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USS Enterprise CV-6
The Most Decorated Ship of the Second World War

"...the one ship that most nearly symbolizes the history of the Navy in this war."
Secretary of the Navy, James V. Forrestal

Enterprise languished at her Bayonne, New Jersey moorage for twelve and a half years. Though she never went to sea again, she remained in active service until February 17, 1947 when she was decommissioned, and reclassified as a unit in the Atlantic Reserve Fleet. As a reserve unit she was redesignated CVA-6 (attack carrier) in October 1952, and then CVS-6 (anti-submarine carrier) on August 8, 1953. While "young" for a capital ship, she had been rendered obsolete by the rapid development of naval aviation during and after the war. She could not economically be modernized to handle the heavier, faster planes coming in to service. (The Big E served for nine years. In comparison, her namesake, the nuclear-powered USS Enterprise CVN-65, commissioned in 1961, is expected to have an active duty life of 50 years.)

With Enterprise in mothballs, a number of efforts were made to preserve her for public exhibit. The first attempt came in 1946, when she was proposed for donation to New York State. Three years later, the San Francisco Museum of Science and Industry suggested exhibiting her at Treasure Island Naval Air Station, in San Francisco Bay. The Navy declined the offer, citing the cost of transferring the ship and maintaining her afterwards.

No further attempts were made until October 1956, when the Navy released a list of ships it could no longer afford to mothball. The list included Enterprise, as well as several of the great battleships that had fought at her side: North Carolina, South Dakota and Washington.

Though many years had passed since the last effort to preserve her had failed, Enterprise had not been forgotten. In 1954, several of her former crewmembers formed the USS Enterprise CV-6 Association, holding their first reunion that year in Chicago, Illinois. In 1956, Enterprise received a number of special visitors. Rear Admiral Thomas Kinkaid, who'd flown his flag from her in 1942 at the Battle of Santa Cruz, held his retirement ceremony on her hangar deck. That same year, 350 Enterprise Association members attended a reunion at New York's Astor Hotel, the highlight of which was a visit to the Big E at her Bayonne moorage.

When the Navy announced it could no longer maintain Enterprise, the Association stepped forward to save her. Launching a publicity drive and aided by Enterprise's old friend, Admiral William F. Halsey, the Association succeeded in passing a resolution through Congress to establish Enterprise as a national memorial in Washington, DC. But the resolution had a catch: the Association had to assume full fiscal responsibility for maintaining Enterprise, and was given just six months to raise the initial two million dollars needed to move and preserve the ship.

Under Tow, August 1958
August 21, 1958: The Big E is pushed past the Brooklyn Bridge, and into oblivion.

For a nation eager to forget the terrible wars and depression of the first half of the century, excited by the developing space race, and not yet appreciative of the historic value of the war's great combatants, it was too much in too short a time. The Association, recognizing the impossibility of saving the ship, sought a compromise with the Navy.

An agreement was reached between Secretary of the Navy Thomas S. Gates, and the Enterprise Association. The Association would abandon its drive to save the ship, allowing the Navy to sell her for scrap, relieving it of the cost of continuing to mothball her. In return, the Navy promised to name the first nuclear-powered carrier (then in construction) "Enterprise", dedicate the Elevator Tower at the Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis in Enterprise's name in exchange for a $10,000 sponsorship from the Association, and donate to the Association any parts of Enterprise suitable for inclusion in a memorial to the carrier. All but one of these promises were kept: Enterprise's distinctive tripod mast, which was to be mounted atop the Elevator Tower, was ultimately discarded.

Enterprise's demise caused much hurt and anger for many who served in her. And while it may not have been clear then, it is now: Enterprise was a unique national and historical treasure, and the country is poorer for her not being preserved. The last surviving prewar carrier (Saratoga was destroyed by an atomic bomb test in 1946), the only carrier to fight at Pearl Harbor, the only surviving carrier from Midway and the Guadalcanal campaign, the ship which at one point was the only U.S. carrier left to fight in the Pacific, Enterprise was one of a handful of truly great ships in history: Constitution, Victory, Constellation, Enterprise.

Still, there were those who felt that Enterprise's greatness was more than could be preserved by simply preserving the ship: it was the efficiency and fighting spirit of her men, the blessing of Fortune, her knack for being where she was needed most, and the affection and respect she instilled in all who served with her. Alvin Kernan writes in "Crossing The Line":

"...I couldn't bear to think of her sitting around in some backwater, being exploited in unworthy ways, invaded by hordes of tourists with no sense of her greatness. Better by far, I thought, to leave her to memory of those who had served on her when she was fully alive, vibrating under full steam at thirty-two knots, the aircraft turning up, guns firing, heeling over so sharply that the hangar deck took on water to avoid the bombs."

Having served the State, Enterprise - CV-6, the Big E, the Galloping Ghost, "the carrier that fought the most throughout the entire war" - was sold for scrap on July 1, 1958.

By March of 1960, she was gone.

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