mark D. Faram/Staff
Godfrey remembers vividly when the Enterprise went to sea as part of the U.S. blockade of Cuba in October, 1962. "It was a very tense time for all of us, but we did the job.They flinched and we won," Godfrey said, referring to the Russian's attempt to install nuclear weapons on the island just off the coast of Florida.
He was also onboard, he said, when the ship deployed to Yankee Station of Vietnam and became the first nuclear-powered warship to engage in combat on Dec. 2, 1965 when the ship launched 125 combat sorties against into Vietnam.
Now 77-years old, Godfrey, who lives in Montana, was the sole plank owner in attendance Friday as about 360 former members of the crew said their final goodbyes.
"I'm very proud to have been involved in the Navy's nuclear power program from those early days and especially on this ship," he said. "Yes, it's sad today, realizing that she's done. I believe what this ship accomplished was significant — I am proud that I was a part of it at the start."
Equally as proud of his role on Enterprise, is Logistics Specialist 3rd Class (SW) Dylan Foltz, who joined Enterprise in July, 2014 — his first duty station — after the ship had been deactivated and was already in the yards being dismantled.
"I'm very honored to be a part of Enterprise, a part of this ceremony and a part of history — I wouldn't change it in any way because this ship really shaped who I am today," said Foltz, who hails from Iowa. "But once you learn the ropes, learn how things are supposed to be done, it gets easier."
With his job on Enterprise done, Foltz will head overseas and report to the aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush, now on deployment in the Middle East.
"I'm a little nervous, but at the same time, I'm excited, because now I get to see the operational side of carrier life."
The still proud bow of the now ex-aircraft carrier USS Enterprise which is in dry dock, is undergoing dismantling at Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipyard. The ship was formally decommissioned Feb. 3 leaving the Navy's active rolls for the first time in nearly 60 years.
Photo Credit: Mark D. Faram/Staff