Navy to Scrap Historic Aircraft Carrier – 2015 UPDATES (now in Port of Brownsville)

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Ranger - Wikipedia Photo

Ranger – Wikipedia Photo

“The seventh USS Ranger (CV/CVA-61) is one of four Forrestal-class supercarriers built for the US Navy in the 1950s. Although all four ships of the class were completed with angled decks,Ranger had the distinction of being the first US carrier built from the very beginning as an angled deck ship.” – Wikipedia (See continuing updates at the end of this post.)

In matters of war, I am a pacifist.

That said, I believe our troops merit our support whether or not the war they’re fighting in is popular or not.

I also think history and historical artifacts, objects and memorabilia are important, for they help communicate the stories of other eras. It’s been a pleasure working with museums as a grant writer and as a collections manager and seeing first hand how excited people can get when shown historic equipment, documents and photographs.

RangerPosterI served aboard the USS Ranger (CVA-61) during the Vietnam War. The war was probably the country’s most unpopular war. When I appeared in public wearing my uniform, I was intentionally bumped into on the street, spat on, and called a baby killer. Yet our history and memories of that time must be preserved.

So, in matters of history, especially those that focus on museums and other educational experiences, I am an activist. In Charleston, I have seen the displays on the USS Yorktown and I have seen the reactions of tourists and school groups as they toured the flight deck, the hangar deck, the mess decks, bridge and ready rooms of the old ship.

When the USS Ranger Foundation was formed in Oregon with the hope of following the examples of those who saved the USS Yorktown in Charleston and the USS Midway in San Diego as museums, I was happy to join up even though I don’t have the financial means to donate money nor the proximity to the ship and selected museum site to volunteer.

Ranger in 1961 - Kemon01 photo on Flickr

Ranger in 1961 – Kemon01 photo on Flickr

First, the educational opportunities here are immense. It’s one thing to read about military history. It’s quite another to walk through a fort, battlefield or restored ship. Aircraft carriers have evolved since the Vietnam War—I can hardly even recognize the modern navy uniform. As I write this, there have been tests of flying drones off of carriers rather than expensive manned aircraft. As a museum, Ranger could have been a piece of history on the Columbia River at the donated site in Fairview for many years to come.

Second, museums and other cultural tourism sites bring dollars and jobs into communities. Many studies have been done showing that a tourist destination such as the USS Ranger can bring in a higher percentage of every tourist dollar than other attractions.

Apparently this is not to be

USS Ranger Public Affairs Office on the 03 level. I am second from the right.

USS Ranger Public Affairs Office on the 03 level. I am second from the right here in 1968.

I salute the long hours and dedicated efforts of the volunteers and directors of the USS Ranger Foundation. But I think I missed a memo.

The application process for the acquisition of a decommissioned navy ship is difficult, expensive and lengthy. Unfortunately, the Foundation’s application was rejected by the Navy last October. (See Foundation to Fight NAVSEA Decision to Scrap Ranger) At that time, the Foundation was looking for ways to have that decision reversed.

Over the Christmas holidays, the Foundation said that constraints were keeping them from having more time to develop their application. Here’s where I missed the memo, I think.

I never heard what those constraints were, what (if anything) was missing or incomplete in the Foundation’s original application, or whether or not the support of influential people in and out of government could influence the Navy to provide more time, reconsider, or otherwise work with the Foundation to save the ship rather than scrapping the ship.

rangerlogoNow, the Foundation is looking for another ship. That’s probably a reasonable backup approach. Nonetheless, I think we need to know:

  • Why the application was rejected.
  • What, if anything, could be done to make the application acceptable.
  • Who, if anyone, could be enlisted to garner political and public attention to urge the Navy to delay the scrapping schedule and,
  • Who, if anyone, could raise additional funds and increased public support within the State of Oregon to save the ship and bring it to the Portland area.

We don’t know any of these things. Perhaps, in knowing them, we would see that placing a historic aircraft carrier in a Columbia River museum site had too many insurmountable obstacles in it to ever succeed even if the navy waited five more years or ten more years.

A-4 Skyhawk landing in 1980 - Kookaburra2011 photo on flickr

A-4 Skyhawk landing in 1980 – Kookaburra2011 photo on flickr

I have worked with museums and I have seen the impossible done before. Those in the know said “It will never happen.” But it did happen, with money left over and with the partnering help of those who had been thought, by those afraid to ask, to be the least likely to assist a museum.

So it is, that I do not like seeing this project fade away without a ramped up, viral PR campaign and without the help of high-level thought leaders and influencers who might be able to make a USS Ranger museum a reality. A successful aircraft carrier museum helps everyone, including the Navy. A scrapped ship frees up space at a pier and brings in a few dollars, but otherwise helps no one.

Worse yet, our history is lost in the bureaucratic shuffle. Rather than fading away, I would have preferred seeing this project end, if it had to end, with nothing less than a noisy, failure-is-not-an-option, Hail Mary, damn-the-torpedoes effort.

As always, I wish the Foundation fair winds and following seas.

Malcolm R. Campbell, Journalist
USS Ranger Public Affairs Office and Naval Station Great Lakes  1968 – 1970

Update – January 9, 2014

Those of you who live in the Bremmerton area may have a better means of finding out whether the ship has been scrapped already than I do. However, I have checked with the Navy about the rationale for disposing of the ship (in addition to the costs of maintaining mothballed ships).

From the Navy’s perspective, the USS Ranger Foundation’s progress throughout the entire application process was slow and it finally appeared that little or no progress was being made on some fairly large obstacles:

  • En route to the ship’s proposed mooring site, the BNSF bridge at river mile 80.9 had not been solved. Basically, the ship couldn’t clear the bridge without a major effort on the railroad’s part.
  • The foundation’s cost estimates for the project were incomplete. They gave an overall figure to the Navy about projected costs, but only documented a fraction of those costs.
  • The USS Ranger was placed on a donation hold in 2004. Even though the foundation had expressed an interest in the ship in 2003, the application wasn’t filed until 2009. With the ship available for an eight-year period and with major obstacles not being resolved, it seemed unlikely that the foundation would ever present a complete and viable application. Unfortunately, the Navy’s assessment about this is probably correct.

Update – February 3, 2014

More Updates:

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell, who  served on the USS Ranger during the Vietnam War, is the author of the Jim Crow era novella “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”

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9 responses

  1. I’m sorry your ship is sinking, Malcolm. I’ll tweet this in the hopes that viral PR campaign can begin with your post.

    • I hope so, too. I only wish the foundation had fully communicated the issues and allowed the many people who donated to the project to have a voice in their decision.

    • While I’m sure some of the red tape is designed to keep a major ship from ending up at a place that ultimately can’t take care of it or show it properly, a little slack would be helpful when people are working hard on an acquisition plan.

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