As the longest-serving aircraft carrier in the 20th Century, the USS Midway has many secrets and hidden treasures that are still being uncovered today.
While recently working in some ramshackle offices that were once used by the staff of Midway’s battle group commander, members of the museum’s restoration team found an old safe that hadn’t been touched in nearly 30 years. As they pried open the safe’s door, they revealed a handwritten note on the inside that had gone unseen for most of the last three decades.
“It was a fun find,” said Midway’s chief engineer, Len Santiago. “While tracing some low-pressure air lines that support aircraft elevator 1, our ship restoration volunteers, Harlan Lippincott and D.A. Walters, discovered the special message written on the inside of the safe’s door.”
It read, “SN Cosby was here from Nov. 17, 1989 to (Aug-April) 1992. Boy it was hell! But I guess I will miss this old rust bucket!”
But who was SN Cosby? The investigation began.
Midway’s research library team jumped on the case and immediately began digging through old cruise books and reviewing its ever-growing database of former crewmembers.
In short order, they came up with their first lead.
“Steven James Cosby visited the library and filled out a former Midway crewmember sheet,” said Bonnie Brown, one of Midway’s lead librarians who found his name in the crew file. “Unfortunately, he did not leave an email address or a phone number.”
The pursuit continued. Troy Prince, another of Midway research librarians and the founder of MidwaySailor.com, went fishing by posting a series of messages on several Midway-related social media sites. Within a few days, contact with Steven Cosby had been made.
“The Midway research library would love to talk to you,” said an excited Troy in a follow-up Facebook note to Steven.
Steven, equally excited, reached out to Midway.
The Norwalk, Calif. native joined the Navy directly out of high school and arrived on Midway shortly before the start of Operation Desert Storm in late 1989. He stayed with the ship from the war, through its decommissioning and ultimately to her transfer to the Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility’s ghost fleet at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Wash. in summer 1992.
“I don’t even remember doing it,” said Steven, who currently works for the U.S. Army’s Aviation Supply Command Los Alamitos. “I guess I wanted to leave something behind, a piece of me. I think a part of me was going to miss the Midway and experiences that I had on board.”
While the search for Steven was underway, his photo was found in the ship’s 1989-1990 cruise book, which listed him as airman working in Midway’s air department. However, the note he left on the safe door in 1992 indicated that he was a seaman.
“We worked really hard chalking and chaining, and moving aircraft around,” said Steven, who, as an airman, was assigned to Midway’s V-3 hangar-deck division when he first got to the ship. “One day I met a fella who worked for the ship’s post office and he told me that they were short-handed and could use the help. I started going there on my time off and helping out. I got to know everyone and they suggested that I transfer.”
Shortly after transferring, Steven passed his exam and went from an airman to a seaman postal clerk.
“We built strong bonds of brotherhood on sweat and tears. We would die for one another if we had to. We would die for Midway.”
“I started out by sorting the mail and holding the ship’s mail call,” said Steven, who lives in Stanton, Calif. “I would wait for the C-2 Greyhound cargo plane to land and offload the mail. I would hold mail call every day, sometimes multiple times a day.”
Although he doesn’t recall writing the note, even after 30 years, he can reflect on why he wrote “boy it was hell” and “I will miss this old rust bucket” on the door of the safe.
“I think that I was referring the hard work and jobs that we all had to endure during our time there, and the Desert Storm war had most of us working 12 to 16-hours shifts,” said Steven. “But I made many friends during my time there and we all went through the same things together. We built strong bonds of brotherhood on sweat and tears. We would die for one another if we had to. We would die for Midway.”
After leaving Midway, Steven spent his final year in the Navy at Naval Base San Diego. He then spent four years in the California Army National Guard.
Steven still has fond memories of his time on Midway and stays in contact with many of his former shipmates. In fact, it was one of his old Midway buddies that let him know the museum’s library staff was trying to find him. His greatest treasure, however, from his time on Midway is still with him today.
“I met my wife of 30 years in Yokosuka, Japan, which was Midway’s homeport from 1973 to 1992,” said Steven, who has visited Midway twice since it became a floating naval ship museum. “I am very proud to have been part of the Midway Magic and her crew. I am forever grateful to the United States Navy and its leadership for transforming me into the man I am today.”