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Midway Currents fall 2023

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For nearly 50 years, whether in times of peace or war, the mission of the USS Midway (CV-41) was to successfully launch and recover its aircraft. Most of the attention, understandably so, was focused on the aviators and flight deck crews. But quietly lurking in the bowels of the carrier was a band of sailors who kept the carrier steaming and its aircraft flying.

“New exhibits give us a chance to tell more of the Midway and aircraft carrier story using the latest exhibit technology and design methods to better educate, entertain and inspire our guests.”

That said, even when the ship opened as a museum, the 30 restored military planes and many of the below-deck displays kept visitors concentrating on all that is naval aviation. Coming in 2024, however, Midway will be creating a new exhibit that will highlight the critical importance of the carrier’s unsung heroes – the engineers.

“As a former surface warfare officer as well as a ship engineer, it’s a great story we should share with our guests about this hard working and dedicated group of sailors,” said Len Santiago, Midway’s chief engineer who retired from the Navy after a 23-year career. “We are currently clearing the spaces below the hangar deck to be a clean slate for our exhibit team to provide the Midway magic in the creation of this new experience.”

An engineering exhibit has actually been on the books for several years, and was working its way to fruition until COVID stuck it back on the shelf. As the museum slowly emerged from the pandemic cloud, this new display was resurrected.

“The museum has desired to have an exhibit to tell the story of the engineering department and the importance of steam-to-ship operations since the opening of the museum,” said Mark Berlin, Midway’s director of operations who also oversees the museum’s exhibits team. “After our economic recovery from the pandemic, we were able to get back to the project. I’m happy to get the opportunity to once again approach this project.”

Working with a renowned exhibit development firm, the exhibit will be more interactive and immersive than anything that has been produced in the past. The Battle of Midway theater and its adjacent exhibit elements was the museum’s last major exhibit which opened in 2015.

“New exhibits give us a chance to tell more of the Midway and aircraft carrier story using the latest exhibit technology and design methods to better educate, entertain and inspire our guests,” said Mark, who joined the Midway team in 2006. “We will rely on internal subject matter experts to provide the information and stories about life in engineering and look forward to working with the exhibit firm to develop a meaningful and impactful experience. It’s very exciting.”

And the winner is!

Presented by Cox Business, the Top Tech Awards celebration is held annually to honor the region’s top information technology (IT) leaders. Nominated by their peers and clients, the awards acknowledge the outstanding efforts of these often unsung heroes in the world of IT.

The USS Midway Museum’s director of IT, Shawn Granen, took home the 2023 Cox Business Exemplary Award for his stellar IT efforts and leadership at the museum.

“Shawn has excellent IT skills,” said Phil Hamilton, Midway’s chief financial officer. “More importantly, Shawn has the personal skills that combined with the technical skills make him an excellent fit for the Midway team.”

This accolade highlights Shawn’s multiple achievements on Midway since he took charge of the museum’s IT department two years ago. He’s modernized Midway’s hardware and infrastructure, upgraded the ship’s Wi-Fi, as well as updated the museum’s storage capabilities and website. He also successfully integrated the Southwest Airlines Flight Academy into the museum’s robust educational offerings. All of Shawn’s effort have contributed to Midway’s security, growth and profitability.

“On behalf of the entire Cox Business team, I want to extend my warmest congratulations to Shawn,” said JC Teopengco of Cox Business hospitality and cloud solutions. “His dedication and hard work have not gone unnoticed. We’re absolutely thrilled that he was chosen as the well-deserved recipient of the Exemplary Award. His remarkable achievements have truly set him apart.”

Started in 2008 by Cox Business vice president Larry Coval, the Top Tech Awards have grown into one the most prestigious award events in the region and the competition amongst the nominees is stiff.

“The Midway IT team is comprised of a bunch of rock stars who make me look good every day. Without the hard work and dedication from them, I would never have been able to succeed in the way I have.”

Shawn’s high information technology IQ and collaborative style that helps build consensus, set him apart from his peers.

“Winning the Top Tech Exemplary Award is a true honor,” said Shawn, who joined Midway in April 2021. “With over 130 nominees representing all facets of the San Diego tech scene, it validates the importance of our mission here on Midway. While this honor is bestowed on an individual, in reality, this is very much a group achievement award. The Midway IT team is comprised of a bunch of rock stars who make me look good every day. Without the hard work and dedication from them, I would never have been able to succeed in the way I have. I sincerely thank my team for putting me on their shoulders and carrying me forward.”

Next stop – Tour de France!

Ok, Ok, maybe they’re not quite there yet, but one can dream. Baby steps.

In the spirit of camaraderie, exercise and some quality grassroots marketing, the Midway bike club was born.

Known now as “Midway on Bikes” or MOB, the museum’s new two-wheeler club was the brainchild of USS Midway Museum docent Bob Carter.

“I had two reasons for starting the bike club,” said Bob, a docent since 2015. “One was purely selfish and the other was altruistic. I wanted to get some exercise, but with two bad knees, running or jogging was out of the question, so the next best thing was a bicycle. The altruistic part was getting all the Midway bicycle riders together.”

Bob rides regularly with another docent who lives in Imperial Beach, but he knew that there were several other docents that were riders and thought it would be great to band together a larger group. To turn this idea into a reality, Bob turned to Midway volunteer supervisor Steve Suslik for help.

“I pitched the idea to our CEO Terry Kraft in the docent’s breakroom one morning,” said Bob, who has more than 5,000 volunteer hours. “Terry jumped on board with the idea immediately. At this point I reached out to Steve Suslik in the volunteer office. Steve really got the ball rolling. Steve was the driving force behind the start of the club.”

Midway on Bikes architects Bob Carter and Steve Suslik at the Bike the Bridge event.

“Bob asked for my help in realizing his idea for a bike club,” said Steve, who works in both the volunteer and safety offices. “To get started, I put an announcement in the Midway News and asked who might be interested.”

Steve, along with Midway’s office assistant Cristy de la Paz, spent weeks organizing the team. Before long, more than two dozen staff and volunteers answered the call. The MOB was formally established.

The first target for the MOB was the 16th annual Bike to Bay ride, a 25-mile non-competitive biking event across the Coronado Bay Bridge and around San Diego Bay.

“The response has been wonderful, with around 25 members showing interest in the club at the very beginning,” said Bob, who served on the USS Midway in 1973. “For the first official club ride, the Bike the Bay ride, there were 15 riders going over the bridge in Midway bike jerseys. Not bad for a club that had only been around for about six weeks.”

With the club established, the team needed someone to take the reins to lead the group into the future. AJ Ronacher jumped at the opportunity.

“As the team’s new director, I am happy to share with the MOB the lessons I’ve learned about bicycling, and about cycling team development based on my years as the director of the Eastlake High School cycling team,” said AJ, a Midway docent since 2020 with nearly 1,100 volunteer hours. “My vision is that we establish many local neighborhood rides throughout Orange, Riverside, and San Diego counties.”

AJ, now known as the MOB boss, quickly developed an annual plan and riding guide (APRG) for the team to steer them through the year. The APRG catalogs and describe informal neighborhood rides, as well as lists the organized local riding events in which MOB can participate as an entire team. The APRG also provides guidance for riders and ride leaders to help them stay safe and have fun on their rides.

Sporting new Midway biking shirts created by the museum’s graphic designer David Perez, the MOB, when biking together as a group, also publicizes the museum as a moving billboard.

“This club will help promote the Midway as a family,” said Steve. “The compassion from the team members was what you would expect from your family.”

Although Midway’s new bike club is only in its infancy, Bob, AJ and Steve have grand plans for the MOB.

“The hope is to have a MOB ride at least once a month in various areas of the county, giving everyone a chance to ride with the club,” said Bob, a retired high school teacher who also served a 20-year career in the Navy. “My dreams are that as interest grows, the MOB may get to ride at least twice a month, covering the four corners of the county.”

“I think becoming a docent has given me long life,” said Joe Neves, a 96-year-old World War II veteran who has been a USS Midway Museum docent since 2004. “Being a volunteer on Midway is the greatest thing I could think of after retiring. I’m alive now and I can say that honestly that I owe it all to the Midway. If there wasn’t a Midway Museum, there may not be a Joe Neves still kicking around today.”

These feelings about Midway, that Joe will happily tell anyone who will listen, are shared by many other museum volunteers. For them, it’s part of the magic that is Midway. Being on board puts a spark in their life that can make them feel happier, healthier and even younger.

“Just being aboard the ship makes my day brighter and lightens my mood,” said 76-year-old Bob “Doc” Werner, a docent since 2015 who is currently recovering from heart surgery. “There is so much selfless giving among the volunteers that it puts me into a happy mood just to share that atmosphere. There is always such joy and happiness on board that it is impossible to go home in a bad mood.”

The positive and upbeat attitude by Midway’s volunteers is one of the primary reasons behind the museum being ranked as the number one thing to do in San Diego by Tripadvisor.

“This was an amazing experience for our family,” said Joe from Miami in a recent Tripadvisor review. “The real difference maker for us were the Navy veterans who gave us first hand experiences. Special thanks go to the volunteer who walked us through the details related to landing jets on an aircraft carrier. He did it with humor and intelligence. It was the highlight of our trip.”

“I find great satisfaction talking to the guests, the families and seeing their excitement at experiencing something totally new,” said Doc, who is a multiple Purple Heart recipient for wounds he sustained in combat during the Vietnam War. “I particularly enjoy talking to the children and seeing the joy on their faces as they experience this great ship. The junior pilot program is so exciting to them and it makes me smile to award them their wings.”

Bob Werner
Gunner Guyer
Carole Hansen

For Ken “Gunner” Guyer, he’s still trying to put his finger on exactly what Midway brings to the table for him, but he knows for sure that it works.

“I wish I could answer that because I would bottle whatever it is and distribute it worldwide,” said Gunner, a docent since 2016 with more than 5,300 volunteer hours. “Since becoming a volunteer, I have had numerous hospital stays and repairs to my body. Each time, as I am recovering, I look forward to returning to the Midway. Once I return, there is just a satisfaction that reaches to your very core about being a part of the ship and a part of the team.”

Volunteering on Midway is a post-retirement endeavor for many. With an average age of 74, it’s not surprising that the museum’s volunteers may also navigate various health concerns as they advance into their golden years. For many, coming to Midway is tremendously therapeutic.

“We’ve both had major health issues over the years,” said safety department volunteer Carole Hansen, who along with her husband Al, have been sharing their time with the museum since 2005. “Fiercely wanting to get back to the ship has been a huge factor in our recoveries. Volunteering helps us feel that we’re still vital people who continue interacting with life.”

Although volunteering for Midway will never be seen as a formal prescription, the affects, in many cases, can be just as impactful as medication.

“I told my surgeon before I went into the hospital that it is very important that I return to the Midway,” said Doc, who has more than 3,000 volunteer hours. “I have told all my doctors that. The Midway is a vital part of my life. Volunteering to serve on the Midway is one of the best decisions I have made, if not ever. I love the ship and she has returned that love.”

Danger lurked around every corner, every minute of every day. 

It was another miserably hot and humid summer night along the Mekong River when the squadron scrambled to provide emergency air support to a South Vietnamese army outpost that was under attack by an overwhelming Viet Cong force. Petty Officer Gary Ely, a seasoned UH-1 Huey helicopter door gunner with Seawolves of Navy Helicopter Attack (Light) Squadron 3 (HAL-3), made sure his door-mounted mini gun was ready for action as his aircraft raced into battle. Engaging in a close-air strike with both door guns and rockets, Gary’s crew attempted to repel the advancing enemy attack. After flying half the night, and refueling and rearming four times, they finally beat back the assault, saving the lives of those manning the outpost while risking their own. 

Just another typical night for the Seawolves in Vietnam.

Gary had always been fascinated by aviation. While attending Des Moise Technical High School in Iowa, he began training to be an aircraft mechanic. Upon graduation in 1967, he gave college a shot, but soon found it wasn’t for him. No longer a student, his options were few – drafted into the U.S. Army or join another branch of the military.

“My folks thought being a sailor might be a better choice,” said Gary, whose father served in the Navy just after World War II. “Even though it was a four-year enlistment versus two years if drafted into the Army, my dad advised me that I would at least have clean sheets to sleep on instead of in a fox hole somewhere.”

Little did Gary know at the time, but the continuous and intense combat action he would see during his first two years in the Navy involved just about everything an Army soldier experienced, except for the foxhole.

Because of his aircraft mechanic training in high school, Gary graduated Navy boot camp designated as an aircraft structural mechanic. Initially assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea (CV-43), he was surprised to receive a new set of orders a day prior to the ship’s departure on deployment to the Western Pacific. He would soon be heading directly to Vietnam as a member of HAL-3. By January 1970, after aircrew and gunner training in San Diego, Gary was off to Bình Thủy in the Mekong Delta.

Until his assignment to HAL-3, Gary hadn’t thought much about helicopters.

“It was at this time, I became aware of the aircrew opportunities ,” said Gary, a USS Midway Museum volunteer since 2008. “All personnel headed to HAL-3, maintenance guys as well as aircrew, were subjected to a training syllabus. Aircrew gunners got six months. I volunteered to be a gunner.”

His first few months “in country” were occupied flying logistics missions throughout the Mekong Delta. Once assigned to HAL-3’s Detachment 9, he found himself in the heart of the fighting, stationed up river on a massive floating naval barge known as a YRBM.

“We were anchored in the middle of the Mekong River about 3,000 yards below the Cambodian border,” said Gary, who has more than 5,000 volunteer hours with Midway’s aircraft restoration and docent teams. “For the next 14 months I flew as a door gunner with Det 9.”

Flying in support of naval special warfare operation and the mobile riverine forces, Gary was routinely involved in perilous combat missions that centered about search and destroy patrols, close-air support, SEAL team insertions, search and rescue, medical evacuations, and reconnaissance.

The naval barge that was his home base in the Mekong River was never wholly regarded as a safe haven as enemy attacks could happen at any time.

“One late night our scramble horn sounded, but the call was for general quarters,” recalled Gary. “As we all jumped to put on our boots we heard explosions. A Viet Cong assault team positioned along the river’s edge launched four rocket propelled grenades at our YRBM. One of our gunships had taken a direct hit. Fortunately, after all was said and done, we only had one person wounded in the attack.”

Gary Ely began volunteering for Midway’s aircraft restoration department in 2008.

Although discharged from the Navy in 1973, Gary’s bond with his comrades is as strong today as it was when he was in Vietnam. Even after 50 years, the brotherhood that exist with those he served remains unbreakable.

“I think it is the same pride and respect all of us Vietnam veterans have for each other, except it is much more personal,” said Gary, who worked as a civilian aerospace engineering technician for the Navy for more than 30 years. “Having served in such an unpopular war and experiencing the lack of support from the folks at home, kind of inspires us to stick together. Having lost shipmates during our squadron’s existence also fuels our comradery.”

Gary is a long-time member of the Seawolves Association, an organization dedicated to his unit that flew in Vietnam from 1967 to 1972. The association started in 1986 after several former Seawolves got together during a Veterans Day parade in Chicago. The group still holds reunions every two years.

“Our goal is to perpetuate the name of the elite HAL-3 squadron, and continue to strengthen those friendships begun in Vietnam,” said Gary, who is currently the association’s treasurer. “The unique history of our squadron will most likely become a future bench mark for active duty squadrons of today.”

A young girl’s life was at stake and the clock was ticking. 

For 14-year-old Laura Woodward, it was the final days of a fun-filled trip to the Mexican Rivera on the Dawn Princess cruise ship with her family in December 2007 when her world turned upside down.

“I only recalled being sick,” said Laura. “I thought I had the flu or food poisoning.”

The ship’s medical staff quickly determined that Laura had a ruptured appendix. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the ability to do an emergency appendectomy on the cruise ship. The radio call went out for help.

More than 500 miles away, the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) was steaming off the coast of Southern California conducting pre-deployment training.

“We were notified by the 3rd Fleet at about 10 p.m.,” said Terry Kraft, the USS Midway Museum’s president and CEO who was the commanding officer of Reagan at the time. “We immediately stood up the rescue team, which was a group trained in quick response to such situations. We headed south at flank speed as soon as flight operations concluded that night.”

The plan was to launch one of the ship’s SH-60 Seahawk helicopters at first light once the Reagan was within a couple of hundred miles of the cruise ship.

“My goal was to minimize the distance the helo would have to fly once they had picked Laura up,” remembered Terry, who commanded Reagan from 2005 to 2008. “I directed the Princess ship to close on our position and we figured out a good spot for the helo to do the pickup. I think we were about 200 nautical miles apart when we launched the helo.”

“I was frantic,” said Laura’s mother Trudy. “It was a matter of life and death, so it wasn’t very good at all. They evacuated the whole back end of the ship so that the helicopter could come in and lower the rescue basket. They put her in the basket.”

USS Midway Museum CEO, Terry Kraft, is reunited with Laura Woodward 16 years after her surgery on the USS Ronald Reagan.

For Laura, who was in excruciating pain, much of the helicopter flight from the cruise ship to Reagan remains a blur.

“I remember being scared, but I don’t really think it occurred to me what was going on until it was happening,” said Laura, who would later graduate from Grossmont High School in San Diego. “As bad as it sounds, I was just there and going with the flow.”

Upon arrival at Reagan, Laura was immediately taken to the ship’s hospital and was in surgery within 30 minutes.

“She was a very sick girl,” said Cmdr. George Linville, Reagan’s surgeon, who performed the appendectomy. “She had gone septic. Untreated for another 24 to 36 hours, it could have been a lot worse.”

While appendectomies on board naval ships don’t happen often, they are not uncommon. Two hours after arriving on Reagan, Laura was out of surgery and recovering. The carrier’s crew quickly adopted the teenager, giving her Reagan T-shirts, hats and teddy bears.

“The medical crew on the Reagan was absolutely awesome,” said Laura, who spent eight days on the carrier before it returned to Naval Air Station North Island. “I sort of became one of the crew.”

“She was a real rock star on the ship,” said Terry. “Our medical team probably saved her life.”

After 16 years, Laura and Terry were reunited once again on an aircraft carrier, but this time it was on Midway.

“Seeing her again brought back such great memories,” said Terry. “Sometimes we forget the impact that our actions can have on other people’s lives. She is doing great.”

Laura, who now lives in Fairfield, Ill. with her husband and two sons, was back in San Diego visiting family this summer and decided to visit the Midway. Now 30, meeting Terry again after more than a decade and a half was the highlight of her return trip to Southern California.

“It was amazing to again meet one of the many people who is the reason I am standing here today,” said Laura, whose grandfather Dan Woodward served as an aviation ordnance senior chief petty officer on Midway during the 1980s and later spent nearly a decade as a member of the museum’s safety department. “I would love to meet more of them. When I think back to it, I can only remember bits and pieces, but I am glad I am here and can tell my story. I will always be thankful to everyone on the Reagan.”

For Laura’s mother, she is forever grateful for the medical team on Reagan bringing her daughter back from the brink of certain tragedy.

“It was beyond words,” said Trudy, who was a Midway Museum safety department volunteer for two years. “It was like the whole world just lifted off of my shoulders. I’m all for what the Navy does. I’m Navy 100 percent.”

The USS Midway Museum paid tribute to Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD), San Diego and two Marine Corps Medal of Honor recipients at its annual American Patriot Award Gala. In celebration of the 100th anniversary of training excellence at MCRD San Diego, the prestigious award was presented to retired Marine Corps Colonels Robert Modrzejewski and Jay Vagas for their courageous and selfless actions in combat during the Vietnam War. 

Proceeds from this black-tie event continue to benefit Midway’s ‘No Child Left Ashore’ scholarship fund that helps thousands of students each year from under-served San Diego County schools. They study STEM curricula and participate in the overnight education program on board the museum.

“It’s all about the Marine Corps tonight,” said Terry Kraft, Midway’s president and CEO at the gala. “I recently attended a recruit graduation at MCRD. It was amazing to watch how these young men and women were transformed into the finest fighting force in the world. Congratulations to 100 years of excellence at MCRD.”

Marine Corps Brig. Gen. James Ryans, commanding general of Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, addresses attendees at the Midway American Patriot Award Gala.

As one of two main recruit training installation for the U.S. Marine Corps, MCRD San Diego has played a crucial role in shaping generations of Marines over the last century. The original recruit depot for Marines on the West Coast was commissioned in 1921 at Mare Island in Vallejo, Calif. It was relocated to its current base in San Diego in August 1923. It’s history is one of resilience, adaptation and dedication to producing highly-skilled and disciplined Marines. More than 1.5 million Marine recruits have completed their basic training at MCRD San Diego.

“I too have had the honor of seeing firsthand the training that takes place at MCRD,” said Laura White, president of the USS Midway Foundation. “To call it impressive would be a tremendous understatement. I’m so incredibly proud of our young Marines who are willing to defend our nation and our democracy around the world, and it all starts right here in San Diego.”

“We’re honored to be recognized,” said Brig. Gen. James Ryans, the commanding general of MCRD San Diego. “This year marks the 100th year of making Marines in San Diego. We’re proud to be part of the diverse San Diego community and I’ve never experienced an environment where you get so much support as you do in this town. While the city has changed over the past century, the strength of the relationship we have with the people of this city has only gotten stronger.”

The ability to hold the gala and honor American patriots each year is only possible because of the tremendous support that comes from Midway’s partners and sponsors. Their contribution also helps Midway support educational programs for San Diego students.

“I can’t thank our partners and gala sponsors enough,” said Craig Fisher, Midway’s director of partnership marketing. “Their gracious financial commitment not only helps us honor American heroes like Col. Modrzejewski and Col. Vargas, but allows us to continue to provide STEM educational opportunities to thousands of school children in our county.”

The highlight of the gala was the presentation of the Midway American Patriot Award to the two recipients of America’s highest military decoration.

Col. Modrzejewski was awarded the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry at the risk of his life above all overs during Operation Hastings in 1966. Vastly outnumbered by the enemy, the colonel led his company to victory over two and half days of intense combat. Although suffering painful shrapnel wounds, his unparalleled personnel heroism and indomitable leadership resulted in a significant triumph over a larger North Vietnamese force.

Marine Band San Diego marches to the stage to start the Midway American Patriot Award Gala.

“I’d like to thank the Midway for this honor, and I share it with all the Marines and sailors that I’ve had the privilege and honor to serve with,” said the 89-year-old veteran who served 31 years in the Marines. “Whatever your service is and what it will becomes depends on those who have gone before us, those who are serving now, and those who will serve in the future.”

While serving as the commanding officer of Company G, Col. Vargas led his Marines in fierce combat in late April to early May 1968 in the fortified village of Dai Do. Wounded by grenade fragments, the colonel inspired his men in a relentless advance against intense enemy fire. He saved one of his wounded battalion commanders and seven other Marines. Despite his serious injuries, he refused to leave the battlefield. For his gallant and selfless action in combat, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Terry Kraft, Midway’s CEO, and Midway board chair, Chris Neils, congratulates retired Marine Corps Colonels Robert Modrzejewski and Jay Vargas as the 2023 Midway American Patriot Award recipients.

“Every Marine that I served with was amazing,” said the 85-year-old veteran who had a 30-year Marine Corps career. “They were tough, dedicated, intelligent and loved their country. Every single one of them fought bravely.”

“You hear the term ‘great Americans’ a lot,” said Terry at the close of the gala. “But I can’t think of two greater Americans than the two we’ve honored here tonight. They have truly underscored the importance of service and sacrifice for their nation.”

After the USS Midway (CV-41) was decommissioned, albeit with great fanfare, in San Diego in 1992, she was unceremoniously towed to Bremerton, Wash., where she quietly faded into the ghost fleet of forgotten Navy ships at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard’s Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility. There she rested pierside, along with more than 20 other retired Navy warships, slowly wasting away. 

A dozen years later, the ship was given a second chance at life, this time as a floating naval museum back in San Diego. But after more than a decade of sitting unprotected in the harsh weather of the Pacific Northwest, Midway had decayed to a shell of her former self. Herculean maintenance and restoration would be needed to ready the ship for the public.

An advance team from the San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum Association traveled to Washington to assess Midway’s condition several months prior to her arrival in San Diego.

Fo’c’sle before and now

“When we got to the ship in Bremerton in 2003, it was a complete rust bucket with piles of obsolete equipment,” said Scott McGaugh, Midway’s original marketing director and a current member of the museum’s board of directors. “We knew we had our work cut out for us if we were going to transform Midway into a museum.”

During this advance trip, hundreds of photographs were taken of the flight and hangar decks, as well as countless numbers of individual spaces throughout the ship documenting the carrier’s ragged condition.

For 20 years, this collection of pre-museum photographs rested undisturbed in Midway’s curatorial department. That all changed when Rudy Shappee got his hands on them.

Enlisted mess deck before and now

“I heard that Dave Hanson in curatorial had a series of photos taken as part of an inspection trip to Bremerton,” said Rudy, the assistant director of the Midway Institute for Teachers. “He informed me that there were more than 300 photos taken of spaces aboard by shipyard personnel. I got the idea that these photos would be the perfect beginning of the story of our restoration of this great ship and proof that Midway Magic is still alive and well.”

Rudy believed if he could identify photos of existing exhibit areas today and then match them to the original photos taken in the same spaces two decades ago, he would be able to tell a great story of the more than 20 years of labor by hundreds of staff and volunteers who restored Midway to a condition similar to when she was part of the Navy’s active-duty fleet.

His first challenge, however, was to identify the locations of spaces on the ship where the photos had been taken during the inspection in Bremerton. He approached this predicament as a visual detective using compartment shapes; structural components such as piping, door and hatches; and bulkhead-painted bullseyes (shipboard numerical map placards) to identify the locations on the ship where the inspection photos were taken. It was once he was able to make progress on accurately identifying these locations, that his project really took flight.

“That’s when I really got excited about the project because at this point, I had more than a collection of photos, I now had a story,” said Rudy, who began volunteering in 2001, years before Midway arrived in San Diego. “Being the historian that I am, I decided I would move beyond the archeological identification of the spaces to the history of their evolution from cold steel to vibrant exhibits of life aboard the Midway.”

Flight deck before and now

Rudy started with the easiest to identify spaces like the officers wardroom, sick bay and chapel, then moved onto spaces that were more difficult to distinguish. To overcome this conundrum, he physically walked the ship using old ship’s drawing and photographs to pinpoint their locations.

After months of pain staking investigation, Rudy was able to classify more than 85 percent of the original photographs. After selecting what he thought were the 100 best to tell the story, he needed to initiate phase two of the project by bringing in a photographer.

“I reached out to Felix Zamora, a volunteer who I knew to be an excellent photographer to help me pair the before photos with after shots,” said Rudy, who has amassed nearly 21,000 volunteer hours. “I had worked with Felix on a previous project and knew he was very professional and could do the job I needed done to make the project come alive.”

“My initial thought was, wow, what a great idea,” said Felix, a volunteer photographer on Midway since 2012. “His requirements for the after pictures were clear, there could be no deviation. I was honored that Rudy had confidence in me to accomplish the task.”

Carrier Air Traffic Control Center before and now

Felix went to work immediately and was soon sending Rudy multiple sets of current photos to match with the originals. In a majority of cases the pairings were almost identical, however, in a few cases, like Cafe 41 or the Voices of Midway theater, the physical structure of the ship had been changed.

“I knew this was going to be a challenge, but the project has a great end goal,” said Felix, who has nearly 2,500 volunteer hours. “It seems simple enough, but the after pictures had to be in the same camera position as the before picture. Not as easy as you might think.”

From Rudy’s perspective, the project can benefit the Midway in myriad ways. His plan is to provide the initial presentation to the museum’s staff and then amp it up from there.

“I believe the presentation could be adapted for use by the volunteers, the membership, the board, and even the public at large,” said Rudy, who was a member of Midway’s aircraft restoration team even before the ship arrived in San Diego and opened to the public as a museum. “As I have been constructing the project, I have thought of using the presentation as a book, as a presentation at the Historical Naval Ships Association conference next year when it’s in San Diego, and as a presentation to our membership as a part of an evening event. Of course, I know I will be able to use it during our 20th anniversary next year.”

Engine Control Room before and now

For Rudy and Felix, this project reflects the passion they have for Midway.

“It’s actually about a love affair I have with this lady that first appeared in tatters and that I have been able to dress in the finery she deserves,” said Rudy, who still volunteers as a docent every Friday afternoon. “I have done and will continue to do the work that will best lend itself to the telling of the Midway story so our nation will not forget the sacrifices we all made to carry out the missions necessary to keep America strong and free.”

“Seeing the before and after photos of the Midway demonstrates what can be accomplished by a group of individuals with a common goal,” said Felix, who spent three month photographing spaces around the ship. “There is a story to tell and these photos tell that that story.”

Their mission, which they excitedly accepted, was to learn as much as possible about aviation. On a sunny summer morning, nearly 30 Girl Scouts from San Diego marched aboard the USS Midway Museum to take on the challenge of Operation Wing Scout.

“Operation Wing Scout is a youth development program born from the longstanding partnership between Southwest Airlines and Midway, with collaboration from Girl Scouts of San Diego and the Latina empowerment program, MANA de San Diego,” said Tina Chin, Midway’s director of education. “The main goal of the program is far more nuanced than a simple introduction to aviation. The purpose is to show those in attendance, through evidence-based research and real-world examples, that there is nothing they cannot accomplish if they dream big and work hard.”

During the day-long program, the Girl Scouts received a crash course in aviation history – from the humble kite flying beginnings in ancient China to modern space travel today – and how women are a critical component to the field. The scouts experienced a practical flying lesson in the simulators of Midway’s Flight Academy each piloting a Cessna 172 Skyhawk over New York City. 

After landing their simulator flights, the scouts had the opportunity to discuss their aviation experience with representatives from Southwest Airlines, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, and Midway’s education volunteer, Lindsey Weightman.

Lindsey currently serves as an aviation ordnanceman with a Navy helicopter squadron at Naval Air Station North Island. Her stories about being a woman in charge and working with dangerous equipment left each scout with an excited gleam in their eyes.

The power of endless curiosity and possibility was a recurring theme throughout the day for the scouts that resulted in a memorable moment that perfectly captured the goal of the program.

Girl Scouts piloting Cessnas in Midway’s Flight Academy simulators.

“During the history crash course, scouts were quite taken with the story of one of the first manned flights, which was an 18th century hot air balloon ride that had the unique passengers of a duck, sheep, and rooster,” said Tina. “The scouts developed theories on why those specific animals were chosen. But what truly caught their attention was why the test even happened in the first place. One scout asked, ‘how did those people even know what to do and how did they know that space existed to explore it?’ The room quieted for a moment then another scout chimed in saying ‘haven’t you ever been curious?”

After an afternoon tour of the flight deck, the scouts received their certificates and a badges for their hard work.

“Operation Wing Scout is more than just a program that excites these young scouts about aviation,” said Tina. “It encourages them to reach for the stars.”

Tis the season, Midway Members!

I’ve always loved fall and the transition into the holiday season. Football, crisp morning air, pumpkin spice everything – even the chance to wear a sweatshirt in San Diego. This time of year also ignites a season of gratitude. While many of us can say we count our blessings every day, we often stop and reflect a bit deeper during the holidays. 

Veteran’s Day is an important milestone aboard and a worthy event to kick off “National Gratitude Month.” We can’t thank our veterans enough for the sacrifices they’ve made to protect our freedoms. I know many of our members have served our country (many on board Midway). On behalf of our entire team, we thank you for your service and are honored to have you as part of our membership family. 

This year besides our annual Salute to Service and the return of San Diego’s Veterans Day Parade, we enjoyed hosting members for a night onboard Midway where they learned about organizations that support our local veteran community. We look forward to more educational events for our members to learn about our community partners. 

We are thankful for a new addition to the membership team. We welcomed Laura “Lo” Gasca as our development coordinator this August. Her enthusiasm and efforts behind the scenes will be a great support to our member base. I hope you get the opportunity to meet her at a future event or visit with her on a phone call. 

In the midst of celebrating the holidays on board, every department on Midway is gearing up for 2024. Next year we will celebrate the USS Midway Museum’s 20th anniversary. We look forward to appreciating our members, delighting in Midway’s history, and an exciting future. You have played a pivotal role in turning a retired aircraft carrier into Tripadvisor’s “#1 thing to do in San Diego” and America’s Living Symbol of Freedom. 

While seasons change, the one constant that remains is your generosity and passion as Midway Members. Thank you for your visits, feedback, enthusiasm, service and support of CV-41. 

Wishing you and your loved ones a wonderful holiday season.