When I was 18 and wild I joined the Navy because I wanted to see the world and also because I knew there wasn’t a college around that would take me or, more likely, that I wouldn’t get thrown out of. That was back in 1985 – yea, do the math. Now, a piece of my history is being retired.
The first parts of the world that I saw was San Diego CA (boot camp), Millington TN (A school) and then LeMoore CA (Duty Station). When I hit Lemoore I was assigned to VA-147, the Argonauts. They had just come off a cruise when I got there so it was over a year before we went on another one.
We headed out to Fallon a few times to do training during that first year which was a lot more dirt and dust, something that I had grown up with, so I wasn’t to impressed by it all. I wanted the ocean! I wanted to see the WORLD! Not more dirt, scrub brush and sandstorms. Finally though we were packing up to go on our first training cruise and we were heading back to San Diego to meet our ship – the Kittyhawk.
When we reached the pier that Kitty was tied up at I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. She was big, grey and beautiful. I remember wondering how I was going to keep from getting lost on something that big. Walking through the hangers was like walking through our hangars back home, they were HUGE to me. Combine that with the smell of the salt water and the sound of seagulls, and this desert rat was ready to go! The sea was calling and I wanted to answer it!!
During one of our training exercises we provided security for a missile test by keeping ships out of the launch area and making sure it was clear. I remember being up on the flight deck when the missile burst from the ocean waves. It was like a white hot star leaping for the sky. I learned later that the glow of it was seen all the way into Arizona and people had called in to report a UFO.
It was on Kittyhawk that I first saw the world. My first cruise on her was also, sadly, my last. We took her around the world from San Diego to Philadelphia and back to the port that she originally sailed from for an overhaul.
In the Philippines I learned to always keep my wits about me, no matter how friendly the company. Some pickpockets are very, very good at serving beer. From there is was on to the Indian Ocean and Karachi Pakistan where I found out that you can get some very nice boots for a very good price if you are willing to haggle over it. Pattaya Beach Thailand I learned that sometimes you should go ahead and catch that boat back to your berth and not wait for the next one to come it.
Italy was my first taste of Europe, and a welcome one it was after traveling at a snails pace through the Suez canal. The canal was so narrow for a ship our size that I still swear that if I had jumped off either side of the flight deck I would have landed on sand. That was probably the tensest moment for us during the cruise, we were helpless. A carrier relies on it’s air-wing for defense and going through the canal there was no way for us to launch anything. We were essentially sitting ducks.
After Italy we stopped in France and after that Rota Spain which was probably my favorite stop on the whole cruise. There was a shop in Rota, a smoke shop, and the owner was an old man who had behind the counter a display of every American military zippo lighter that he had collected over the years. He had over 25 different ships in his collection, he thanked us for our service and told us he was a child during WWII and he never forgot what we Americans did. I was glad to add a Kittyhawk lighter to his collection.
Miss Kitty helped this young boy become a young man. I saw places that I will never see again, some good and some bad but all of them incredible in their own way. Now we say goodby to Miss Kitty, sometimes called the Shitty Kitty, god bless that wonderful ship and all the men and women who served on her.