The news that the oldest aircraft carrier in the U.S. Navy, the USS Enterprise, was being deactivated after 51 years of service brought back memories for the thousands of people who served on her over that time.
One of those people was Carthaginian Phillip Parker, who served on the ship with his identical twin brother Stephen Parker, in the early 1970s.
Phillip Parker talked to The Carthage Press about his unique experience being one of a set of twin brothers serving on a historic U.S. Naval vessel.
He said he was saddened to hear that “The Big E,” as she is known in the Navy, was taken out of service on Dec. 1, 2012 and would be scrapped.
“I was sad, very sad,” he said. “It’s like my home for three years. It took care of me. Even though it is steel, it’s like home. Now I’ve got my own place in Carterville, but the ship is still home and no matter how long you’ve been away from it, it was your personal well-being.”
Phillip Parker said his duty station was high on the island structure that sits above the flight deck of the 100,000-ton, 1,100-foot-long aircraft carrier.
“I was something of a butler to all the officers in the upper areas of the ship,” Phillip Parker said. “I was the only non-petty officer in the area. My brother was in GM, the guided missile division. He handled those little Sidewinders you see on the end of the aircraft’s wings. He put them on and they’re a lot bigger than you think. They’re eight feet long and it took about four people to load them on to the aircraft.”
Phillip Parker kept a scrapbook of stories, documents and memorabilia about his time on the ship.
Part of that scrapbook was a story from The Carthage Press in 1973 headlined “Carthage’s Parker Twins ‘Confuse’ Enterprise Crew.
The story reprinted parts of an article from the “Ledger,” the carrier’s newspaper at the time.
“The personnelman on duty in the ship’s personnel office Feb. 3 (1973) had to look twice to make sure his eyes weren’t deceiving him. For a moment or two he thought he was seeing double. Before him stood two men exactly alike — identical twins. The brothers were checking in for duty on the Big “E.” Seamen Phillip Lyn and Stephen Glen Parker are 20 years old and have an unusually close resemblance.
“They are so identical that they even have identical scars on their heads, the result of a fall down some steps when they were children.”
Page 2 of 3 - The story went on to detail the adventures of the identical twins from enlistment in the Navy on July 7, 1972, through training and receiving orders for a duty station.
“Recalling unusual experiences they have had since joining the Navy, Phillip Parker said, ‘Our boot camp company commander was always getting us mixed up. When ‘Parker’ drew an assignment, we both worked on it. When ‘Parker’ was granted liberty, we both took it. And when ‘Parker was excused from inspection, neither of us stood for it.’”
Seeing the world
The Parker brothers served on the Enterprise for two years during some of her busiest times off the coast of Vietnam.
Phillip Parker said he got to see places he never would have imagined seeing without the Navy.
“In San Francisco, it’s always 62 degrees, it’s never hot in that city,” Parker said. “I got to see the Philippines, Hawaii. That was one place I wanted to see. My uncle was in the Coast Guard, he’s the one who got me into the Navy because he had those pinstripes on his shoulder as a first class petty officer, and I said that’s for me. You’ve got to stay away from bombs and booby traps. I figured between the Army and the Marines that’s what the face all the time, so I said I think Navy will be all right; I’ll stay on a ship.”
The Enterprise was built from 1958-1962 and was the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier ever built.
A total of eight water-cooled nuclear reactors powered the ship for years at a time between refuelings, a major advance over conventional oil-powered carriers that had to refuel every few days.
The Enterprise, with the ship designation CVN-65, was one of a kind. The next two carriers built in the 1960s, the USS America, CV-66, and the USS John F. Kennedy, CV-67, were conventionally powered because of the cost of nuclear propulsion.
The Navy returned to nuclear power 10 years after the Enterprise was commissioned with the USS Nimitz, CVN-68, which used two nuclear reactors to produce similar amounts of power to the Enterprise’s eight reactors.
Since the Nimitz, the Navy has built 10 nuclear-powered carriers and retired all of its oil-fired carriers. Work is continuing on the USS Gerald Ford, CVN-79, the ship that will replace the Enterprise and the first of a new class of carrier.
The Enterprise remained in service for more than 10 years longer than either the America or Kennedy, serving for a total of 51 years, longer than any other aircraft carrier in U.S. Navy history.
Page 3 of 3 - Decommissioning means removing and disposing of the nuclear reactors, which will cause so much damage to the ship that keeping her as a museum like the Lexington in Corpus Christi, Tex., the Yorktown in Charleston, S.C., the Midway in San Diego, or other museum ships, would be impossibly costly.
That means the ship will be scrapped after the reactors are removed, a process that will take about six years and require her to be towed from Norfolk, Va., where her nuclear fuel will be removed, around South America (because the ship is too large for the Panama Canal) to Puget Sound, Wash., where the reactors will be removed and buried at a disposal site in Washington state. But her spirit will live on in the men and women who served on her.
Her name will live on as well. The Navy announced at her Dec. 1, 2012 decommissioning ceremony that the second of the Gerald Ford-class carriers, CVN-80, will be named USS Enterprise, the ninth ship in the Navy’s history to carry the name.