A visit to San Diego, California is not complete without a tour of the USS Midway, a retired aircraft carrier now docked in the bay. With 10 acres of exhibits and displays, this “City at Sea” is open for you to explore – and it’s massive. From the time you enter on the Hangar Deck, you can go up and down to levels from the top “Island,” where the captain steered the ship, down to where you are actually below the outside water line among a nest of water pipes that fed the boiler.
The Midway was commissioned in September 1945 and was active until 1991, making it the longest-serving carrier in US Navy history. When commissioned, it was the largest ship in the world at 1,000 feet long. Today, it appears as it did on its last journey.
I recently toured with an excellent docent, Ron, who filled us in on the history and workings of the Midway. He is the perfect guide because he was in a Navy Air Wing on a carrier so he knows a lot about flight operations and life on a ship. Here are highlights from our tour that will help you plan your visit.
Enter on the Hangar Deck
Entry to the Midway Museum takes you right into the Hangar Deck. The ship houses about 30 planes and helicopters today, and this is still where they are brought for repairs or upkeep. Planes are on display here, and there is a flight simulator ride. At one end, (the bow) a theater shows a movie about the Midway. A gift shop occupies the stern, and off to the side is a café. We toured for about five hours, so if you stay that long you may want to have a snack or lunch. Restrooms are at the stern, too.
Descending stairs from the Hangar Deck, you will come to the world of those who lived on the Midway. Imagine 4,500 men running through the narrow hallways, working in the mess hall and laundry, and sleeping in the narrow bunks. You may wonder if women lived on the Midway. Women were not allowed to serve on combat ships until 1993, so no women were on the ship during the years the Midway was active. You first come to the chow line and galley. About 14,000 meals a day were served round the clock. Officers had separate mess halls available. If you are taking the complimentary audio tour, you follow the yellow signs, like this one you see at the chow line. The green signs are for the Junior Pilots. Kids have their own signs and answer questions along the way. Then they take their flyer back to the information desk and if they have answered correctly, they earn their wings. (I’m guessing the people handing out wings are lenient about these answers being perfect.)Photographs from the days of active service tell more about what life aboard the Midway was like.Everything needed for daily life was here in this “city.” The Midway had a post office, a chapel, a sick bay, and a brig. The laundry washed, dried, and ironed 43,000 pounds of clothes a week. The barbershop provided 80,000 haircuts a year.
Five doctors, including surgeons, were onboard. Four dentists worked on the ship.Fire was a concern always in the forefront for this self-contained sea-going city. The red pipes carried sea water, and the blue had an added chemical to make foam. Depending on the cause of the fire, various pipes could be opened to quench it.Continuing down, you come to the big engine room, with its dials and pipes for water. Midway ran on steam power, so water was important. The phrase “full steam ahead” applied. Four engines moved the huge Midway along.
Climb Up to the Island
Above the Hangar Deck you’ll find the Island, the area for navigation and steering. The Captain looked over the bow of the ship, with this view. You go up some steep ladder-like stairs to get to the Island. If you’re not comfortable with this, you can see a video of the area on the Hangar Deck.
Battle plans were formulated in the map room. The Midway served in the Viet Nam war and the Gulf war. It cruised in the Atlantic Ocean in the 1950s during the Cold War, then went to the Pacific Ocean. The Midway was based in Japan for nearly 18 years. You’ll see indications of this around the ship, such as signs in Japanese and a lovely Japanese fan on the wall of the ward room.
Go Outside to the Flight Deck
Board a helicopter and get a feel for what it’s like to ride in it. The seats are not plush.The Midway occupies a prime spot in the San Diego Harbor. Be sure to enjoy the city views from the Flight Deck. We were reluctant to end our tour. There’s still more of the Midway to explore. We hope to return soon. What a fantastic day we enjoyed, touring this impressive ship.
For information about tickets, hours, and exhibits, check out the Midway’s website.
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