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Midway Currents Spring 2024

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It’s been more than five decades since the last U.S. troops left Vietnam and the remaining prisoners of war departed Hanoi, but for many of the millions of military veterans that served during the conflict, the scars from the 20-year Vietnam War are still felt, both physically and mentally, even today.

To honor all those who served, and gave part or all of themselves during the Vietnam War, the USS Midway Museum held a commemoration ceremony on the flight deck that was attended by more than 450 people, mostly military veterans.

“It means a great deal to me that this is finally happening and that we’re getting the recognition we should have gotten 50 years ago,” said Bob “Doc” Werner, a Navy combat corpsman who was awarded the Silver Star and Bronze Star for his bravery, and the Purple Heart for his wounds sustained on the battlefield. “It’s very important to me that we continue to remember the Vietnam War and the sacrifices made by the men and women who were there. It’s important to not forget history or you’re doomed to repeat it.”

Retired Navy Cmdr. Curt Dosé and Navy Petty Officer Christina Rojas perform the wreath-laying ceremony.

In 2017, the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act was signed into law, designating March 29 as National Vietnam War Veterans Day. The day honors the more than 9 million U.S. military service members who served on active duty during the war, and nearly 3 million who actually served in the Vietnam combat area. Sadly, more than 58,000 American service men and women lost their lives while more than 150,000 were wounded.

“This ceremony is incredibly cathartic,” said Scott Ziobron, an aerographer’s mate who deployed to Vietnam on the USS Coral Sea (CV-43) from 1969-1970. “It’s heartening to see the Midway hosting such an event, especially for us Vietnam veterans who never received the recognition for our service during that period. Instead of appreciation, we often faced derogatory labels. This event serves as a cleansing experience for the soul.”

The ceremony’s guest speaker was retired Navy Cmdr. Curt Dosé, a Navy F-4 Phantom fighter pilot who completed two combat tours to Vietnam with Fighter Squadron 92 (VF-92). He flew nearly 200 combat missions over North Vietnam and is credited with shooting down a North Vietnamese MiG-21 flown by Nguyen Van Ngai during an intense dogfight north of Hanoi in May 1972.

But Curt’s story is bigger than just his courage in Vietnam. It reaches back to his father, a Navy fighter pilot in World War II, and continues more than 40 years after the war, when he and 20 other former U.S. fighter pilots returned to Vietnam on a mission of healing.

While in Vietnam, Curt was introduced to Ngai’s family who took him to their home, visited his gravesite and later ate dinner together complete with vodka toasts. It was an emotional experience.

“It was special meeting Ngai’s sister,” reflected Curt. “It was a little scary, but she was very kind and understanding. A sobering moment. They were very compassionate and welcoming. This was closure for me.”

Retired Navy Cmdr. Curt Dosé was the ceremony’s guest speaker.

During the ceremony, Midway was presented with a special gift from the Vietnamese-American community in Westminster, Calif. The gift was a replica of an 11-foot Vietnam War memorial monument erected in 2003 by a group of Vietnam veterans and Vietnamese refugees in Westminster. The memorial statue, which features an American infantry soldier and a South Vietnamese soldier standing side by side, is dedicated to all those who fought and died in the war.

Vietnamese-American, Derrick Tran, and Midway docent and Vietnam War veteran, Bob “Doc” Werner, unveil the Vietnam War memorial statue during the ceremony.

“My deepest gratitude to all who served and sacrificed during the Vietnam War,” said Roxanne Chow, a Vietnamese political refugee from Westminster, who made the gift presentation. “Amidst the chaos and uncertainty, Vietnam veterans showed immense courage. You served as a beacon of hope in times of darkness. Remember, real heroes don’t wear capes, they wear dog tags.”

The ceremony was not only an opportunity to publicly thank Vietnam veterans, but it was a chance for them to share the quiet camaraderie that exists between all those who served during the war.

“These special occasions truly make the veterans feel valued and appreciated,” said Paul Alvarado, a volunteer with Midway’s exhibits and outreach teams who served on two Navy destroyers from 1968-1972. “These ceremonies are wonderful opportunities for me to also connect with other Vietnam-era veterans.”

All the veterans who attended the ceremony take great pride in their service, even though they did not return from the war to the hero’s welcome they truly deserved.

“To say we lost, would denote that we came home with our tails between our legs,” said Doc, a Midway docent with more than 3,300 volunteer hours. “We didn’t do that. We came home with our chins high, our heads high, and proud of what we did. If they asked me today to go back to a war zone, I’d do it in a heartbeat. This is the greatest country in the world.”

David Powell performs taps during the wreath-laying ceremony.

What do a retired nurse and a former commercial real estate attorney have in common? They are both passionate volunteers for the USS Midway Museum. Oh, and they just happen to be married to each other too.

For Bill and Nan O’Hara, they quickly figured out that the only thing better than becoming part of the Midway family individually, was to do it as a couple. Following their retirements in 2017, they joined the museum’s team of more than 800 volunteers the next year.

Bill is a former Navy machinist mate who served on the USS Duluth (LPD-6).

“I had completed a recent assignment with an investment trust and decided that my run in the corporate world was done,” said Bill, a native of East Lansing, Mich., who was a Navy machinist mate on the USS Duluth (LPD-6) from 1965-1970. “I was encouraged by Midway docent Harry Heggie, who volunteered with me at the time with the senior volunteers with the California Highway Patrol, to take a look at the USS Midway Museum. It’s now the best job I ever had.”

“My husband Bill told me about the safety and docent groups,” said Nan, who spent nearly 40 years as a pediatric nurse at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. “It sounded both interesting and challenging.”

Married now for seven years, both Bill and Nan weren’t satisfied with volunteering for only one department at the museum. Both lend their talents and enthusiasm to the docent corps as well as to the safety and outreach teams. Bill has also spent time assisting the curatorial department.

“Meeting people from all over the world and working with children gives me purpose and a way to learn about many cultures,” said Nan, a Bedford, Ind. native, who earned her nursing degree from the Indiana University School of Nursing. I also enjoy learning about the veterans and hearing their stories. It is an honor to be part of this group. I love it.”

“I get a sense of being useful to others as well as being part of a family of folks engaged in the specific purpose of growing and sustaining this priceless treasure of America’s Living Symbol of Freedom to a world that, in my estimation, has no idea of the prices paid and being paid for their continued freedoms,” said Bill, who received law degrees at both the Thomas Jefferson School of Law and Golden Gate University School of Law.

Even before joining Midway, they both felt that civic involvement, especially as a volunteer, helps make the community better for everyone.

“It keeps us involved with a purpose in this life,” said Nan, who has more than 1,300 volunteer hours on Midway. “It also gives an added awareness of what makes San Diego so great.”

While both enjoy giving back to their community by volunteering on Midway, the rewards they receive when they connect with visitors on the ship continues to be priceless.

“I love the stories guests bring with them to the ship, and with some encouragement, begin to share stories of their time spent in the military,” said Bill, who has amassed more than 2,000 volunteer hours over the last five years. “It’s the gleam in the eye of a youngster as they work to earn their junior pilot wings and get the first understanding that this could be an answer to a dream about their future.”

Nan spent 37 years as a pediatric nurse.

Bill and Nan’s experiences are perfect examples of the satisfaction you get when volunteering for Midway, whether you’ve had prior military experience or not. While Nan never served in the armed forces, her time on Midway has helped her develop a tremendous appreciation for those who have worn the uniform of the nation.

“This experience has opened my eyes to the hard work performed by our military for our country,” said Nan, who relocated to San Diego several years ago. “It makes me grateful for what freedom has given me. The history of the Midway and all branches, no matter what their job was or is, comes down to teamwork. This continues when we volunteer. I’m thankful for the opportunity be part of the Midway Magic.”

The students trickled in slowly. First one, then two or three more. 

“Good afternoon professor,” offered a particularly upbeat student before he took his seat.

The pattern continued, and within 15 minutes, the class is filled with more than 20 young learners dressed in everything from faded sweatpants and tattered shorts, to torn jeans and four-day-old t-shirts.

Ah, college kids.

Sitting in well-used wooden armchair-style desks, they spaced themselves throughout the cramped 1970’s vintage classroom at San Diego State University ready to soak it all in.

“OK, let’s get started,” said Karl Zingheim, the USS Midway Museum’s historian and adjunct faculty in SDSU’s history department. “Today we’re going to focus on an emotionally difficult subject, the Holocaust.”

The eyes of the students understandably widened.

Midway prides itself on the quality of its education program. From onboard field trips, classroom and distance learning programs, to overnight sleepovers, the museum has touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of students, teachers and their families over nearly two decades.

In the last several years, however, Midway has expanded its educational outreach to San Diego State University. In 2019, the USS Midway Foundation made a $3 million pledge to create an endowed chair in modern U.S. military history at SDSU. The chair currently sits in the university’s history department.

“This partnership marks another proud and historic chapter for our university as a military partner,” said SDSU’s president, Adela de la Torre, at the time of the announcement. “With the USS Midway Foundation’s generous endowment gift, we will be able to amplify the impact of our military education program and research efforts – but also our capacity to educate our broad student population on military history.”

It was also in 2019 that Karl launched his first class, and over the past five years has averaged nearly 30 students per class each semester. His current course listed in SDSU’s registration guide is HIST 486 – History of World War II.

“I hope to confer a sense of the military scope of this vast conflict and the consequences that stemmed from decisions of political and military leaders of the main combatant nations,” said Karl, who joined the San Diego Aircraft Carrier Association as a volunteer before Midway actually arrived in San Diego. “Another useful takeaway is that although World War II is nearly a century past, it still has ramifications for the 21st century. Additionally, many of the students across the semesters comment upon family connections with that conflict, demonstrating that it is not so remote after all.”

Karl primarily uses a lecture format coupled with a PowerPoint presentation during each class. Along with the requirement for each student to research and compose three essays on military science of the 1930s and 1940s, other graded elements are the essay-format midterm and final exams. His grading is intended to reflect on the assessment of comprehension and grasp of the course material.

The classroom, Karl happily admits, is a place where he thrives.

“I feel I live for the classroom environment and thoroughly enjoy interacting with young adults,” said Karl, a 1986 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. “The assessment and advice I confer to my students on the directed essay assignments is particularly gratifying since these are skills that will be beneficial not only for the rest of their undergraduate careers, but also in whatever professions life will take them.”

“I elected to take Karl’s class because I’ve always been fascinated by World War II as a turning point in so many facets of world history,” said Nate Polite, a 20-year-old junior from San Diego who is majoring in both journalism and media studies. “What I enjoy most is the sheer depth of content and knowledge that Karl shares. It’s always pleasant when a professor is truly passionate about what they teach. It’s no overstatement to say that this is one of my favorite classes that I’ve taken in college. The amount of knowledge that I have gained this semester is absolutely astounding, and more than I could’ve expected.”

Karl appreciates the dualistic approach the museum and the Midway Foundation have taken with SDSU at the graduate level with the sponsored history chair, as well as at the undergraduate stage.

“I think it has been beneficial for both institutions and is an inspired approach for the museum in translating its own success into a valued community asset,” said Karl, who has been Midway’s historian since it opened in 2004. “The Midway-sponsored history chair is a benefit for professionals early in their careers, while the academic and research proficiency training conferred in the undergraduate course are already attaining results.”

While the broad partnership between Midway and SDSU is mutually beneficial for both institutions, for Karl, it’s his teaching and helping mold young minds in preparation for their futures that is most gratifying.

“The nature of the work at SDSU is especially satisfying for me as I have an unparalleled opportunity to apply the instructional training I received in the Navy and from a lifetime of military history study,” said Karl. “I’m thrilled to be able to improve the prospects of coming generations of young adults who are embarking on their own careers.”

“Saying I enjoy the summaries of the major events of World War II does not do Professor Karl’s class justice,” said Troy Hopkins, a 30-year-old history major from Toledo, Ohio who is a junior at SDSU. “Professor Karl does a brilliant job explaining the course of events for every major theater and campaign. He has such a deep knowledge of that period that he is able to answer even my most tangential questions. His lectures are some of the most informative that I have experienced.”

Fire on a naval ship is a sailor’s worst nightmare. A small blaze can spread rapidly and quickly consume a vessel. There’s no place to run or hide. There’s only one course of action to survive – fight the inferno.

For the U.S. Navy, there can never be too much training to ensure a fire never gets out of control. Ships drill constantly and every member of the crew is considered a fire fighter.

The USS Midway is no stranger to the devastation of fire. In 1990, while conducting routine flight operations 125 miles northeast of Japan, an explosion ripped through the carrier’s fourth deck causing a fire that raged for 10 hours before being extinguished. It was not without cost. Sixteen Midway sailors were injured, and three lost their lives.

Although it’s been 20 years since Midway steamed the world’s oceans, the potential of a fire on board the ship now, even though it’s a museum, is taken just as seriously as the crew did when the carrier was part of the Navy’s active-duty fleet. 

To ensure that Midway’s safety and engineering teams can quickly coordinate with local fire fighters in the instance of an emergency, a massive fire drill was conducted with the San Diego Fire Department.

“There are more than 2,000 separate compartments on the ship,” said Dominick Boccia, Midway’s director of safety and security. “We want to make sure our first responders are familiar with our unusual surroundings which are much different than your local run-of-the-mill building. We have confined spaces, steep ladders, head space issues and trip hazards.”

San Diego Fire Department officials man their command post on Navy Pier during the fire drill.

For the San Diego Fire Department, understanding the popularity of Midway makes it imperative to have the best understanding of the ship.

“The size and layout of the museum can challenge any first responder without the presence of a hazard,” said Christopher Babler, a San Diego Fire Department battalion chief. “It’s like a large hi-rise building that floats on the bay exposing only one side of the ship to first responders. The museum hosts thousands of visitors each day and hundreds of special events each year. The drill gave us the opportunity to practice a safe evacuation plan and shelter in place plan while simultaneously fighting a fire and searching for victims.”

Just like the Navy, it is imperative to train like it’s an actual emergency. For this major exercise, the fire department used smoke machines to test the ship’s alarm system, and a public announcement to send messages to simulate the evacuation of the ship. It also simulated two victims who required rescuing in spaces below Midway’s hangar deck. A dozen engine companies, battalions and other fire department units participated in the drill.

Proceeding the actual drill, members of the fire department conducted multiple orientation visits to Midway to gain a better familiarity of the ship’s layout and its maze of compartments.

“We have the San Diego Fire Department on board the ship several times a year for orientation tours of vital areas and to conduct other training,” said Dominick. “This has been done with the assistance of our Midway safety department.”

Although complicated, Midway and the fire department considered the exercise a success with many lessons learned on both sides.

A San Diego firefighter accesses Midway via ladder to aircraft elevator 2.
San Diego firefighters prepare to fight a simulated fire below decks.

“Training is so important and to bring together a large-scale, well-prepared exercise like this to fruition is a success in itself, but we all learned so much that if a real emergency occurred, we would be way better prepared to handle the situation,” said Dominck. “We learned what each other is capable of and now have a coordinated more effective response.”

“This was absolutely a very successful drill in showing we are ready to handle an emergency on Midway,” said Chief Babler. “It gives me confidence and a realistic timeframe to meet the objectives and pre-established priorities when training. The drill also allowed us to see how professional and prepared Midway security and safety team operates.”

To ensure complacency doesn’t set in, emergency response drills, large and small, will be regular occurrences on Midway.

“The lessons learned were so valuable,” said Dominck.

Very few people have had the honor of serving their Navy ship twice – once in uniform and again as a veteran.

As the USS Midway Museum celebrates its 20th anniversary, a small group of former crewmen of the aircraft carrier are now serving as museum volunteers sharing personal stories of their naval adventures on the high seas with millions of visitors every year.

For all of them, being back on Midway helps recall the joy they had on the ship while steaming the world’s oceans during its decades as a fleet carrier.

Dave Daugherty on Midway in 1990.

“I think one of the things I enjoyed most about being on Midway was how well the ship and air wing operated together as an integrated team,” said Jack Ensch, an F-4 Phantom radar intercept officer with Fighter Squadron 161 (VF-161) who flew off Midway from January 1971 until being shot down on his 285th combat mission over North Vietnam on Aug. 25, 1972. “We were all there together to accomplish a mission and had mutual respect for each other to get the job done.”

This exact sentiment is echoed by Dave Daugherty, an E-2C Hawkeye naval flight officer with Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 115 (VAW-115) who served on Midway from 1987-1990.

“Our air wing had a close and cohesive relationship with each other and the Midway,” said Dave, who joined the museum as a volunteer docent in 2019. “We worked together every day, and because of the constant deployment schedule, we were always fully trained. We had a great working relationship with the Midway.”

For Jim Reily, a former member of Midway’s “ship’s company,” his time serving on the ship is a source of pride that continues to this day.

“It was great knowing we were doing important work preserving our freedom,” said Jim, the director of the museum’s volunteer docent program who served as Midway’s supply officer for two years including during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. “I also enjoyed the camaraderie among Midway’s officers and crew and our air wing. I’m very proud to have served more than 30 years ago and enjoy sharing sea stories with our guests today. It doesn’t get any better.”

Vic Vydra spent two years working on the ship’s entertainment system as a tradesmen just prior to Midway changing its homeport to Japan. More than 30 years later, he was hired as the museum’s first safety manager when it opened to the public.

“Serving aboard Midway was my best tour of duty, and when I found out about the Midway project in San Diego, I knew I had to be part of it,” said Vic, who served on the carrier from 1971-1973 and has now logged nearly 2,000 volunteer hours as part of the safety team. “My first day aboard was highly emotional. I could not move for several moments and, yes, I had goose bumps. I was home.”

Jim Reily served as Midway’s supply officer from 1989-1991.
Mark Blocksom was a Midway crew member from 1975-1977.

Nearly 90 of Midway’s current volunteers once served on the ship dating as far back as the early 1950s. They all get tremendous satisfaction not only being able to share their experiences on Midway with museum guests, but also telling the history of the U.S. Navy.

“To be a Midway volunteer is inspiring to say the least,” said Mark Blocksom, who served as a storekeeper in Midway’s supply department from 1975 – 1977, and has been a museum volunteer for six years. “I look forward to coming to the ship often. When I hear guests comment about how amazing their visit has been, it reminds me of why I volunteer aboard this incredible ship.”

“I feel very fortunate to be a volunteer on the Midway,” said Dave who has amassed more than 1,700 volunteer hours. “It is really amazing to be associated with a museum that I once called home. I always get a kick out of explaining how the ship worked and what serving at sea was like. It is so foreign to many of the guests and they seem to relish learning all about Navy life on a carrier.”

On Midway’s 20th anniversary, knowing that the museum continues to serve its community and the nation as America’s Living Symbol of Freedom, remains a motivating force for the former Midway crewmembers who continue to offer their time and talents to inspire visitors from all over the world.

Jack Ensch flew from the decks of Midway during the Vietnam War.

“I have a feeling of nostalgia and pride every time I come aboard Midway,” said Jack, who spent nearly a year as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam and has been a volunteer since 2007. “Nostalgia for my time flying from her deck when she was an active carrier, and pride that she still serves and has become an iconic symbol of freedom and history.”

“I’m proud to know how well Midway has served our community in San Diego, and also reaches so many visitors who come from all over the world who walk away with memories of a lifetime,” said Mark, who has more than 1,850 volunteer hours as a docent and member of the curatorial team. “I like to humor the guests by telling them I am a living museum exhibit from 1975. They always get a good laugh hearing that, but more importantly hearing from someone who actually served aboard Midway gives them a sense of something special and creates a common bond. There’s no denying that Midway Magic is still very much alive and well.”

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

As the USS Midway Museum’s education department continues to rebound from the impact of the pandemic on Southern California schools, its youth programs and leadership team have launched two new programs. The Leadership ARCH workshop and an Aviation Overnight event both featured a brand new, innovative piece of programming dubbed “Flight Deck Ops.”

“Flight Deck Ops is an activity built to encourage critical thought, to stretch imagination and creativity, to test teamwork and communication skills, and to provide outside the box fun for participants,” said Tina Chin, Midway’s director of education. “The goal of the activity is simple – clear the runway of the USS Midway flight deck within ten minutes – but it’s the scenario and multiple parameters that added the spice.”

The Leadership ARCH workshop kicked off this winter by hosting 42 Army JROTC students from Parris High School, while the Aviation Overnight course was attended by 104 San Diego children and their families, as well as a number of scout groups.

The Flight Deck Ops uses a massive 10-foot print of the USS Midway’s flight deck, along with several wooden cutouts of historically accurate helicopters in relation to the size of the deck.

“These resources help create a scenario that mimics the conditions that commanding officer of USS Midway, Capt. Larry Chambers, faced during the military evacuation of refugees from Saigon as part of Operation Frequent Wind in 1975,” said Tina. “Confronted with the difficult situation of a flight deck packed with aircraft, compounded by other restricting factors, these young participants had ten minutes to figure out how to clear the runway of the flight deck by any means necessary to allow a small plane carrying a South Vietnamese Air Force pilot and his family to safely land. It was a perplexing problem they needed to work as a team to solve.”

During the inaugural Leadership ARCH workshop, the JROTC students tackled the Flight Deck Ops challenge with surprising tenacity and enthusiasm.

“The students took to Flight Deck Ops like ducks to water, immediately developing strategies and offering critique and encouragement to each other as the time quickly ticked down,” said Samantha Hunter, Midway’s youth and leadership program specialist. “My favorite part was the moment the students realize they have to think outside the box to make this work. It was fun to watch them argue too, but nothing beats that ah-ha moment when they figured it out.”

It took the student nine minutes to determine the actions they thought needed to be taken. They determined that the only way to quickly clear the flight deck for the small plane to try to land, was to push some of the helicopters over the side of Midway and into the ocean.

“For me, I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t at least try to help that family,” said one of the participating students.

Once the activity was completed, Chase Odell, Midway’s youth and leadership program manager, shared the true story of Operation Frequent Wind. The Flight Deck Ops challenge mirrored the same ethical conflict that Capt. Chambers, who later retired from the Navy as a rear admiral, faced nearly 50 years ago. It was presented to the students to not only test their critical thinking, but to test their own beliefs and values. The students weighed their options heavily, accompanied by some heated discussions, but ultimately the group came to a consensus that human lives were more important than any career or pieces of aviation hardware.

The students made the same difficult decision Capt. Chambers made to push millions of dollars’ worth of helicopters over the side of the ship.

“This wasn’t just some made up, impossible story,” said Chase. “This was real life and the historical Midway connection was that Capt. Chambers understood the consequences of his decision. Kids need to know that they will also face difficult situations in the future that will require difficult decisions. Maybe not as drastic, but still as important to them.”

A few weeks later, the Flight Deck Ops conundrum was put into action for a second time during the first Aviation Overnight event of the 2024 season. Although this particular program had a much younger audience than the leadership workshop, the challenge was again a success with all the guests.

“The kids were really exercising their listening skills and patience,” said Rachel Cremering, Midway’s overnight program coordinator. “I was impressed by what I saw from them.”

The group was having so much fun that when the exercise was completed, one of the younger participants joked, “Can we throw the real planes off the flight deck now?”

As Midway’s membership manager, I often get asked by people both on and off the ship to describe a USS Midway Museum member. As we all know, membership in any organization or association can take on a variety of meanings.

Some memberships can actually feel more transactional. How else are we going to buy 50 rolls of paper towels at one time (thanks Costco) or have the security of calling AAA when we experience car trouble? While I appreciate the services both of these companies provide to me, I spend no time thinking about their missions or community impact. 

When I describe Midway members, this is what I share to capture your spirit. A few months ago, we sent out a survey to get your thoughts on member benefits. We asked what your primary reason for being a member was, and we got an overwhelming response. Your comments gave us a clear answer. It wasn’t unlimited access to the museum, although we hope you visit often. It wasn’t even your member benefits, although we’re glad you enjoy them, and are committed to providing you more. 

The primary reason you told us you are Midway members is you want to support our mission and preserve Midway’s impactful history. Many of you described the experience of being a Midway member as being part of a greater cause, similar to feelings you may have had serving our country. For those who never served, our membership is a way we can express gratitude for those who made sacrifices for our freedom, and to make sure Midway is here to tell their stories for years to come. 

It’s not lost on us how fortunate we are that you feel this way about being a Midway Member. What a gift to have a membership family that supports and believes in the same cause as our staff, volunteers, and thousands of Midway veterans who served on board. We cannot thank you enough. 

As we celebrate our 20th anniversary this year, I hope you take a moment to reflect on your role in Midway’s success. Your support has not only turned a decommissioned aircraft carrier into San Diego’s top attraction, but it allows Midway to give back and greatly impact our community. 

Cheers to the next 20 years. Thanks to you our future looks bright.

All the best,

Thank you to so many who leave a legacy on the USS Midway Museum every day through your volunteer work, membership, and ongoing philanthropic support. With numerous transformative projects underway, your involvement in preserving the legacy of this iconic aircraft carrier is more impactful than ever before.

From ambitious ship restoration efforts to the unveiling of our newest cutting-edge engineering exhibit, we are continually pushing boundaries to honor the brave souls who served aboard this historic vessel. Additionally, Freedom Park at Navy Pier promises to be a beacon of remembrance and gratitude for our veterans, and guests from around the world.

We are excited to announce the relaunch of our Patriots Society Planned Giving program, and we hope you’ll consider joining us. By including Midway in your planned giving, you become an integral part of our ongoing journey toward preserving history and inspiring future generations.

Soon you’ll learn of naming opportunities within Freedom Park as well, including a brick campaign where your legacy can be viewed by all who walk the pier. 

Together, the mission of the museum and the vision of the pier will continue to thrive for many generations to come.

Planned Giving: A testament to the enduring power of generosity

In the world of nonprofit organizations, sustainability is the cornerstone of success. Yet, ensuring long-term financial stability can sometimes feel like navigating uncharted waters. This is where the significance of planned giving shines through, illuminating a path toward a secure future.

Planned Giving, also known as legacy giving or charitable gift planning, involves donors making arrangements to donate assets to a nonprofit organization over time, or after their lifetime. This encompasses a variety of strategies through which donors can support nonprofit organizations while also maximizing their financial and tax benefits. 

From a bequest made through a will or trust to a “qualified charitable distribution” from your IRA or a “charitable annuity,” offering reliable income streams, there are many ways to make a planned gift that’s right for you. 

Planned giving empowers donors to make a lasting difference while providing nonprofits with the stability and resources needed to thrive in an ever-changing world. By embracing planned giving, both donors and nonprofits can build a legacy of impact that resonates for years to come.

Let us know if you’d like to learn more about leaving a legacy with the USS Midway Museum. 

This year, we will relaunch Midway’s annual planned giving program, the Patriots Society. To learn more about this program and the benefits, please contact Robin Bolin at rbolin@midway.org.

Summer is rapidly approaching and we could not be more excited here on Midway. It really is my favorite time of year on board the museum. Sunny days and beautiful evenings always mean great crowds, but this year promises to be our best summer to date. As we celebrate our 20th year, we look forward to recognizing our 20 millionth visitor in June. Look for anniversary events and merchandise to continue all this year. 

We will kick off the summer as we usually do – with the very popular Top Gun Movie Night on the flight deck on May 24. This event sells out quickly, so don’t miss your chance to see Top Gun Maverick at the best “fly-in” drive-in theater around. We have upgraded the event this year with more comfortable optional seating and improved food choices. 

One week later our newly restored island superstructure will again be open for public tours. During the six months of preservation work, we have touched literally every space on the island to include new decks, catwalks and radars aloft. The island restoration marks the largest single upgrade we have performed in the last 10 years and I can’t wait for all to see the final product our chief engineer, Len Santiago, and rehab lead, John Bentley, have created.

Memorial Day this year will be special for a couple of reasons. We will do our usual tribute on board to veterans which is always well attended. We are also thrilled to open a new exhibit and completely new area of the ship to visitors at that time. As many know, Midway has restored and opened more spaces than any other museum afloat, and that will continue this year with a brand new exhibit highlighting Midway’s engineers and all that they did to keep the ship moving, fighting and safe. This immersive and dynamic experience will be like no other exhibit we have created here on Midway. Besides learning about the unsung heroes that worked below decks, we will show how all sailors fought fires at sea, complete with a simulation of a damage control party at work. Finally, another new area will highlight firefighting efforts onboard aircraft carriers throughout U.S. naval history. This new exhibit is a “must see” for anyone interested in the inner workings of an aircraft carrier at sea.

As usual, the most popular and iconic event of the summer on Midway remains our 4th of July celebration. We have upgraded several things this year, to make this event even more memorable for our guests. It is truly amazing to watch all the different displays happening in the bay while enjoying great live music, food and friends. Please check our website for ticket information and be ready!

As I look back on my first year as your CEO, I could not be more proud of the team that brings Midway to life every single day. From our 800 volunteers to our 200 staff and vendor support professionals, every person remains dedicated to providing the very best guest experience possible. I have also very much enjoyed spending time with our members, who support our efforts and have become part of the Midway family. 

If any of the events listed above are of interest, remember that members get early access for almost everything aboard, including special behind-the-scenes tours not available to the public and a great steel beach picnic. 

Whether a Member or guest, I look forward to seeing you on board this summer.

It’s a great day on Midway!

There are groundbreaking ceremonies, and then there are groundbreaking ceremonies on steroids. For the USS Midway Museum and the Port of San Diego, their one-of-a-kind groundbreaking ceremony that launched the construction of Freedom Park at Navy Pier set a new standard for a project that will profoundly change the face of San Diego’s bayfront.

World War II veteran and Midway docent, Al Hansen, starts the ceremony with the Pledge of Allegiance.

Midway’s president and CEO, Terry Kraft and Port chairman, Frank Urtasun, were joined by the USS Midway Foundation president, Laura White, U.S. Rep. Scott Peters, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, and Navy Region Southwest chief of staff, Capt. Dwight Clemons for the ceremonial event on April 25 that kicked the construction of Freedom Park into high gear.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Frank Urtasun, who began serving as the chairman of the Port of San Diego in January 2024. “It’s going to be a monument to the men and women who have served our nation and have protected everything we hold so dear to our hearts.”

This multi-year joint project between Midway and the Port will transform Navy Pier into the largest veterans park on the West Coast. The California Coastal Commission unanimously approved the development and construction of the park in 2023. In February 2024, the Port’s Board of Commissioners approved an approximately $7.4 million contract with AMG Demolition and Environmental Services, Inc., for the demolition of the large headhouse building that sits at the entrance of the pier. The demolition is the first phase of making Freedom Park a reality.

The ceremonial groundbreaking is the official start of the construction of Freedom Park at Navy Pier. Photo by Clarisse Meyer

In the spirit of the demolition of the pier’s headhouse, the groundbreaking ceremony participants opted to use golden sledgehammers to “break” cinderblock pavers to officially launch the Freedom Park project.

“This park is designed to honor our military and to be welcoming to everyone – tourists, locals, families and veterans,” said Cong. Peters, who has represented California’s 50th congressional district since 2023. “It may have taken a while to get to this point, but it’s going to be something we’re really proud of.”

When completed, Freedom Park will be a tremendous enhancement of San Diego’s Embarcadero as a public destination on the waterfront, as well as an ongoing tribute to the men and women who have worn the uniform of our nation.

“Countless thousands of ships started their overseas journeys and deployments from this pier after being loaded and outfitted with supplies, weapons and personnel,” said Capt. Clemons, a naval flight officer who has served nearly 30 years in the U.S. Navy. “During times of war and peace, families said goodbye to their sailors, Marine Corps and Army soldiers as they departed San Diego, many of them deploying directly into harm’s way. It will be a great public space and a tribute to all of those who served our nation.”

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria makes remarks at the ceremony.

Beginning at the west end of Navy Pier and stretching around Midway to the Bob Hope Memorial, Freedom Park will celebrate the region’s rich military history and tell the story of everyday heroes who served our country and preserved our freedoms. A Footsteps of Freedom promenade, that will run along the entire north side of Navy Pier, will be dedicated to the service and sacrifice of those who are military veterans. The park will provide local San Diegans and out-of-town visitors with unique experiences on the waterfront with numerous public amenities, including a nature garden, memorials and monuments, seating and shaded areas, and interpretive signage. The park is anticipated to open in early 2028.

U.S. Rep. Scott Peters addresses the ceremony attendees. Photo by Clarisse Meyer

“This will be a crown jewel along our waterfront,” said Mayor Gloria, who was sworn in as San Diego’s 37th mayor in 2020. “It reflects who we are – a proud military town. When it’s a completed park, we’ll have the opportunity to remind people of the contribution of so many of our servicemembers, of the people who served their country selflessly and have left it a better place.”

The park will also include a statue paying tribute to Navy Chief Petty Officer John Finn, who was the first Medal of Honor recipient during World War II for his selfless and courageous actions during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1945.

“John would have been humbled and honored,” said John McAllister, the great nephew of John Finn. “But he would have also wondered why people are making such a big fuss about him as he would have said that there were others much more deserving.”

It’s estimated that Freedom Park will cost approximately $65 million. Currently, $29 million has been committed to the project from the Port, Midway and, with the support of Cong. Peters, through Community Project Funding distributed via the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. An additional $36 million will be raised by the USS Midway Foundation’s capital campaign committee.

“We are so proud to team with the Port of San Diego to form this public – private partnership that will deliver this park to honor all veterans,” said Terry Kraft, who became Midway’s CEO in March 2023. “The Midway Museum has already set aside more than $15 million to fully fund the first phase of this park. I believe this entire area will take on a new character and you will see Midway in all her glory. We will make San Diego and the Embarcadero the place to be.”

A 14-foot model of Freedom Park was unveiled during the ceremony.