Remembering When the Fighting Lady, USS Yorktown,
Arrived at Patriots Point Charleston, SC June 1975
The following story is excerpted from an article written in 2009 by Tom Horton for the Moultrie News in Mt. Pleasant, SC.
Remembering back to June 1975 is going to make a lot of folks nostalgic.
These were just a few of the things East Cooperites contemplated as they awaited the arrival of what some termed as a “new fixture for the entrance way” to Mount Pleasant. To say that it’d taken an act of Congress to get CV-10, the recently decommissioned aircraft carrier Yorktown, out of mothballs and towed to Charleston harbor is an understatement.
Ports, tap water, and home rule politics aside, the one topic on everyone’s mind was that enormous aircraft carrier that soon would anchor a memorial park on the mud flats of Hog Island. At the time of the Yorktown’s arrival, a dirt road was all that led through scrub oaks and pines in what had recently been part of an entangled family estate.
However excited the locals were over getting the mammoth 900 foot long, 280 foot tall flat-top ship, there were some who were concerned that the planned memorial would dwarf the landscape, would perpetually leak oil, and could become unmoored in a hurricane.
Despite the fact that ships are referred to in the feminine gender, those steel hulks really don’t have feelings — or do they?
What would the proud, fighting lady, the one they called “The Eager Ship,” have been thinking as she was being towed one-thousand miles from Bayonne, unable to fire her own mighty engines?
The first thought to cross her prow was “Why Charleston? Sure, it’s 6th Naval District HQ, but Charleston is a destroyer, supply, and submarine base. It’s not deep enough there for aircraft carriers,” she muttered over the engines of Ocean Star and Ocean Prince, the seagoing tugs who pulled her on 2 1/2 inch steel hawsers. “But, there are powerful politicians in South Carolina, and they must have a good plan for my retirement years,” she mused.
What an eerie sight at sea it was as the unmanned Yorktown sliced through choppy seas doing between 3 and 5 knots, nowhere near the speed she’d be capable of under her own power. Insurance regulations wouldn't’t allow mariners on-board while she was under tow. For once in her 32 years, the Yorktown’s bridge and the pri-fly were ghostly dark and silent.
Several rainy days on the trip south gave the “Fighting Lady” ample time to reflect upon her brilliant career. The Yorktown couldn’t have helped but chuckle at how she’d jumped her chocks five minutes ahead of her launching ceremony, Jan. 21, 1943 -plunging headlong into the briny waters of Newport News.
Because Pearl Harbor’s savage attack was a year previous, CV-10 Yorktown underwent a hasty redesign from heavy cruiser to aircraft carrier. As a cruiser she would have been christened The Bon Homme Richard. Her predecessor, CV-5 USS Yorktown, was sunk at the Battle of Midway after just seven months of naval combat. That fighting lady earned 3 battle stars in her brief life span.
Eleanor Roosevelt had to swing the champagne bottle twice in order to shatter the bubbly across the new Yorktown’s bow. This Essex-class carrier is the last of 24 of the type that formed the fleet’s backbone from the 1940s to the 1970s arrival of the supercarriers.
Like the crews of most retired naval ships, The Yorktown’s former crew Association was apprised of the plans for their old ship. Wilmington proved two decades prior to 1975 that a former battleship, in their case the USS North Carolina, was a tailor-made tourist draw.
Urban-moored big gray ships serve, too, as rallying points for all things patriotic — 4th of July fireworks, Veterans Day memorials, Scouting activities, and even Miss USA beauty pageants! And in 34 years our Yorktown has seen it all.
The “Eager Ship” Yorktown raced to the Pacific theater for 11 months of nailing the coffin shut on Japan’s imperialistic designs. Initially, Uncle Sam thought he’d decommission the new carrier as WWII concluded, but the Cold War opened other options. She was reconfigured as an attack carrier and later as an antisubmarine carrier.
One of Yorktown’s proudest moments occurred when she was tapped to be the Pacific splashdown rescue vessel for the Apollo-8 mission of Lovell, Anders, and Borman. Imagine standing on deck in December 1968, with the first three humans to see the back side of the moon — the first humans in creation to see an earth rise!
Being the star of the epic movie “Tora! Tora! Tora!” was just another jewel in the crown for the USS Yorktown. James Whit-more and Jason Robards just thought that they were the stars.
As CV-10 Yorktown approached the Charleston channel on Sunday, June 15, 1975, 8 tugs from White Stack Towing chugged out to assist. It’d been a 6-day trip down the coast, and now it appeared that all of Charleston had skipped church and turned out to welcome the ship. A navy band played at White Point. Retired navy seamen boarded her at the jetties to man the lines. More than 300 spectator craft circled the great ship as she came into the harbor. Berthing the great ship was complete by 1:30 p.m. and 10 million gallons of Mount Pleasant water was pumped into her hold as ballast.
Here we are exactly 34 years later and we simply cannot let down the Fighting Lady and the men who gallantly manned her in defense of our liberty.
(Dr. Thomas B. Horton is a history teacher at Porter-Gaud School. You can visit his Web site at www.historyslostmoments.com)