The USS Constellation (CV-64), one of the nation’s most famous aircraft carriers, was towed past Bainbridge Island’s South Beach yesterday, August 8, on its 16,000-mile journey around South America toward its final destination at a Texas scrap facility. It left Bremerton yesterday morning, where it had been mothballed for almost a decade after its decommission in 2003.
Widely known as “America’s Flagship” and nicknamed Connie by its crew, the Constellation had an eventful and dramatic history, beginning with a massive fire in 1960 during the final stages its construction. A forklift on the ship caught fire and a 500-gallon tank of diesel fuel spilled and spread through the complex of passageways into the ship’s lower levels, creating an inferno that took firefighters 17 hours to extinguish. Fifty shipyard workers died in the fire, with hundreds more lives saved.
Once the Connie was repaired, it was commissioned in 1961. The ship was deployed numerous times for active combat from 1964 to 1973 in the Vietnam War, including in the Gulf of Tonkin.
In 1971 the ship was the site of an aborted mutiny by some of its black crew who were protesting unequal treatment by the Navy.
The Constellation gained its motto “Go Ahead Make My Day,” a direct quote from President Reagan in response to terrorist threats made against the ship when it responded to the American hostage crisis in 1985. The Connie’s crew earned the prestigious Meritorious Unit Commendation for its performance during that deployment.
In 1987 the Connie escorted Kuwaiti tankers in the Persian Gulf under threat by Iranian attacks in international waters.
The following year a fuel leak erupted into the ship’s second devastating fire, which spread throughout the vessel and caused three onboard explosions. Crew members ultimately preserved the ship by closing off spaces and extinguishing the fire in sections. Many suffered serious injuries and smoke inhalation, but, miraculously, there were no fatalities.
After extensive renovation, the Connie had several deployments throughout mid and late 1990s. In 1994, it was deployed to waters off Korea after reports broke on the world stage that North Korea was attempting to build nuclear weapons. It returned to the area in 1999 during heightened tensions between North and South Korea. The same year it began conducting air strikes in the Persian Gulf in response to Iraqi violations of the no-fly zone.
The Constellation was twice awarded Battle Efficiency E as the Pacific Fleet’s best carrier. The ship was retired in 2003 after 41 years of commissioned service.
Thank you to Robert Dashiell, who took the featured photo from South Beach.
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Photo courtesy of Robert Dashiell.