Happy Holidays from all of us aboard USS Midway!
Thank you for joining me – Ship Historian, Karl Zingheim – for another great Karl’s Korner, as we take a look back at what it was like to celebrate the holidays onboard the USS Midway!
Leave me a comment below if you served aboard Midway or spent a holiday at sea!
Over the course of the Midway’s 47 years of service, she was away from her homeport nine times on Christmas Day. The first came early in her career in 1947 when she dropped anchor in the Bay of Naples. Italy was still recovering from two brutal years of fighting in World War II, and some 200 children, many war orphans, were brought out to the ship where they discovered the crew had created a large replica fireplace and a tall Christmas tree on the hangar deck. A sumptuous meal was served by all hands, from the Captain on down, and then the children were stunned by the appearance of Father Christmas stepping over the fireplace hearth with gifts for all.
Her next yuletide travel occurred in 1952 not quite one month into her sixth deployment. With the Korean War raging on the other side of the world, no one knew if Europe would be next and the ship was kept on a war footing, visiting strategic ports and preparing for NATO exercises. However, for Christmas, the crew caught a break and enjoyed the mild climate of the South of France. The tempo was even busier six seasons later in 1958, when the Midway was a key component of the Pacific Fleet. Between hectic patrols off the China coast during the Formosan Crisis, the Midway announced the holiday in her future home of Yokosuka by mounting huge lighted letters along the flight deck ramp proclaiming “MERRY CHRISTMAS”.
Just one year later, duty called her to the western Pacific again, and the Midway found herself in the industrial port of Kobe, Japan. The crew held a Christmas tree contest, and naturally, the electricians of E-Division won with their short, but well-lighted, entry. On Christmas morning, children from local orphanages climbed aboard from landing craft supplied by the USS Tulare and were shown around the Midway. Later, they were treated to a special meal served on the mess deck (with choice of forks or chopsticks) before Santa Claus stepped down from the cockpit of an FJ-4 Fury attack jet to personally hand presents to each child before a towering Christmas tree on the hangar deck.
The somber Christmas of 1963 was passed at anchor in exotic, bustling Hong Kong. With President Kennedy’s assassination was still a fresh memory, the crew made the most of the season by accepting invitations to English homes ashore and enjoying the mild weather. A far less peaceful Christmas greeted the Midway in the Tonkin Gulf in1972 as her air wing contributed to the destruction of North Vietnam’s air defenses. This helped bring the Paris peace talks to a conclusion and led to the release of American POWs just three months later.
More drama overseas found the Midway in the Christmas of 1979 in the midst of a record-setting 91-day cruise off Iran during the embassy hostage crisis in Tehran. Matters had not changed eight years later in 1987 as the Midway was again underway at yule time, protecting oil tankers during the Iran-Iraq war. Comedian Bob Hope landed aboard for Christmas with Barbara Eden, Connie Stevens, and other entertainers to make this a special Christmas for the busy crew. Three Christmases later that same region found the Midway at anchor in the scorching port of Abu Dhabi as part of Operation Desert Shield, the prelude to the Gulf War which saw Kuwait delivered from the ravages of Saddam Hussein. The crew was kept on high alert with only two duty sections and the distractions of the shops of downtown Souk.
In times of strife, the Midway always found time to celebrate the season of peace and goodwill, adding cheer to an often tormented world as a roving ambassador and guardian of her nation.
Wishing all of you the happiest of holidays… join me next year for more Midway and Navy History through Karl’s Korner!