I recently made my way down to Corpus Christi, Texas to visit the “Blue Ghost” of World War II, the U.S.S. Lexington. She’s the oldest aircraft carrier in the world, and one of only three remaining Essex-class carriers. Lexington was decommissioned back in 1991, but despite being inactive for that long a time, she’s a beauty. There is a quiet strength and majesty to her that resonates in the ocean air. Trust me when I say that the pictures don’t do her justice.
When I visit a place like this ship, a place so weighty with history, I get all introspective. This isn’t so I can look brooding, or so that I can recite some sort of inner monologue, but simply because I can feel the echoes. I took the ‘hard hat’ tour, which allows you to go into spaces that are usually off limits to the public. I walked just a fraction of her labyrinthine interior, through rusted hatches, up stairwells, and past any number of compartments lost entirely in darkness. People lived and died here.
I went up to the flight deck and stood at the rails overlooking the ocean. The waters are a deep forest green there. In the distance someone rode a jet ski. I scanned the beach to see people fishing off the wave breaks, swimming, and enjoying their time at the beach in the shadow of a colossus. My feelings were bittersweet as I stood there.
On the one hand, I am glad that Lexington survived the war, and avoided the breakers that claimed Enterprise and so many others. She’s a part of history, and the historian in me is overjoyed that she’s still around. Even beyond WWII, any number of factors could have ended with her at the bottom of the ocean, or torn apart. But she bucked the odds at every turn to eventually find a permanent home in Corpus.
But on the other hand, she’s warship who will never see active duty again. Once she was one of the mightiest vessels on the ocean, and now bored teenagers scratch their initials into her paint. There is a movie theatre built into the forward part of her aircraft hangar and a cafeteria built into the aft. While she needs the touristy stuff (like the gift shop) to sustain herself, it strikes me as a little sad that she’ll never sail again.
Families came and went on the shoreline, many of whom did not spare the ship even a passing glance; Lexington sat like a giant metal grandmother, watching as grandchildren played at her feet.
That’s when I realized that this was exactly what U.S.S. Lexington had fought for, her enduring legacy —peace. So, to everyone who has served aboard her in the past, and to all the custodians of her presently, you all have my thanks. Every. Single. One.
And should you find yourself in Corpus Christi, I highly recommend paying the Blue Ghost a visit. Definitely go for the hard hat tour. Take it from this guy, it’s worth every penny.
[Check out The Backwards Mask on Kindle.]