Navy's legendary carrier USS Enterprise on final voyage
The USS Enterprise leaves Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia on its final deployment Sunday.
March 12th, 2012
11:09 AM ET

Navy's legendary carrier USS Enterprise on final voyage

The legendary aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, America's oldest active-duty warship, was steaming in the Atlantic on Monday on the last deployment of its 50-year career.

The carrier and its crew of 3,100 left Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia on Sunday in the ship's 22nd deployment. The ship's air wing and other naval staff aboard add another 1,500 personnel.

It will be deployed in the Navy's Sixth Fleet and Fifth Fleet areas of operations, which cover Europe, Africa and the Middle East, including current hot spots Iran and Syria.

"Enterprise is as ready and capable as she has ever been throughout her 50 years," the ship's commanding officer, Capt. William C. Hamilton, said in a statement. "The ship and crew's performance during work-ups demonstrates that the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier has never been more relevant."

Nicknamed the "Big E," the Enterprise, CVN-65, is the eighth U.S. Navy vessel and second aircraft carrier to carry that name.

The first carrier Enterprise was built in 1937 and was one of only three carriers built before World War II to survive the conflict. That Enterprise was decommissioned in 1947 as the most decorated warship in U.S. naval history.

The current Enterprise, at 1,123 feet the longest ship in the U.S. Navy, saw its first action 11 months after its commissioning, when it was to dispatched to enforce a blockade of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. It participated in strikes on North Vietnam in the 1960s and '70s. In 2001, Enterprise was one of the first ships to respond to the September 11 terrorist attacks, as its warplanes dropped 800,000 pounds of bombs on Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom, the Navy said.

The ship was the star of the U.S. Navy for many of its 50 years, and that included a role in "Top Gun," the 1986 Tom Cruise movie about naval aviators.

"The crew is very mindful that we are following the legacy of the more than 200,000 sailors who have come before us during the last 50 years," Hamilton said in a statement. "It's the sailors of this great warship, and the sailors that have served aboard Big E over the past half-century that have established the legacy she enjoys."

The 95,000-ton ship is to be deactivated in Norfolk on December 1 and decommissioned once all reusable items are removed, Ensign Brynn Olson, the ship's deputy public affairs officer, said Monday.

The ship will then be towed to Washington state for scrapping, Olson said.

What the Enterprise will not become is a museum, she said, because removing its eight nuclear reactors will involve so much destruction that the ship could not be repaired to museum quality.

"It would just be too expensive to put her back together," Olson said.

Whether there will be a ninth USS Enterprise remains to be seen.

There are several active online petitions to get hull number CVN-80, the third in the Navy's new Gerald Ford class of carriers, named the Enterprise. That ship is planned to be commissioned in 2021.

"There is no U.S. Navy without a USS Enterprise," one petitioner wrote on

Said another, "Every Navy needs a flagship, and the U.S.S. Enterprise should be ours! There must and will always be a ship named Enterprise."

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Filed under: Military • U.S. Navy
soundoff (249 Responses)
  1. soulcatcher

    Three generations of mine have served this ship. RIP.

    March 13, 2012 at 8:30 am | Report abuse |
  2. David

    What do you think of when you hear the name "USS Enterprise"? I had relatives that served on the Enterprise during WWII and I am a child of the 60's, so that name has grown up with me over the years. The name itself is an icon that will live on in television, books, movies, and on the Internet. But more than that, when I hear the name I swell with pride. Ships, both real and unreal, that were christened "Enterprise" strike fear into those that oppose peace and provide the rest of us with a sense of security. So I agree with many of my fellow Americans that there must ALWAYS be a "USS Enterprise". No other name would be fitting for the first protector of peace or purveyor of exploration.

    March 13, 2012 at 8:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Chad

      Absolutely! The USS Enterprise is the proudest and most well known US warship to ever sail the high seas. I have written all my Congressman, Senators and the President to ask that CVN-80 be named Enterpise, but all of them except the President have written back stating that CVN-80 should be named after a politician or President. I find it absolutely appualing that we are naming Navy ships after living politicians and I fail to see why we would not want to have a new Enterprise in our fleet.

      March 13, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  3. TheDude

    Subtract the military folks and except for sharing its name with a fictional starship its not that exciting.

    March 13, 2012 at 8:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Joey

      Are you saying then that the opinions, experiences, or musings of 'military folk' have no value?

      March 13, 2012 at 9:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Phil

      Uh...I'm pretty sure the naval ships were named Enterprise before the fictional starships... 😉

      March 13, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jeremy

    I deployed aboard this mighty ship, with CAG17 and HS-15 for the 1995-1996 Med cruise. Fair Winds and Following Seas Fair lady....

    March 13, 2012 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
  5. Jeannie

    The Enterprise was a hugh part of my life and my families, growing up on naval bases. God Bless all who have served on her, past and present, and may calm seas be her legacy.

    March 13, 2012 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
  6. joe

    I would like to some posting from some of the sailors who hate this ship. When I was in the USMC I rode on this ship 5 times and I can honestly say I have never seen such low morale among a crew. The sailors hated being on this ship, and if I am not mistaken, this is the ship that had the Captain that was dismissed for making those stupid videos that broadcast all over the Enterprise. I am not casting dispersions on the ships service by any means, I am just curious.

    March 13, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
  7. leave it alone

    it is a shame she has to be scrapped. very proud ship, long legacy, she ranks up there with the uss arizona, iowa, miissouri battle ships, I had family that served on big E, I myself was a mineman, and seen very limited sea time, in the 80's. RIP

    March 13, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Christopher

    Why not decommission the ship on the west coast and save the towing expenses to Washington state? Doesn't make sense to use all that fuel to tow a carrier from the east coast through the Panama Canal to Washington state at the price of fuel today.

    March 13, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • MC

      Because decommissioning, particularly of a nuclear vessel, is a major process and Norfolk is where they're set up to do it. As for towing, the Navy runs hundreds of ships all over the globe every day. No big deal.

      March 13, 2012 at 11:37 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Steve

    After it's decommissioned and struck from the Navy's list, just have it cut up and made into tuna fish cans. You know, something useful.

    March 13, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
  10. writerscramp

    "Can you tell us where to find the noocleeur wessel ?"

    March 13, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rick

      Not too many are going to know what you are talking about but I got a laugh out of it!

      March 13, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Derrick

    What ever they do they can't retire the name, the name Enterprise must live on to the next great ship!

    March 13, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Rick

    I remember being stationed at Marine Barracks Hawaii when the big E had the fire. Every base on the island had to double up to provide accommodations for the near 5000 sailors to live during repairs. Once it was repaired it didn't run aground but it did get to close to shore leaving Perl and it sucked up a bunch of mud into the reactors and had to come back in. All the sailors I talked to said it was a bad luck ship. I'm glad it overcame that

    March 13, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
  13. 'Nother-Son-'O-Ursus

    ...I have 359 co-workers all a-splatter over I-beams & other refuse in a Staten Island, NY, land fill as a result of the Saudi-Arabians who car-jacked some airliners for a ‘no-refusals piety event’ held in NYC & DC, (NYC ‘Sanctimony-Olympics’), on 11.Sept.2001!!

    I'd feel far more comfortable with all this patriotic ‘Rah – Rah’ if I knew, for a fact, that any/all future presidents/vice presidents, (‘Bush-Chaney’), etc. who create another profiteering war crime(s) like Iraq/Afghanistan/Pakistan is gonna immediately get ‘perp-walked’ into the white house dungeons for a Mel Gibson, Temptation ‘O The Christ-movie' style flogging, prior to impeachment, removal and life, in a ‘super-max’, w/o parole!

    Please note I am referring to judicial-punishment!

    March 13, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mattmchugh

    So unfortunate she won't become a museum. For those who've never served on a ship, getting to visit one is an impressive experience that really gives you a newfound respect for navy personnel. I'd pay god money for a chance to walk the decks of the Enterprise.

    March 13, 2012 at 11:53 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Steven

    To those who served on board the Enterprise and all the other ship of the US Navy, I salute you. The Enterprise has a proud history, I wish the Navy would reconsider scrapping her.

    March 14, 2012 at 12:35 am | Report abuse |
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