By ALVIN REINER
---- — WILLSBORO — Navy veteran Richard Morgan, who served on the USS Enterprise in the 1970s, had a chance to bid the ship goodbye.
Morgan, now the acting postmaster in Wilmington, attended the nuclear aircraft carrier’s recent decommissioning ceremony in Norfolk, VA.
He was active in the Navy from 1976 to 1981, including a six-month tour on the USS Enterprise traveling to the Western Pacific. While aboard the vessel, he was an aviation electrician mate working primarily with F14 Tomcat jets.
Coming from a small town, Morgan found being assigned to “The Big E” an eye-opener.
“I was only 19 and found myself on a ship with 15 decks and over 5,000 sailors. Boy, it was humongous and could hold over 100 airplanes.
“However, I really spent time on only three of the decks and slept under the flight deck.”
His most memorable experience occurred in 1978, when the Enterprise plucked boat people escaping from Vietnam out of the Pacific.
“They looked scared. You could only imagine what they went through,” said Morgan.
Though he did not interact personally with the rescued people, everyone on board received the Humanitarian Medal for the accomplishment.
Morgan remembers the ceremony for crossing the Equator.
You were called a ‘Pollywog,’ and they did things that today would be considered a hazing ritual.
”Today, they only squirt you with a hose, and you have to sing the Square Pants song.”
Morgan also recited a Halloween chant that saluted the vessel and its crew on that holiday.
“It’s no trick. It’s no treat. The Big E men can’t be beat.”
Among those attending the decommissioning ceremony were former Enterprise crew members, including sailors who were aboard in 1969 when a flight-deck accident triggered a series of fuel and ordnance explosions that killed 27 shipmates and injured more than 300.
The Enterprise was also in the news in February 2011, when it became involved in operations that captured 75 Somali pirates.
It also made missile strikes against the Libyan government.
At the ceremony, Morgan was able to connect with only one crew member who was aboard during his tour of duty.
“I saw one guy with the same squadron hat as mine, but I did not know him.
“It was just neat to see the Big E again. I feel proud that I served on it,” he beamed.
DESTINED TO BE SCRAP
On Nov. 5, 2012, the Enterprise returned to Norfolk for the last time, and it was inactivated on Dec. 1.
According to the Navy, it won’t be possible to turn the USS Enterprise into a museum.
The “Big E” will be towed to Puget Sound, Wash., where its eight nuclear reactors will be removed and the rest of the ship cut up for scrap.
It would reportedly have been too expensive to put the ship back together once the reactors were taken out in order to convert it into a museum.
The deactivation of the Enterprise will result in a one-time increase of about $857.3 million in depot maintenance costs for the U.S. Navy’s 2013 operation and maintenance budget.
A future carrier will be named the Enterprise.
Email Alvin Reiner at: firstname.lastname@example.org