Midway Currents Fall 2022


Millions of school American children in the 1950s and 1960s remember the phrase “see Spot run” from the introduction books that helped them learn to read while in first grade. Today, however, “see Spot run” has evolved to “see Spot climb steps, jump rope, open doors, search and identify, capture data and even throw a switch and drag a cement block.”

Built by Boston Dynamics, Spot is a dog-like robot designed to navigate myriad different terrains with exceptional mobility to conduct a variety of missions including conducting surveys, collecting information and inspecting equipment. The U.S. Navy is currently studying Spot’s capabilities to see if it’s a fit for the naval service.

“The Navy is always looking for tools and techniques that can help it accomplish its mission better, faster, cheaper, and safer,” said Dr. Mark Bilinski, director science and technology at the Navy Warfare Information Center (NIWC) in San Diego. “Spot shows promise for being able to potentially do a lot of things like going into hazardous spaces instead of a sailor or automating mundane tasks to free up sailors to do more important things.”

Spot the Robot Dog dazzles Midway visitors.

Spot, weighing approximately 70 pounds, is designed to go into locations too dangerous or risky for humans, and can operate in extreme weather and temperature conditions. Programmed with obstacle avoidance and height detection that maps in front of the robot, Spot can determine what its next step should be without input from its operator, and does so in a nano-second.

Already operational in 35 countries, Spot is currently being used to collect data on structural and safety issues in Italy at the ancient ruins of Pompeii and by the Ukrainian military to remove mortar shells and cluster munitions in formerly Russian-controlled areas near its capital city of Kyiv.

In an effort to put Spot through its paces, USS Midway Museum jumped at the chance to help the Navy with its testing.

“Midway offers a quick and easy access platform to test new systems and equipment that can be rapidly deployed for the active duty military,” said Len Santiago, Midway’s chief engineer. “We provide a unique opportunity for Navy scientists to investigate emerging technology.”

Boston Dynamics has been developing robots that, due to their natural movements, have the ability to appropriately react in complicated and dynamic environments. The Navy already knew from earlier testing that Spot could navigate in cramped spaces, so it wanted to see how it would operate on a ship.

“We wanted to see how Spot would perform in shipboard environments,” said Mark, who has been with NIWC for a decade. “We suspected it would perform well, but you never really know unless you try it out. You’re not going to encounter hatches and knee knockers anywhere else.”

Spot hit the deck running – literally. The quadrupedal robot spent hours on Midway traversing much of the ship from narrow passageways, awkward hatches and tricky stairwells to different surfaces on the flight and hangar decks.

Spot checks out Midway’s berthing compartment.

“It did really well,” said Mark, a San Diegan who graduated from Vista High School. “It had no problem with the various surfaces, from nonskid to deck plates, and it navigated passageways with ease, adjusting for and overcoming the knee knockers, which are more imposing when you’re as close to the ground as Spot is.”

“It additionally did really well in extremely tight quarters, in areas not much larger than itself,” said Dan Jennings, an engineer who works in unmanned systems integration and testing at NIWC. “We also tested the ‘touch to go feature’ around some very tight obstacles that it had trouble with in manual control. It plotted itself a path around the obstacle with ease.”

Spot helping Midway’s safety team.

While Spot was impressing Navy evaluators, it was also wowing surprised Midway visitors, many of whom had a hard time believing what they were seeing.

“Spot was adored by staff, docents, children, and parents alike,” said Dan, who has been with NIWC for six years and earned a mechanical engineering degree from San Diego State University. “There were many photo ops and many parents encouraging their children that this is the kind of thing they can do if they stay focused at school.”

Midway proved to be an ideal setting for real-world testing for the Navy.

“The Midway has been instrumental in advancing our research and development efforts,” said, said Mark, who holds a doctorate in mathematics. “It is simply amazing and is an indispensable resource in helping us speed capability to the fleet. The Midway Museum continues to serve and we’re thrilled to have such an excellent partner.”

For more than 15 years, I’ve been creating events on the USS Midway Museum that bring awareness and honor to our military veterans and those who still serve in uniform. However, nothing I’ve ever done was as emotional and memorable for me as my experience as a guardian for a group of Vietnam War veterans on the most recent Honor Flight to Washington D.C.

Honor Flight San Diego is a non-profit organization that flies military veterans to the nation’s capital to visit the memorials devoted to their service and sacrifice. This Honor Flight was dedicated to 85 former members of Navy Helicopter Attack Squadron 3 (HAL-3), nicknamed the Seawolves.

HAL-3 was an all-volunteer squadron that supported naval special warfare operations and the mobile riverine forces during the Vietnam War. It was very dangerous duty. Forty-four Seawolves sacrificed their lives in service to their country.

I had the privilege of escorting three former Seawolves helicopter pilots on this incredible journey – Bill Martin, Al Bacanskas, and Dick White.

In one jam-packed day, we visited Arlington National Cemetery, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall and many other memorials. The trip was loaded with special moments, many laughs, war stories and lots of tears.

Vanessa was the guardian for (l to r) Seawolves Al Bacanskas, Bill Martin and Dick White during their Honor Flight to Washington D.C.

I was fascinated to learn the Seawolves were the Navy’s most decorated Vietnam War squadron. They flew high-risk combat missions using hand-me-down UH-1 “Huey” helicopters from the Army.

Obtaining intelligence on the enemy was vital for the Seawolves. Bill Martin, now 91, was an amateur magician and had a unique way of gathering this critical information. He carried a folding magic table, collapsible top hat, and a bag of tricks in his helicopter. By performing magic for local villagers, he gained their trust. This allowed his crew to mingle with the villagers and pick up valuable intelligence on Viet Cong (VC) activity in the area. 

The VC eventually found out about Bill’s shows and put a bounty on his head. On one occasion, he was suddenly grabbed by two men who tied him up. Fortunately, Bill had studied escape techniques in a Houdini book, and was able to get out of the ropes.

Life after Vietnam offered many Seawolves unique opportunities. For Al Bacanskas, it took him to Iran, where he found himself teaching Prince Shahriar Shafiq of the Iranian Imperial Navy how to fly helicopters. When the Navy initially asked Al if he would go, he said, “Where’s Iran?”

Al, who spent a year in Tehran, actually outranked the prince, who was only a captain in the Iranian Navy. During a training flight one day, the prince asked Al to fly over a river that was full of alligators. The prince pulled out his machine gun taking aim at the alligators. Al said he couldn’t see the damage, but he didn’t think the prince hit any of his targets.

Although claiming to be a simpler man, Dick White’s military career was also full of adventure. He started as an electronic tech radar specialist and later became a pilot logging more than 1,200 flight hours. Dick also served on an ice breaker in Siberia. “You can’t buy those experiences,” he told me. “From the age of 17, the things I’ve seen, places I’ve been, I have no regrets and I’d do it all over again.”

It saddens me that these incredible patriots fought for our freedoms, yet were vilified when they returned from Vietnam. I look at Bill, Al and Dick and admire their continued faith and love for our country, and am inspired by their stories, camaraderie, and humor.

I’m so thankful to Honor Flight for finally making it right for these men. They finally got the hero’s homecoming they deserved.

It was an overwhelming moment to return to San Diego alongside the Seawolves, and see the cheering crowd of grateful American men, women, and children giving them the recognition they should have received decades ago. This was a much-needed healing trip for the Seawolves and certainly a life-changing experience for me.

Vietnam War veterans interested in participating in future Honor Flights can visit

The Seawolves Honor Flight group gathers near the Lincoln Memorial.

America’s missile program took flight in the closing days of World War II with the establishment of the White Sands Proving Grounds in the high desert of south-central New Mexico in July 1945. Early U.S. military rocket tests proved successful, but with limited capabilities.

Enter the V-2 rocket.

Developed by the Germans before the start of World War II, more than 3,000 V-2 rockets would ultimately rain down on England, France and Belgium for several months starting in late 1944 killing an estimated 9,000 civilians and military personnel. Following the cessation of hostilities in Europe in May 1945, hundreds of components of captured Nazi V-2s were brought to the United States accelerating the country’s fledging ballistic missile program. The first test launch of V-2 was conducted at White Sands on April 16, 1946.

Over the next year and half, nearly 30 V-2s lifted off from Launch Complex 33. It wasn’t long, however, before discussions began on the potential of firing a large rocket from a Navy warship.

A dummy “test” V-2 rocket is loaded on Midway.

After preliminary conferences between naval officials and ordnance personnel at White Sands along with the German rocket scientists who had defected to the United States after the war, Adm. Chester Nimitz, then the chief of naval operations, determined it would be feasible to launch a V-2 missile from the flight deck of an aircraft carrier at sea.

On May 22, 1947, Operation Sandy was established, and the USS Midway was designated as the aircraft carrier to conduct the V-2’s test launch. Rear Adm. Daniel Gallery, the assistant chief of naval operations for guided missiles, oversaw the project.

“The primary purpose of Operation Sandy was to find out some of the answers to the problem of launching a larger bombardment type rocket from a ship at sea,” said Gallery, who commanded a naval task force during World War II that captured a German U-boat off the western coast of Africa in June 1944. “Lessons learned from this operation will be applied to the future design of guided missiles for naval use and to design a new type of warship, the guided missile ship, which may eventually be as important to the fleet as the present-day aircraft carrier.”

Within a few weeks, a select group of officers and enlisted personnel from Midway headed to White Sands for intensive training in the preparation, handling and launching of a V-2 rocket. Ultimately, the Army’s ordnance department was directed to provide two live rockets for the test launch and a dummy V-2 for continued training purposes on the ship.

The date for the launch on Midway was set – Sept. 6, 1947.

By August, the Midway’s crew training was complete, and preparation had begun to ship the rockets and support equipment to the East Coast. Midway was berthed at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard adjacent to the railroad tracks and cranes needed to get the V-2s to and on board the ship.

On Sept. 2, with all the gear aboard and preparations finalized, Midway, along with four Navy destroyers, put to sea and headed to the launch area approximately 250 miles south of Bermuda.

At 3:53 p.m. on Sept. 6, the rocket was ignited. Two seconds after launch, the V-2 unexpectedly tilted starboard 45 degrees continuing its liftoff in the direction of Midway’s flight-deck island.

A V-2 rocket test launched from Midway barely misses the carrier’s island.

While most of Midway’s crew was below deck, Neal Casey, one of the ship’s fire control technicians, was part of the tracking team assigned to follow the V-2 once it launched and call its range down to the plotting room. Positioned on the carrier’s island near the bridge, Casey estimated the rocket missed the superstructure by 100 yards.

“I had no problem tracking the rocket,” said Casey, an 18-year-old Oklahoma native. “It almost hit the island when it launched.”

Also on the bridge was helmsman Gordon Vandiver. He too had a front row seat for the launch watching as the rocket veered towards the island after takeoff.

“The thing was headed straight for us,” recalled Vandiver, an Ohio native who had just turned 18. “You never saw so many scrambled-egg officers dive for cover in all your life. A lot of brass turned green in an instant.”

Within a few seconds, the V-2 returned to a vertical attitude and rose normally. Shortly thereafter, however, the rocket’s flight profile became erratic and it went out of control and broke up at approximately 12,000 feet. The rocket broke into three main sections and fell into the ocean a little more than three miles from Midway.

While the V-2 did not obtain the desired trajectory, it satisfied the major objectives of the test and was considered a success.

“This experiment marked the beginning of a new era in naval weapons,” said Gallery in the operation’s after-action report. “Operation Sandy demonstrated the practicability of launching the war-proven German V-2 missile from a modern aircraft carrier without interfering with the primary purpose of that vessel. The rocket was successfully launched for the first time from a ship underway at sea. It was the opening phase in an extensive program leading to the adaptation of naval vessels and the logistics of naval operations to the use of this new weapon.”

The USS Midway Museum continues to be ranked as the #1 thing to do in San Diego as per Tripadvisor.
Comments on this review website consistently reflect on the outstanding quality of our volunteers.

“Volunteers are an integral part of the museum’s operations,” said Laurie Switzer, Midway’s director of volunteers. “They truly bring the whole ship to life with the living history they pass on to our guests. We have a great group of people here, and for many of them, volunteering on Midway is a life-changing experience.”

Paul Dodson, Airing – July 2022

When restoring a historic military aircraft, you need to bring many talents to the table – precision workmanship, tremendous patience and an incredible eye for detail.

Paul Dodson possesses all those qualities, and then some. A key member of the airwing since 2015, he brings his stellar skills as an aircraft mechanic to his work at Hangar 805, Midway’s primary aircraft restoration facility at Naval Air Station North Island.

A 1954 graduate of Coronado High School, Paul spent six years in the Navy before serving as a police officer in Coronado for 25 years. Since joining the Midway, he has dedicated more than 4,500 volunteer hours to making the Navy and Marine Corps aircraft displayed at the museum look like new.

“Paul has been a great asset to the airwing,” said Walt Loftus, who heads up all aircraft restoration on Midway. “He is a dedicated professional with outstanding attention to detail, especially in the final touches to our aircraft.”

Paul is currently focusing his talents on the complete restoration of the F-7U Cutlass at Hangar 805 as well as repair work on the A-3 Skywarrior on the Midway’s flight deck. He also looks after his fellow volunteers by keeping his ice-cream parlor fully stocked at the hangar. Word has it that the ice cream goes fast.

CJ Flores, Knot Team and Safety – August 2022

Midway is fortunate to have a number of volunteers who are so passionate about the museum and its mission, that they lend their talents and time to more than one department. Catherine “CJ” Flores is that type of volunteer. 

Joining the Midway team in 2018, she’s already logged more than 1,600 volunteer hours that she shares with both the safety department and the Knot Team.

CJ has been indispensable to the Knot Team over the past few years taking on the responsibility of keeping this group informed as Midway weathered the pandemic storm. She has not only helped update the team’s standard operating procedures (SOP), but has also volunteered to be the group’s inventory manager to ensure sufficient supplies are always on hand to produce 1,500 knotted items a month. 

“Her tireless dedication to the Knot Team greatly contributes to Midway Magic and support of the San Diego High School scholarship fund,” said Emory Bishop, co-founder of the Knot Team. “CJ also serves on the safety team as a volunteer, where she has been recognized for going above and beyond.”

A Navy veteran, CJ served as torpedoman’s mate on two Navy ships. Besides volunteering for Midway, she also holds down a fulltime job as a financial management analyst for the Department of Defense.

Thomas Baublit, Guest Services – September 2022

Initial impressions are critical to the guest experience on Midway. Those first few moments after a visitor walks aboard the ship will often set the tone of whether they give us a thumbs up or thumbs down.

Although he’s only been part of the Midway team for a year, Thomas Baublit is all about guest service. He’s unfailingly the first person down to the pier to help visitors. He also took it upon himself to reorganize and inventory the supply of maps used by the entire ship.

While Thomas only has 370 volunteer hours, he intuitively senses when the museum will need additional help on busy attendance days and will come in without being scheduled.

“Thomas has been such a wonderful help to the guest services department and the ship overall,” said Ken Heilman, Midway’s guest services manager. “He is always there when anyone needs a hand. I truly do not know what our department would do without him and his kindness.”

Before joining Midway, Thomas spent 35 years in manufacturing operations for a defense contraction in the production of military equipment.

Bravo Zulu to our Volunteers of the Month for the third quarter of 2022. 

For those interested in becoming a USS Midway Museum volunteer, more information along with the volunteer application can be found

Since the Revolutionary War, more than 41 million Americans have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. However, it’s only been in the last 100 years that the United States has officially honored military veterans.

It wasn’t until Nov. 11, 1919, the one-year anniversary of end of World War I, that Armistice Day was established to pay tribute to those who fought in the Great War. Seven years later, a congressional resolution made the day an annual observance and in 1938 it became a national holiday.

President Dwight Eisenhower changed the name of the holiday from Armistice Day to Veterans Day in 1954 after lobbying efforts by various veterans’ support organizations that wanted to ensure that the country paid tribute to all of those who served.

“It is fitting that we set aside a special day each year to honor our veterans and give nationwide expression of our esteem for them,” Eisenhower would later say in a proclamation. “Let us celebrate that day with appropriate ceremonies not only in tribute to our veterans but also in rededication to the cause of peace with honor throughout the world.”

Former USS Midway crewmembers reflected on the significance and importance of Veterans Day.

“Recognizing veterans is a way of thanking them for their sacrifices, and they deserve our thanks,” said retired Capt. Larry Ernst, Midway’s last commanding officer. “If we do not remember, recognize and honor our veterans, then we may not have a next generation of veterans. If we do not have a next generation of young folks willing to sacrifice for our nation’s defense, then we may cease to be a nation.” 

As a young lieutenant, retired Vice Adm. Paul Ilg flew A-4 Skyhawks from Midway’s flight deck with Attack Squadron 22 (VA-22) during combat deployments to Vietnam in the 1960s. He knows how important veterans have been in defending the freedoms all Americans cherish.

“Our veterans and those now serving are responsible for us to continue to have free choice,” said Paul, who was shot down over Laos in 1965 and spent two days evading the enemy before being rescued. “Freedom is not free and they have paid for our freedoms, some with their lives. We should continue to show appreciation and recognize our veterans.”

From 1982 to 1986, Dan Woodward served as an aviation ordnance senior chief with Attack Squadron 56 (VA-56) on board Midway. Having spent more than 26 years in the Navy, he has strong feelings about the significance of those who have served in the military.

“A veteran is someone who, at one point in his or her life, wrote a blank check made payable to the people of the United States for an amount up to and including his or her life,” said Dan, a former Midway safety supervisor. “That is honor and commitment to one’s country and fellow countrymen. There are too many people that no longer understand that fact.”

Jack Ensch
Dan Woodward

As a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, retired Capt. Jack Ensch knows firsthand what it was like to lose his freedom. A radar intercept officer flying F-4 Phantoms with Fighter Squadron 161 (VF-161) assigned to Midway, Ensch spent more than seven months in two North Vietnamese military prison camps after being shot down in 1972.

“Without the service of veterans throughout our nation’s history, we wouldn’t still have all the freedoms enumerated by our founding fathers in the Constitution,” said Jack, a Midway volunteer docent. “All veterans willingly put their lives on the line to protect and defend our country. Veterans are true patriots. They don’t serve any particular political party or individual group. They serve all Americans regardless of race, color, creed or political affiliation.”

“While we go about our daily lives it is important to realize that every freedom we enjoy today was paid for by the members of our military, in times of conflict as well as peace,” said Doug Bohs, who was a fire control technician with Fighter Squadron 21 (VF-21) on Midway in the 1960s. “Their service and sacrifice have touched the lives of all Americans as well as millions of people all over the globe.”

Since 1776, the United States has relied on the selfless service of those who have and continue to wear the uniform of the nation, and over the course of the last 246 years, nearly one and half million military members never made it home.

“Many paid the ultimate sacrifice and many others sustained life-altering wounds while serving their fellow citizens in preserving our way of life,” said Jack. “It’s not asking too much to set aside one day of the year to pause and reflect upon the many contributions and sacrifices all veterans have made to keep our country strong and free.”

The USS Midway Museum’s airwing restoration team came to the rescue when the Navy sounded the alarm asking for help with the assembly and restoration of two display aircraft at Naval Air Station North Island.

The initial request focused on an F/A-18 Hornet, painted in the colors scheme of the Blue Angels and slated for display at the headquarters of the Naval Air Forces command, as well as an SH-3 Sea King helicopter that is already on display at the air station’s flag circle.

The Hornet was shipped to San Diego from Pensacola, Fla., and the Navy was hoping Midway could assist with aircraft reassembly and help ready it for exhibit.

“I let them know I was very familiar with the F-18,” said Walt Loftus, Midway’s airwing director who oversees the museum’s aircraft restoration program. “I had them get the aircraft and components moved to Hangar 805 so that we could evaluate what we needed to do.”

C-2 Greyhound
SH-3 Sea King

Hangar 805, located at North Island, is the museum’s primary restoration facility for refurbishing historic aircraft for exhibit on the ship.

“Fortunately, the F-18 was in fairly good condition and only needed the flight controls reinstalled and locked out, as well as mounting the afterburner section of the aircraft,” said Walt. “It only took several days to get the components installed.”

Almost simultaneously, Midway’s expertise was also requested to help restore the exterior of the Sea King helicopter whose condition was deteriorating due to weather.

“The H-3 was of immediate concern due to the condition of the aircraft,” said Walt. “I explained that we would be able to work this project provided some active-duty sailors could assist.”

Midway set up the equipment needed principally to sand and repaint the aircraft. Over the course of several weeks, a combined 650 manhours between the museum’s restoration team and Navy sailors had the helicopter looking brand new.

“Both of these projects gave my team a great deal of joy,” said Walt. “It is one of the opportunities presented where we can directly support the Navy with some of the challenges they encounter when trying to accomplish tasks outside of the norm.”

The ship’s aircraft restoration team is also excited about the newest exhibit aircraft the museum recently received – a C-2 Greyhound carrier onboard delivery (COD) aircraft.

Since 1985, North Island-based Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 30 (VRC-30) has flown the C-2 bringing cargo and passengers to aircraft carriers operating at sea from off the coast of the U.S. West Coast to the Persian Gulf.

In 2018, Fleet Logistics Multi-Mission Squadron 30 (VRM-30) was established as the Navy began its transition from its aging C-2 to the newer CMV-22B Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.

In the summer of 2022, Midway was informed that one of the C-2s from VRC-30 being “stricken” from the Navy’s aircraft inventory was assigned to the museum. The aircraft was recently taken to Hangar 805 where it will be repainted and undergo some modifications to the interior to safely allow guests to walk inside once on exhibit on Midway.

“My goal is to have the C-2 ready to come to the ship in about six months,” said Walt. “I hope to bring it over by March of 2023. It will go on the flight deck and be open for display.”

Ensuring the USS Midway Museum continues to enhance the onboard guest experience, the museum recently completed technology upgrades to both the Battle of Midway Theater and the Screaming Eagles virtual reality attraction.

Installed in 2015, the show-system video servers for the theater were reaching their end-of-life cycle. During the replacement, it was determined that the new servers wouldn’t operate optimally with the current audio systems and that a reprograming of the show controls was required.

“Technology advances at light speed,” said Mark Berlin, Midway’s director of operations. “The theater is a show system based on constantly-evolving technology, and when bits of the system have to be replaced, it sometimes affects the component compatibility of the entire system.”

With the theater closed for several weeks to rework the show system, Midway’s exhibits team decided to also evaluate the projectors. The two main show projectors were also getting close to the end of their service life. It was determined that it made sense to switch to a single laser-type projection system.

“We also did away with the two hologram projectors and replaced them with an LED panel solution that greatly improved the hologram image quality,” said Mark. “Making these technology upgrades gives us a more reliable, simpler, and easier to maintain system overall.”

These changes will also save Midway more than $350,000 in projector-bulb replacement costs over the next 10 years. 

“The theater is one of our most powerful visitor experiences and with this investment, we will continue to deliver the highest-quality experience possible,” said Mark. “This was a smart long-term commitment to our guests.”

While the theater was upgraded, the museum’s virtual reality (VR) attraction, Screaming Eagles, was also refreshed. Three new virtual reality transporter bases and the attraction’s control system were replaced. This upgrade provides for more reliable operations and increased content capacity in the future.

A new truss system and a more dynamic backlit graphics panel were also installed giving the Screaming Eagles VR aircraft carrier experience a more up-to-date look.

“Our theater and VR experience are extremely popular with our visitors,” said Mark. “It’s imperative that both continue to operate at peak performance.”

Friendships made in the military are unique to any other walk of life. For those who have served, that’s an indisputable fact.

More often than not, military friendships are long-term relationships that last a lifetime.

“As far as the bond goes, when we speak or when we get together, it’s as if no time has passed,” said Andre Alba, who served in the USS Midway’s aircraft intermediate maintenance department in the early 1980s. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Andre recently helped coordinate a reunion with 10 of his former Midway shipmates who he served with 40 years ago. All worked together operating and maintaining the ship’s aircraft ground support equipment. Some remained connected occasionally over the years, for others it was the first time seeing each other in four decades.

Time may have added a few pounds here and there, and thinned their hair a bit, but their connection to each other is as strong as ever.

“It was a wonderful experience reuniting,” said Carl Shoemaker, who was an aviation support equipment technician on Midway from 1980-1983. “We saw what we’ve turned into from young adults to grandpas. Some of us were not destined to make it as far as we did without the Navy. Most of all, as young men, the Midway helped us with those Y-in-the-road life decisions.”

But what is so unique about life in the military that has such a profound impact on building and maintaining friendships? Is there a higher level of intensity to the work and life environment compared to that of the civilian world?

It’s well understood that the miliary has inherent hazards that you don’t typically find in the civilian workplace, and life on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier is known as one of the world’s most dangerous work environments. There’s an unspoken code that shipmates keep each other safe especially in situations where life-threating injuries lurk around every corner. 

“When you live, work, sleep, eat and travel together, you know each other in ways that can’t happen on the outside,” said Carl, who spent 32 years working for a utility company after leaving the Navy. “You always knew who was your friend and you could count on their word to be their bond. You trusted these guys with your wellbeing, your life and anything you have. They had your back and you had theirs.” 

The challenges faced by those who serve, often referred to as “shared suffering,” not only helps develop the deep connections between service members, but intensifies these bonds at an accelerated pace.

“All of these shared experiences are what created a tight bond amongst us,” said Mike Hidalgo, who rose to the rank of 2nd class petty officer during his three years on Midway. “Whether we lost touch over the years or recently reconnected, that bond remains. Military friendships are unique and different from civilian ones because our shared experiences are unique.” 

“We developed a close relationships because we ate, worked and slept next to each other for years and became a team” said Joe Price, a Midway sailor from 1979-1981. “Because we were so close, our relationships became for life. Even after 40 years of not seeing each other, each of us has our own unique personalities that still click.”

During the group’s reunion on Midway, they not only had the chance to once again walk the carrier’s deck, but also visited some of their old workspaces that brought back a flood of memories.

“It is almost as if we were just there yesterday,” said Mitch Cochran, who served as an electrical technician on Midway’s ground support equipment from 1980-1982. “As I am sure anyone who ever served on board Midway will agree, it was and is a special place. We were Navy, but above all, Midway sailors.”

Military life is not an easy one, but the friendships made are some of the most genuine and long-lasting in the world. Even after four decades, the reunion for this group of former Midway sailors was more than just a flash from the past.

“Reuniting with these Midway brothers has been a godsend,” said Mike, who spent more than 20 years working for the Federal Bureau of Prisons once his time in the Navy was over. “It was so much fun.”

“We got together and it was like the last 40 years haven’t changed our love and respect that we knew back then,” said Carl. “We took care of each other like we were family, cause we were.”

Special Christmas Dinners Kept Crew Spirits Merry and Bright

During the 47 years the USS Midway was defending American democracy around the world, meals on board the carrier weren’t intended to be fancy, farm-to-table, low-calorie or even gluten free. Food was basic, and sometimes a mystery. The goal was to keep the bellies of its thousands of hard-working sailors full. The Army wasn’t the only branch of service that “marched on its stomach.”

On Christmas Day, however, regardless of whether the ship was in port or at sea, Midway treated its crew to a holiday banquet that was fit for royalty.

“Holidays are the hardest time for sailors who have to spend long periods away from their families,” said Rudy Shappee, who served aboard three aircraft carriers during his 20-year Navy career. “The meals served on Christmas have special significance for sailors at sea because it brings at least a part of the celebration of these special days they experienced with their families.”

The stress on sailors at sea is magnified during Christmas by the thoughts of being away from their loved ones over the holiday. They know their chair at the table back home is empty.

To help soften some of the melancholy sailors experienced when separated from family and friends while deployed during the holidays, Midway created culinary magic each year with a Christmas feast.

“The holiday meals were the most important events of the year for the cooks in the general mess, chief petty officer’s mess and the officer’s wardroom,” said Jim Reily, who was the supply officer on the USS Midway from 1989 to 1991. “That was particularly so when we were deployed to the Persian Gulf during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.”

Christmas Day dinner menu from 1949.
Christmas Day dinner menu from 1964.

Much like their families at home, preparations for Christmas dinner on Midway began days in advance. Everything that was expected of a gourmet Christmas dinner was on the menu from turkey and roast beef to mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce.

“It was the special items like sweet potatoes and extra desserts that often hit the spot with the young sailors,” said Rudy, who is an assistant director for special projects in the museum’s education department. “Some would even go through the mess

lines a second time to be able to have an additional serving of ice cream or another piece of berry pie.”

It wasn’t unusual for sailors working on Midway, especially on the flight deck or in the engineering spaces, to burn more than 4,000 calories each day, so the chance to stuff themselves during Christmas was not wasted.

“Meal hours were extended and there were few if any leftovers,” said Jim, who directs the museum’s volunteer docent program. “Our sailors could consume two and half tons of turkey, more than a 1,000 pounds of baked ham, nearly 150 gallons of gravy and 6,000 slices of pumpkin pie.”

“For most sailors, there are three things to do at sea: work, eat, and sleep,”
said Rudy, who in 2007 published “Beef Stew for 2,500,” a book about how the

U.S. Navy fed its crews from the Revolutionary War to today. “Sailors may not look forward to working 12 hours or more each day seven days a week, or sleeping in a crowded and noisy berthing compartment, but they all looked forward to good chow.”

Christmas dinner for all Midway sailors was not only good chow, but it also played an important role in lifting their spirits.

“At the heart of good morale aboard ship is good food,” said Rudy, who was also an aircrewman flying in naval helicopters and patrol aircraft during his time in the Navy.

While dining on Christmas dinner was a welcome holiday respite for Midway’s crew, the hundreds of sailors who spent days preparing the special meal also felt tremendous satisfaction.

“The look on the crew’s faces as they sat down to consume the enormous piles of food on their trays and dishes was priceless,” said Jim, who retired from the Navy in 1997 after 25 years of service. “For the ship’s cooks, having the opportunity to bring happiness and a little bit of home to the crew made those long hours of the prep work worthwhile.”

Midway Dives Into International Naval Training Exercise 

Although it’s been more than 30 years since the USS Midway last steamed into harm’s way, she’s still stepping up to the plate when called upon to serve the men and women of today’s Navy.

Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022 is the largest multinational maritime exercise in the world. This biennial training exercise scheduled every other summer takes place in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California. The U.S. Navy’s 3rd Fleet, who coordinated the month-long exercise, enlisted Midway assistance for some important targeted training.

 “Although the majority of the exercise was focused in Hawaii, there was a small subsection here in Southern California,” said U.S. Navy Lt. Emily Judstra, who was director of the Southern California combined information bureau during the RIMPAC exercise. “As part of the exercise, forces used the USS Midway Museum to practice maritime improvised explosive devices and limpet mine drills on a realistic target to enhance training and interoperability.”

Australian Clearance Dive Team Four approaches Midway.

The San Diego Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center hosted the training on Midway with 33 different units participating from multiple allied nations. American naval explosive ordnance teams worked with Australian, German, Japanese, New Zealand and UK naval forces to identify and remove inert training devices from on and around Midway’s hull during this phase of the exercise.

“This was a mine countermeasure exercise where we cleared and removed limpet mines on the Midway,” said Lt. Cmdr. Andrew Thomas, commanding officer of Australian Clearance Diving Team Four. “This required special techniques and tools. It was quite a difficult task involving specialized diving in difficult conditions. It improved our interoperability and made us more adaptable when working with our international partners.”

According to 3rd Fleet, RIMPAC was designed to foster and sustain cooperative relationships critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s interconnected oceans. Military forces from 25 allied nations joined with the United States in the exercise. Midway’s part, while only a small portion of the overall exercise, was essential to mine warfare training.

“Midway delivered a unique training opportunity for RIMPAC,” said Len Santiago, Midway’s chief engineer. “The best training evolutions are those that provide real environments, especially underwater. Being located in the home of 3rd Fleet and multiple warfare commands in San Diego, Midway is a great training target for young underwater warriors.”

After three days of training with Midway, the mine warfare portion of RIMPAC was deemed a success.

“It was very important to work together and train together and I was glad to be on this exercise,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Kenshin Kawashima, from the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Mine Warfare Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team. “We all come from different backgrounds, cultures and ways of training, but we have common ground to protect our countries and allies.”

Japanese Navy diver, Petty Officer Kenshin Kawashima.

RIMPAC’s senior staffs from several partner nations also visited Midway for a briefing in the spring when they were in San Diego for the exercise’s planning conference.