When we were looking for activities to do in the Corpus Christi area,
thing that most interested us was touring this historic ship and museum. We've been
on submarines and battleships, but not an aircraft carrier.
In this case,
the restored ship itself is the museum.
The USS Lexington was one of twenty-four Essex class aircraft
carriers built by the United States in the early 1940s to provide close
air support to troops in the Pacific so we could win back the war in
that area. Her first battle was at Tarawa and her last, Tokyo Bay at
This map shows the areas she patrolled:
"Lexington" has been a popular name for American battleships. This
is the fifth ship with that name from the Revolutionary War up to and including
World War II.
The USS Lexington Museum on the Bay has an excellent
website with detailed information about the
910-foot long aircraft carrier with sixteen decks. There are interesting videos describing the five self-guiding
tours of the flight deck, gallery deck, lower decks, captain's quarters, and
hangar deck. We had a good idea of what to expect before setting foot onboard.
We were also able to print
out a coupon for $1 off each of our tickets ($12.95 regular
price, $10.95 for folks over 60 and active or retired military status). We paid $9.95 each plus $3 for
three hours of parking at a meter on the street, right across from the entrance. We think we
got excellent value for that cost. The museum is a non-profit organization that
receives no federal, state, or local tax funding. Its operation and maintenance
are funded by admissions, memberships, donations, special events, private
grants, and sales from the ship's store.
We spent almost three hours
going our own pace on the five
tours and watching an excellent movie called
"Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag" on a small IMAX screen at the
Mega Theater; that film alone was worth
the cost of admission. At the end we had enough time left on our parking meter
to enjoy a five-minute
flight simulation of the war in Iraq. That was fun but not worth an
additional $4 apiece, in my opinion. Jim thought it was money well spent,
The Lexington was decommissioned in 1991 and came to Corpus Christi.
It is now a National Historic Landmark and a fitting memorial not only
to the men and women who fought in World War II but to every veteran and
active military person.
The portion of the ship that is open to the public has mostly been refurbished to look just like it did during its heyday in WWII
(some parts are more modern). Not only are
there numerous historical artifacts on board, the largest artifact is
the ship itself. There's an
incredible amount of information in each display and each room. We read a lot
of it but not all; that would have taken several more hours.
Wandering through the five deck tours is a bit like being in a rat's maze.
Too bad Jim didn't wear his Forerunner GPS onboard and maybe get a read-out
like he did at Wal-Mart! Fortunately, it's routed so you can go through the
numerous nooks and crannies in only one direction and the signage is good.
Un-restored areas are roped off or the doors are locked. Visitors really
can't get lost but I kept wondering how new crew members ever learned their
way around all the decks when the carrier was in service -- I doubt they had
arrows and ropes to follow!
Although there are a few things on the pier and hanger deck that disabled and un-athletic people can enjoy
(the vintage planes and theater, e.g.),
most of the carrier is a challenge to negotiate. I don't think
the other four tours are feasible or safe for young children, either.
A lot of walking and climbing are involved on each deck if you want to see
shoes are a must.
Doorways (below, left) are often low, very narrow, and you have to step over a threshold to pass through many of them. There are things to
trip over if you're not careful.
The biggest obstacles are the numerous narrow, steep, open metal stairways to
get from deck to deck; I didn't see any elevators. I wondered if my
Knees would be a problem but they weren't. I did have to duck
often (low ceilings) and hang on to the railings when I climbed
up and down the stairs (below, right).
I was able to photograph anything I wanted. And I did. I took
more photos than the ones shown here.
We visited the carrier on Friday. That's a school day and there
were several groups of teenagers from various schools also
touring the carrier. Since we could tour the decks in any order,
we managed to avoid being in the theater or on any of the decks
when a noisy group of kids was there. There were few enough
adults inside that we seldom had to wait to read exhibits, move from
room to room, etc. It's probably much busier on weekends,
especially in the summer when families, not just retirees, are visiting
the islands and bay area.
Students wait to tour the USS Lexington
I'll show some photos from each of the five tours. You can see
videos of each
tour on the museum's
1. HANGAR DECK
When the ship was in use, the airplanes were repaired and stored here. Now it
is the deck where visitors enter the carrier/museum. Located on
are the theater, a cafe, the ship's store, the flight
simulators, WWII aircraft and engines, and the entrances to the
other four deck tours.
theater, which has a small IMAX screen, was showing two
different movies the day we visited. Since we're seen several
Lewis and Clark documentaries, we chose to watch an
excellent 45-minute film about an international fighter pilot
training program. The two-week training camp in Nevada is called
"Red Flag." It's the final training before flight
crews are sent out on actual combat missions. The film featured one
U.S. fighter pilot out of dozens of
flight crews from six allied countries. After each aerial "battle,"
which are very realistic, the pilots'
maneuvers were critiqued. We were both pretty mesmerized by all
the action and recommend watching the film if you have the
2. FLIGHT DECK
It was a hike up to the huge flight deck, next photo, but well
worth all the climbing. This was my favorite tour because it
included planes, the ship's bridge, and views of Corpus Christi
from the bay.
We saw twenty fighter planes on the flight deck from the
eras of naval aviation since World War II. Because of the harsh
weather conditions on the deck, all the vintage planes from WWII
are kept below, inside the hangar bay.
There are photos and descriptions of each of the planes that are
currently on loan from the National Museum of Naval Aviation at
link on the Lexington's website. I've
included a few of them below. Since they are "on loan," I'm
guessing the selection may vary from time to time.
The flight deck is HUGE -- 910 feet long
and 142 feet wide, about two acres!
Jim heads toward an old T-34B Mentor; newer
versions are still in use for training
AH-1 Cobra helicopters were used in Viet Nam;
this is a slightly newer version built in 1977.
The F-4A Phantom II was first built in the
F-14A Tomcat of "Top Gun" fame
Included in the flight deck tour is access to the bridge and
captain's cabin, located in "the island." This is a view of the
island from the outside:
The bridge is the main control center when a ship is underway.
The captain and one or more of his assistants have their (rather
quarters here so they are available when needed.
Jim sits in the captain's chair on the
During WWII, this part of the bridge was not enclosed. That must
have been interesting while at sea, especially during battle!
View of the prow of the carrier from the
Various instruments and equipment used to control the movements
of the ship are located on the bridge. The ship's helm and
engine controls are located here, as well as radar repeaters,
navigation light switches, wind indicators, radios, speed
indicators, alarms, and compasses. This area WAS enclosed from
the very beginning.
Helmsman O'Neil at the controls
The captain radioed steering and other instructions back here to
the main helmsman.
3. GALLERY DECK
Just below the flight deck is the gallery deck, which includes
the Combat Information Center (CIC), AirOps (Air Operations Center),
the carrier air traffic control center, ready rooms, captain's
in-port quarters, admiral's quarters, and library. Since
becoming a museum, this deck tour also includes several exhibits,
such as a photo gallery of all the ship's captains; there
were a bunch of them in the forty-eight years the ship was in
The Combat Information Center collected and evaluated all the
information it could gather on the status of the Lexington, the
friendly forces in the area, and the enemies' positions,
numbers, etc. In wartime the CIC worked closely with AirOps and
A "ready room" (depicted above) is where the on-duty squadron
pilots and their commanders were on stand-by, as
"ready" as they could be to get on their planes when needed.
During WWII the ready rooms were like club rooms, with
comfortable flight chairs, coffee, magazines, games, and other
diversions. When not in combat, some flight training was also conducted in
the ready rooms.
4. FOC'SLE DECK
I bet you're wondering what the heck a "foc'sle" is! Here's the
explanation of the vernacular for a ship's forecastle area:
Those are the biggest chains we've ever seen!
To make effective use of the space in the foc'sle area, the
museum has built an elaborate Pearl Harbor exhibit with a
diorama of the harbor, a time line, photos of ships before and
after the attack, and viewpoints from both the U.S. and Japanese
perspectives at the time.
It's a nice memorial to the men and women who fought and/or died
at Pearl Harbor.
This famous quote by American poet-philosopher George Santayana
was prominently displayed nearby:
"Those who cannot remember the past are
condemned to repeat it."
Also included in the Foc'sle Tour are the officers' and junior
officers' living quarters, which were even more sparse than the
captain's cabin (of course). The room below is downright plush
in comparison to the crew's quarters (second photo below).
5. LOWER DECKS
This was my second-favorite tour because we got to walk through
the engine room and look into the machine shops.
No, wait -- I
think maybe it was JIM's favorite tour because of that!!
Actually, I did enjoy looking at all the levers, buttons,
gauges, and other mechanical equipment but
that wasn't my favorite part of this deck. I'll get to that in a
Here's a sign on the ship that explains the engineering part of
it. This is especially for my mechanical brother's benefit.
This is just one part of the machine shop that has been
Now the part that interested me the most on this tour of the lower
decks was getting a glimpse of how up to 3,000 crew members
lived below the hangar deck for months at a time. It's like a miniature city with the
"housing" (berths stacked high) and all the services provided to
the ship's personnel.
Sign me up!
Included in the tour is a small portion of the female sleeping
quarters (very Spartan), the crew's galley and cafeteria lines,
medical and dental facilities, sick bay, surgery room,
barber shop, chapel, Post Office,
POW, damage control, and other exhibits.
A FINE MEMORIAL
After finishing all five tours we had a few minutes left on our
parking meter to browse the ship's store and ride in the flight
We both agreed this was a fine way to spend several hours. It
gave us a realistic glimpse into life on board the ship over
fifty years ago and increased our admiration of and respect for
the many men and women (including Jim, three of his sons, my
brother, and other relatives and close friends) who have served
our country in the military. We highly recommend touring the
carrier if you have the physical ability to maneuver all the
stairs and don't have small children in tow.
Currently the carrier/museum is open to the public every day
except Thanksgiving and Christmas. It offers public events,
special tours, and educational programs. It is available for
private parties, ceremonies, conferences, etc. With three naval
bases nearby, the museum also regularly hosts various types of
military ceremonies like reunions, memorials, retirements,
re-enlistments, and promotions.
The museum has plans for restoration of other areas of the ship
and the addition of more exhibits. You can read about this at
link on the website and see
what additional artifacts they are seeking.
Next entries: fun in the Piney Woods of Texas at
Huntsville State Park
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil