2009 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

 

   
 
Runtrails' Web Journal
 
Previous          Journal Topics by Date            Next
 

  TOURING THE USS LEXINGTON
AKA "THE BLUE GHOST"

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 1

 
"The USS Lexington Museum on the Bay is docked at 2914 N. Shoreline Blvd. This
floating naval museum features tours of the wartime aircraft carrier commissioned in 1943.
Because the ship was navy blue and was reported sunk no less than four times during
World War II it was nicknamed "The Blue Ghost" by the Japanese . . ."
- AAA Tour Book for Texas, p. 74, 2002 edition
 
 
When we were looking for activities to do in the Corpus Christi area, the 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 war's end.

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, however.

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 everything. Comfortable, sturdy 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 arthritic Granny 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 and hear videos of each tour on the museum's website.

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 this level 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.

The 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 opportunity.

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 this 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 1950s.

 


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 austere) living quarters here so they are available when needed.


Jim sits in the captain's chair on the bridge

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 bridge

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 commission.. 

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 traffic control.

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 minute.

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 restored:

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 simulator.

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 the "Curatorial" 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

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

Previous       Next

2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

-