Bill McGee shares a special memory…
At sea, February 3-4, 2000 – As a member of the Navy League of the United States, Santa Barbara Council, I was invited to fly out to the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72), the United States Navy’s Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. Even for an old World War II salt like me, this was sure to be an experience of a lifetime.
At 9 a.m. on February 3, I assembled with the small group of other Navy Leaguers in front of Mercury Aviation, a private terminal south of the main Santa Barbara airport terminal. We were briefed on how to use the safety gadgets on our life vests, donned a cranial (a helmet), and boarded a twin-engine C-2 Greyhound, otherwise known as a COD (carrier on-board delivery), for the flight to the Lincoln, about 100 miles south off the coast of Ensenada, Mexico. The Greyhound’s pilot executed an arrested landing on the carrier’s deck and was caught by a wire, experiencing a deceleration from 105 to 0 mph in 2 seconds.
The Navy League group had a tour of the Lincoln and then we were separated into smaller groups on the flight deck to watch the landings and takeoffs of the planes onboard. The Lincoln carried 70-80 aircraft. We saw an F/A-18 Hornet land on the wire and an F-14 Tomcat take off. We sat in another Hornet and had a demonstration of the controls. We walked around the deck and looked at EA-6B Prowlers, E-2C Hawkeyes, SH-60 Seahawks, and S-3B Vikings being serviced.
A few ship’s statistics:
Length, overall – 1,092 feet
Beam – 252 feet
Top speed – in excess of 30 knots
Crew size – 3,200 sailors and 2,480 airmen
Number of meals served daily – more than 20,000
Dirty laundry washed daily – 5,550 pounds
Haircuts given daily – 250
Fresh water distilled daily – more than 400,000 gallons
We were given V.I.P. treatment by the officers and crew. Captain J. J. Quinn, Commanding Officer, and Lt. Commander Denise Shorey, Public Affairs Officer, hosted us for dinner in the Officers’ Mess. We dined on Beef Bouillon, Stuffed Mushrooms, Seasoned Roast Duck, Rousette Potatoes, Sautéed Mixed Vegetables, and Raspberry Cream Cake – definitely not the kind of chow I remembered as an enlisted man in Uncle Sam’s Navy. We were berthed overnight in the Officers’ Quarters. The next morning, we had breakfast in the Chief’s Mess, with a menu more familiar to this old Gunner’s Mate. After breakfast, we put on our cranials and life vests, re-boarded the Greyhound, assumed the crash position with our heads tucked into our knees, and within minutes were catapulted off the ship in a takeoff which went from 0 to 128 mph in 3 seconds. It felt like someone pulling you forward very fast. In less than an hour, we were landing at the Santa Barbara airport.
This was a thrilling experience and I treasure the certificate I was given which read:
“Honorary Naval Aviator, Bill McGee, In the finest traditions of Naval aviation, on February 03, 2000 successfully prepared for and bravely executed an arrested landing and a catapult-assisted takeoff from the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72). In completing this remarkable feat, this Honorary Naval Aviator gained an elementary understanding of the remarkable challenges and accomplishments of Naval Aviation, a patriotic profession that has helped keep the United States free since the early 1900’s.” —J. J. Quinn, Captain, U.S. Navy, Commanding Officer
Award-winning author William L. McGee has written five WWII military histories. Today, he proudly wears his Lincoln ballcap, which has inspired many a conversation usually beginning with, “Sir, did you serve on the Abraham Lincoln?” At the time of writing this post (May 17, 2019), the Lincoln had just transited the Suez Canal and was in the Red Sea, officially entering U.S. 5th Fleet and U.S. Central Command.