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Thousands attend farewell ceremony for USS Enterprise

(Reuters) - The world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise, was formally retired on Saturday at a ceremony in Norfolk, Virginia, attended by thousands of crew members who served on the ship during its five decades in the U.S. Navy fleet.

The 1,123-foot (342-metres) long Enterprise was commissioned in 1961 with eight nuclear reactors on board, and the next year was deployed to participate in a blockade of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Since then, it has played a role in a number of naval missions, including deployments to Vietnam and to the Middle East as part of the U.S. response to the September 11, 2001, attacks. It returned from its final deployment about a month ago, said Navy spokesman Mike Maus.

Nicknamed the "Big E," the Enterprise was the oldest active duty ship in the U.S. Naval fleet, according to the military, and was the eighth U.S. military ship to bear the name Enterprise.

The roughly 12,000 people who participated in the ceremony for the USS Enterprise include many former crew members and their friends, Maus said. The ceremony was held in Virginia at Naval Station Norfolk.

The Enterprise will stay at Naval Station Norfolk for several months and then will move to a shipyard in nearby Newport News, Virginia, where its nuclear fuel will be removed from the vessel, Maus said.

After that, the ship will be towed to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Washington state, where its nuclear reactors will be dismantled and the Enterprise will be scrapped, Maus said.

There are no plans to turn the Enterprise into a museum, as has been done with other historic warships.

The Navy said in a statement that inactivation and defueling of the Enterprise will have "major impacts on the structure of the ship" and that it would be too costly to "return the ship to a condition that would support it becoming a museum."

(Reporting By Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Vicki Allen)

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