San Diego Business Journal

Saluting the Midway Once Again

When someone says that San Diego has enough Navy lore to fill an aircraft carrier, it's no longer just an analogy.

San Diego soon will have a fitting venue to showcase a century of military tradition when the San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum opens this spring. When the USS Midway was towed into San Diego Bay on Jan. 5, it left in its wake a decade of struggle to bring the old warrior back to San Diego to serve its country once again this time as a floating tribute to the men and women who created San Diego's proud heritage as a Navy town.

The 978-foot, 52,000-ton aircraft carrier , CV 41 to the old salts who call her by the hull number , is in the final stages of a dress rehearsal at North Island Naval Air Station before its public debut just across the harbor this spring at Navy Pier. There, the flattop will educate students, enlighten tourists, and offer a nostalgic return not only for the sailors who served on the Midway, but to all military personnel, active and retired, when they stand amid the vintage aircraft atop the sprawling flight deck.

All Navy vessels have a seabag worth of sagas, yet the Midway tells the unique tale of bridging old with the new. The ship's crew launched everything from propeller-driven F4U Corsairs in World War II to jet-powered F-14 Tomcats during its final mission in the Persian Gulf War. The Midway was the first carrier to launch jets and did three tours of duty during the Vietnam War.

Its new mission as a museum here is a homecoming of sorts. After launching warplanes against Iraq in 1991, the Midway finally was decommissioned a year later at North Island.

But museum leaders were determined to pull the Midway from the mothballs. Some 12 years and $8 million later, the Midway is back home in San Diego.

It was a long, difficult process. Besides the endless bureaucratic hoops and legal wrangling it took to permanently moor a massive ship along San Diego's waterfront, a major fund-raising campaign was crucial to pull the carrier out of retirement, transport and refurbish the ship and its exhibits, and prepare Navy Pier for its new tenant.

Much of it was done on faith through the rough seas of the arduous approval process, since there were no guarantees the museum would ever lower a gangplank.

Yet a couple months from now about the same time the Padres start playing in their new, much-anticipated Petco Park a new neighbor but an old friend will also open for business nearby.

The Midway is back home. And she's a welcome sight, indeed.

, Rick Bell