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.

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