Life on the Big E

Life on the Big “E” USS-ENTERPRISE (CVN-65)

030921-N-6259P-002 Indian Ocean (Oct. 21, 2003) -- USS Enterprise (CVN 65) steams toward the Arabian Gulf while on their six-month scheduled deployment. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Douglas M. Pearlman. (RELEASED)

What follows is an overview of highlights of life aboard the USS Enterprise from January 1988 to Late 1992. I spent a lot of time on the Big E, much of it at sea.

January 5, 1988 USS Enterprise departed Naval Air Station Alameda for a scheduled western Pacific (WESTPAC) deployment.

January 16, 1988 An A-7 from VA-22 was lost when it slid off elevator #2 during “re-spot” (relocation). The Plane Captain died.

Interestingly enough, in the northern Atlantic, which gets pretty choppy, I saw a gaggle of yellow shirts on an elevator washed overboard during “re-spot” and this did not make our highlight reel because… no aircraft was lost. They were all recovered alive suffering from hypothermia, various bumps and bruises and brown shorts.

Another A-7 from VS-22 was lost on Jan. 19, 1988 as it departed during DACM Dissimilar Aerial Combat Maneuvers. The pilot was recovered uninjured.

February 6, 1988 Enterprise departed Subic Bay, Philippines after a five-day port call.

February 17, 1988 CVN-65 relieved USS Midway (CV-41) on station in the North Arabian Sea.

That’s right, the USS Midway, was still in operation when I was in the Navy. I was also pier-side with all of the Navy’s Battleships before they were retired (MISSOURI, NEW JERSEY, IOWA and WISCONSIN), and managed to visit the Kennedy, Carl Vinson and the Marine Base at Quantico during my time in the Navy.

March 15, 1988 USS Enterprise anchored off the coast of Mombasa, Kenya, for a four-day port visit.

There were literally signs about Lions, and they weren’t joking.

On March 28th the Big “E” anchored near Masirah Island for stand-down.

On April 3rd anchored again off the coast of Al Masirah for Easter.

In April 14, 1988 the Big “E” was assigned to escort re-flagged Kuwaiti oil tankers in the Arabian Gulf while stationed in the North Arabian Sea.

On April 18, the United States retaliated against Iran following the April 14 incident in which USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58) struck an Iranian mine in international waters. The retaliation involved both surface and air units. Carrier Air Wing 11 squadrons from Enterprise were the major aviation participants. VAW-117s “Nighthawks” provided airborne early warning tracking and analysis of targets as as air intercept control.

The initial American strikes centered around a surface group action against two Iranian oil platforms that had been identified as support bases for Iranian attacks on merchant shipping. Elements of CVW-11 provided air support for the surface groups in the form of surface combat air patrols, flying A-6E Intruders and A-7E Corsair IIs, and combat air patrols with F-14 Tomcats.

June 5, 1988 An S-3 Viking from VS-21 crashed immediately after a catapult shot, killing three crewman including the Commanding Officer of the “Fighting Redtails”.

This was the result of what is called a “Cold cat”, which is short for Cold Catapult. Steam Catapults provide enough velocity for an aircraft to take off from an exceedingly short runway. Put another way a steam catapult tosses aircraft into the sky by accelerating the aircraft to around 200 mph in about 2 seconds.

A “Cold Cat” is a catapult shot that gives the aircraft less than flying speed. The aircraft, of course, goes into the drink. While rare, they’re a lot more rare now than they were in the days of the hydraulic cats. Reasons for cold cats include flawed holdback fittings which broke before full power developed in the cat stroke, wrong weight settings, and failures in the catapult mechanism.

The Enterprise made its second visit to NAS Cubi Point June 1-4, 1988.

June 6, 1988 USS Enterprise anchored in Hong Kong harbor for a four-day port visit.

The carrier arrived in Busan, Republic of Korea, June 14, 1988 for a three-day visit.

June 28, 1988 CVN-65 pulled into Seattle, Washington, to pick up 1300 “Tigers”.

A “Tiger” Cruise involves the male family members of the sailors on the ship making a short voyage along the U.S. Coast for a few days from one American port to another. During their visit they are treated to activities unique to their sailor’s role on the ship and some activities open to all visitors. According to my father, who served in the Air Force in Japan just after WWII, this event is a once in a life-time experience.

USS Enterprise returned home July 3, 1988

Harry Lee’s 19th Birthday – okay, I just dated myself!

October 28, 1988 Capt. Harry T. Rittenour relieved Capt. Robert (Rocky) J. Spane as Commanding Officer of the Enterprise during a change-of-command ceremony aboard ship.

A good portion of my time on board the Enterprise was spent under the command of Capt. H.T. Rittenour. He was an exceptional commander. A close review of deployments under Capt. Rittenour’s command will reveal there were no fatalities during deployments with him in command. The Enterprise received the Admiral Flatley award while under his stewardship. We lost more men I knew personally on U.S. Soil than we did underway.

USS Enterprise undergoes Six-Month SRA.

Selected Restricted Availability

April 13, 1989 USS Enterprise departed Naval Air Station Alameda for sea trials after a six-month SRA.

June 8-9, 1989 Paramount Studios came aboard to film scenes for movie “The Hunt for Red October” while the carrier was conducting Carrier Qualifications off the coast of Southern California.

Yep, that’s right, we were operating an unqualified carrier.

September 17, 1989 USS Enterprise departed Naval Air Station Alameda for the last time, embarking on a World Cruise, final destination, its new home-port of Naval Station Norfolk, Va.

This is what happens when you ask for any carrier on the West Coast… The Navy puts you on the one that’s changing station to the East Coast. I moved Coast to Coast in the Navy three times.

October 31, 1989 The Enterprise arrived in Hong Kong for a week-long port call.

I discovered, in Hong Kong, my name is the equivalent of John Doe. I had a bit of trouble convincing locals I was really named Harry Lee, and not just in possession of the worst fake ID ever (including McLovin). Also, things not published during this port of call were a stabbing (yowza) and the Enterprise drifting in Hong Kong harbor during some rough weather; things got really dicey.

November 11, 1989 The aircraft carrier moored starboard side at Leyete Pier on NAS Cubi Point for a 17-day upkeep period.

I participated in joint drug suppression operations with local authorities, DEA and NIS (Naval Investigative Service, now known as NCIS). While the NIS agents I worked with were cool, they were not nearly as cool as NCIS agents appear on TV.

In early December CVN-65 participated in Operation Classic Resolve, along with USS Midway, President George H.W. Bush’s response to Philippine President Corazon Aquino’s request for air support during the rebel coup attempt.

The Enterprise remained on station conducting flight operations in the waters outside Manila Bay, until the situation subsided, and then proceeded to her scheduled deployment to the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean is one of the HOTTEST PLACES ON EARTH (and not in a good way).

December 14, 1989 USS Enterprise anchored off the coast of Ko Chun Island for a five-day visit to Pattaya Beach, Thailand.

I again participated in joint drug suppression operations with local authorities, DEA and NIS… Turns out I was pretty good at this. I have a really entertaining story involving an A&W Root beer on the beach, and with enough cajoling can be convinced to tell it in person.

December 22, 1989 The “Big E” pulled into Singapore for a six-day port visit.

During our visit, I discovered… Singapore decorates for Christmas on par with Disneyland. Singapore currency exchange rates offered little advantage over US dollars. Pizza from the local Pizza Hut is almost just like home – woo hoo! And, once you pick something up in a store, Singapore merchants think “no” is just tough negotiation. I wound up purchasing an epic leather jacket with wampum.

CVN-65 arrived on station in the North Arabian Sea on January 13, 1990.

February 18, 1990 USS Enterprise arrived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for a five-day port visit.

I spent most of my time on Ipanema beach with my pal Bruce Durham.

March 5, 1990 The Enterprise arrived in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, for a four-day visit.

I achieved PADI Open Water Scuba certification, while spending a couple of days on the island of St. John. I had done the classroom work while on board, and did my qualifications in the ocean, which was pristine enough to seem like a swimming pool.

March 16, 1990 USS Enterprise completed a six-month around-the-world deployment by arriving in Norfolk, Va., after a three-day Tiger Cruise from Port Everglades, Fla. She had successfully and safely steamed more than 43,000 miles (it’s not the years, it’s the miles) from her long-time home-port of Alameda, Calif.

My Father (Dick Lee) and Little Brother (Ryan Lee) made the Tiger Cruise. After several days of leisurely coastal cruising in calm waters, while being pampered with fresh milk and ice cream, eggs-to-order (make that a Denver omelet please), pizza, burgers and surf and turf I had to talk my dad out of enlisting.

Navy reality is actually 12 hours on / 12 hours off seven-days-a-week when at sea. General Quarters (battle stations) interrupts, sleep, meals and leisure time indiscriminately. Milk and Eggs are powdered, meat is scarce and pizza or sliders (burgers) result in lines that pretty much guarantee you won’t get either. But if you like boiled eggs and S.O.S, you’d be in heaven.

July 20, 1990 The “Big E” departed Naval Station Norfolk for a Dependents’ Day Cruise and Airshow.

If you ever have the opportunity to attend a Dependents’ Day or Tiger Cruise, take the opportunity. My father was absolutely blown away by the capability of the aviators in the sky and young men on the flight deck. If you ever find yourselves in the big blue (deep water) at sunset, watch the horizon for the Green Flash, up their with the Grand Canyon and aurora borealis as must see natural phenomena.

October 12, 1990 USS Enterprise moved to Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry-dock, 18 days earlier than scheduled to avoid Hurricane Lili, for Refueling and Complex Overhaul (RCOH). CVN-65 entered the Dry Dock 11 on March 16, 1991.

During high winds, the ship crept away from the pier. DC3 JD Burns and I were standing on the After-brow when the Quarterdeck fell – for those not in-the-know the After-brow and Quarterdeck are the only entry/exit points from the ship when it is pier-side. Enlisted sailors use the After-Brow and Officers and Dignitaries use the Quarterdeck. We were literally standing on the After-Brow watching the Quarterdeck drop, when JD started to say, “I wonder what’s keeping the After-brow up.” when he realized he was talking to my rapidly departing backside. JD and I were able to get off the After-brow before it went down; several sailors were not so lucky – there were several serious injuries.

August 7, 1991 Capt. Daniel C. Roper relieved Capt. Harry T. Rittenour as CO of the Enterprise during a change-of-command ceremony at the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News.

I was Honorably Discharged using 60 days of Terminal Leave – separation date August 16, 1992… coincidentally, my mom’s birthday!

December 14, 1992 USS Enterprise moved to Pier 2 at Newport News Shipbuilding after a 21-month dry-dock period.