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Legacy By The Bay: The U.S.S. Hornet
by Joya Balfour


New Years on board the Hornet. 
Photo ©2001 Shirley Sachsen 
Along the docks at Alameda Point, across the East Bay from San Francisco, tall gray ships form a foreboding city of metal. They evoke a much different time in our history: a time of conflict, of tragedy, and of ideals we still strive for today. But tonight, Dec. 31st, 2000, one ship plays host to a swingin' New Year's party with black-tie revelers, Lindy Hoppers dressed in vintage navy uniforms, and WWII veterans mingling, sharing stories and enjoying the sounds of two fine big bands aboard the hangar deck. Exploring the flight deck one imagines the fighter planes taking off for battle, while on this night the fireworks exploded over nearby downtown. The U.S.S. Hornet is a living museum not easily forgotten by those who explore its rich history. 

Who would have thought that six years ago, it lay in the scrapper awaiting an ignoble end? 

In early 1995, as the 50th anniversary of the end of WWII approached, officials decided to tow the Hornet to the Alameda Naval Air Station as part of the anniversary events. That summer, following the visit of more than 90,000 people who commemorated the Battle of Midway, Okinawa, V-J Day and others, the Aircraft Carrier Hornet Foundation (ACHF) was created to restore the ship to its former glory.

 The U.S.S. Hornet coming home. 
 Photo Courtesy U.S.S. Hornet Museum
The U.S.S. Hornet CV-12, the eighth ship of its name in American naval history, carries an impressive legacy: survivor of 59 air attacks but never hit, destroyer of 1,410 Japanese aircraft and recipient of nine battle stars and the Presidential Unit citation for her service in WWII. The Hornet's keel was laid in August 1942 and commissioned just 15 months later. Leaving Pearl Harbor in March 1944, she spent the next 18 months at sea, much of it within miles of the Japanese islands. The Hornet conducted strikes in the Marianas, at Iwo Jima, the Western Carolinas, the Philippines, Indonesia and on Tokyo-the first carrier strikes ever on the city. By September of that same year, hers was the top fighter squadron in the Pacific, with the most victories and the most "ace" pilots (men who scored five or more aerial triumphs in a single day). Following a much-celebrated homecoming on July 8, 1945, at NAS Alameda, the Hornet sailed back to the South Pacific to bring home servicemen from Pearl Harbor and Guam. 

U.S. Carriers Saratoga, Enterprise, Hornet and San Jacinto at Alameda (1945).
Photo Courtresy U.S.S. Hornet Museum
The Hornet was decommissioned in 1947 and modernized four years later, only to remain relatively inactive for 15 years. In 1969, following three major electrical, structural and technological upgrades, she was selected to serve as the Prime Recovery Ship for the Apollo 11 and 12 lunar landing missions. A largely unknown fact was that the Hornet, and not NASA, provided guidance and tracking of the astronauts' recovery-ultimately resting within one mile (Apollo 11) and one half-mile (Apollo 12) of the splashdown sites. 

Designated a State Historic Landmark in 1999, the Hornet now serves as a naval historical and technology education center, as well as a platform for ceremonial events. Thousands of Navy and Marine Corps veterans, many of whom served on the battleship, have visited the Hornet to take part in memorial services and reunions. The ACHF's oral history department has interviewed countless veterans to preserve their stories on video. The Hornet Museum includes aircraft displays, histories of the Navy and Marine Corps in the Pacific and Far East, Allied P.O.W.s, espionage and fleet activities, and the origins of naval aviation. 

The Woody Herman Orchestra 
Photo ©2001 Shirley Sachsen 
To raise money for the ongoing restoration of the ship, Melissa and Alan McKean of the ACHF came up with the idea for a USO-themed big band dance on the carrier itself-an ideal location to bring swing-era music back to life for a larger audience. Since the first dance was held in April 1999, the recurring event, dubbed A Dancer's Delight, has featured the orchestras of Count Basie, Les Brown, Woody Herman, Artie Shaw, Jimmy Dorsey, and local favorite Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers. 

The Hornet's next commemorative event is the dedication of the Mobile Quarantine Facility used by the Apollo 14 crew in 1971. Dr. Edgar Mitchell, one of the original crewmembers, will take part in this special celebration on Friday, March 16, 2001, at 10:30 AM. On St. Patrick's Day, the carrier will play host to the next Dancer's Delight with two bands: The Bill Elliott Swing Orchestra and Swing Session. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased at the Hornet Box Office, (510) 521-8448 ext. 225, or through www.Ticketmaster.com. Following the March 17 dance, the next scheduled event will be The Glenn Miller Orchestra on June 2nd. For more information on the U.S.S. Hornet, its history, preservation activities and events, visit www.uss-hornet.org.

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