Honors 75th Anniversary and American Heroes

From the USS Midway’s christening in 1945 to bringing the ship to San Diego in 2004 to become a floating naval museum, this year’s gala paid tribute to three individuals and celebrated 75 years of historic Midway moments, while raising important funds to support the museum’s “No Child Left Ashore” scholarship program.

Each year, the prestigious Midway American Patriot Award honors individuals who embody dedication, achievement and sacrifice in service to America. 

James C. Kennedy, chairman of Cox Enterprises and son of Barbara Cox, the World War II widow who christened the USS Midway in 1945, shared his mother’s lifelong passion for educating children. 

“My mother had great pride in the Midway,” said Jim. “We thought it was perfect for our family and the Foundation to be part of because early childhood development and education is something we place high priority on.”

With a gift of $1.5 million in 2014, the Foundation made a huge commitment to ensuring students who wanted the opportunity to come aboard could do so. 

“The USS Midway has been part of my family’s history since the time I can first remember,” said Jim. 

Building on that history, Cox Enterprises and the James. M. Cox Foundation has created a bridge from the Greatest Generation to future generations by helping Midway to upgrade and expand access to its one-of-a-kind educational experiences. Their support provides critical funding to the Little Skippers program, scholarships for field trips and development of on-going STEM education. 

Retired Navy Rear Adm. Larry Chambers took command of the USS Midway in 1975 at one of the most pivotal moments in naval history. The ship was tasked to help with the evacuation of South Vietnamese refugees during the fall of Saigon in Operation Frequent Wind.

“I don’t think anyone anticipated the magnitude of what actually transpired,” said Larry, who was the first African American to command an aircraft carrier. “There had been plans in place for some time to evacuate South Vietnamese personnel who had supported the United States in case the North Vietnamese invaded the South. But we had not planned or expected the hundreds of helicopters that came to the ship.”

Over the course of 30 hours, Midway evacuated more than 3,000 refugees from Saigon with no casualties or loss of life.

“Midway’s performance was outstanding,” said Larry, who was also the first African American naval aviator to attain the flag rank of admiral. “Every department performed their assigned tasks for this unscheduled maneuver with excellence. The outstanding kindness of Midway’s crew was remarkable.”

Retired Navy Rear Adm. Riley Mixson was the USS Midway’s commanding officer in the mid-1980s. 

Midway CEO Mac McLaughlin with the Midway American Patriot Award honorees Jim Kennedy, retired Rear Adm. Larry Chambers and retired Rear Adm. Riley Mixson.
Jim Kennedy and his family at the gala.
Retired Navy Cmdr. Dominic DiMatteo celebrated is 100th birthday at the gala.
Navy Color Guard presents the Navy and American flags.
Retired Rear Adm. Larry Chambers and his wife Sarah are escorted into the gala.

His most challenging mission, however, would come after his 35-year Navy career ended when he was asked to lead the effort of turning Midway from a decommissioned aircraft carrier into the most visited naval ship museum in the world. The project would ultimately be known at the “second battle of Midway.”

“I had just retired from the Navy when I was asked to lead the effort,” Riley said with a smile knowing how daunting an endeavor it would be. “I went to Washington to talk to the Department of Defense and to the Navy. I also talked to many in the business sector.”

Riley and his team spent a decade overcoming significant regulatory challenges including more than 30 permits and approvals from a variety of agencies from the EPA and Coast Guard to the Port of San Diego to the California Coastal Commission. The application to the Naval Sea Systems Command was more than 300 pages long.

“It wasn’t a cake-walk and we worked our butts off,” said Riley. “The day we opened the doors, I knew the Midway was going to be a big hit.”

These three Americans exemplify Midway’s mission to preserve the legacy of those who serve and inspire and educate future generations. They join a list of esteemed past honorees that include Bob Hope, Lee Iacocca, Apollo and Gemini astronauts, Battle of Midway heroes and former Senator John McCain.

With nearly 700 guests in attendance and with support from sponsors like Cox, Jack in the Box Foundation, The Fish Market, SDG&E, Pacific Western Bank, Kaiser Permanente, Northrop Grumman, Sudberry Properties, and so many more, the gala raised $550,000. 

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