San Diego 'It sure will take up a lot of room," says Allen Beddoe about the USS Midway mooring this fall at Navy Pier, where it is scheduled to become the permanent home to the San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum. As a young man, Beddoe left New Jersey for 27 years of service in the Navy. Today, at 75, he lives in Clairemont and welcomes the Midway, as an old friend, back to San Diego for its final berth.
Beddoe served as chief radioman on the Midway from 1957 to '59, a peacetime period. "But the Chinese got a little rambunctious once," he says, referring to a dispute in 1958 between Communist China and Taiwan over the islands of Quemoy and Matsu. The United States sent the Midway into the area to do "some patrolling." Beddoe remembers Chiang Kai-Shek "and his entourage" coming onboard during the crisis.
Scott McGaugh does public relations for the Aircraft Carrier Museum project and maintains its website (www.midway.org). He is also writing the first book about the Midway's life story. Largely an oral history, his book will rely heavily on the recollections of people like Allen Beddoe, one of some 225,000 seamen who served on the Midway during its 47-years of active duty.
"The most fortunate thing I did along the way," says McGaugh, "was to save every e-mail that we ever received through the website. Many of them indicated that the e-mailers were Midway vets. So I had a running start in terms of getting the story.
"A neat thing I've been able to do has been, through coincidence, to reunite best friends from 50 years ago." A name comes up over the phone and "The caller will say, 'Haven't talked to him in 47 years.' 'Well, I just talked to him last week,' I reply. And you can hear the man's voice thicken with emotion. 'He's alive?' 'Sure, would you like his phone number?'
"The other thing that's amazing to me is how trusting these men are. This guy from Florida sent me his entire scrapbook. He was a member of the original crew. I'll introduce myself by phone to complete strangers, and they will send me cruise books that they've had for 50 years, which obviously they cherish. I'm touched by that."
The Navy built the USS Midway in Newport News, Virginia, over a three-year period during World War II and commissioned it in September of 1945, only weeks after the war ended. During the Korean War, it plied the waters of the Mediterranean, because, says McGaugh, it was in a class of carriers large enough to handle planes armed with the nuclear weapons the U.S. thought were necessary to deter Josef Stalin. It joined the Pacific Fleet in the mid-'50s, where it remained for the rest of its service.
Many a jet pilot flew sorties over Vietnam from the decks of the Midway. But from 1966 to '70 the carrier was decommissioned for repairs that, according to McGaugh, became controversial for how expensive and long lasting they became. The Midway returned to Vietnam and participated in the mining of Haiphong Harbor in 1972 and intense bombing of the North. After action in the Gulf War, it went on to the Philippines, where it helped evacuate American military personnel from Clark Air Force Base, which had been threatened by the eruption of Mount Pinatubo. In 1992, the Midway came home and was decommissioned. It has been sitting in mothballs in Bremerton, Washington, ever since.
Although its homeport was Alameda, the Midway moved in and out of San Diego many times during its service in the Pacific Fleet. One of its roles off the coast here was to provide training for pilots at Miramar Naval Air Station in landing on and taking off from aircraft-carrier decks.
Some people have worried that when the Midway returns to San Diego, on the downtown side of the harbor, its size will block scenic views. But McGaugh points out that, though large, the ship is only two thirds the size of modern carriers and is not as tall as the Navy's loading depot at the foot of Broadway or some of the Princess Line ships, which tie up a little to the north of the depot.
The Environmental Health Coalition of San Diego thinks that citizens should have more serious concerns, however. Spokeswoman Laura Hunter says, "I recognize that the Midway is a vessel, but it's a vessel that will take up acres of deep open water in San Diego Bay. That will be water that's unavailable to marine life for decades into the future. Who knows how long?"
The Midway project has been required by the California Coastal Commission to create new wildlife habitat in the bay. Still, "We have to get away from this idea that, on a whim, we can fill in San Diego Bay," says Hunter, who believes that putting the Midway at Navy Pier will be like filling in that spot of water with dirt. "Exactly the same thing. Maybe worse, because it will be rusting and discharging." Hunter wrote last summer to the Port District to object to its petitioning the Navy for the conveyance of Navy Pier. "We believe the pier will become contaminated, too, because every other Navy property we've ever looked at is contaminated, and the public is going to have to pay for it.
"We have three carriers here already. We were very opposed to bringing nuclear carriers here in the first place, homeporting them so close to people with no independent oversight, no emergency planning for local residents that's site specific. And we don't need a fourth carrier now. If people want to visit a carrier, the three carriers have tours all the time.
"And what is the purpose?" asks Hunter. "If the purpose is to have a museum that honors Navy history, then what are the options for doing it? People may come out on various sides of that issue, but the point is that we never got to debate where the best place is. Maybe it's the Naval Training Center, maybe it's on one of the bases, and maybe it's in the Midway district. But that never got discussed.