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Cold Iron

May 23rd, 2010 · 14 Comments · General

(Reposted from the Instapinch archives that were lost last late summer…originally posted 23 March, 2007)

That is a term we would use when a carrier (or any ship, I suppose) would pull pierside and they would shut down the boilers or turn off the reactors (you can tell I’m not nuke material) or whatever – and everyone would go on leave – with the exception of the duty watch team.

A bit different with KENNEDY today. The decommissioning for the old girl was held this afternoon, and the pomp and circumstance and ceremony of centuries of Navy tradition was played out under a beautiful blue Florida sky. When the crew left the ship this time, there was no watch team left behind – nothing left but a silent ship.

USS JOHN F KENNEDY is indeed cold iron.

Cold iron

MAYPORT, Fla. (March 23, 2007) – Sailors take their final walk down the brow of USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67) during the historical decommissioning ceremony. Kennedy served its country with more than 38 years of service and 18 official deployments. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Susan Cornell (RELEASED)

The below article talks about a KENNEDY reunionthat was held the day before. Read the whole thing – it really captures a lot of what these ships mean to the men who served on her:

It was a homecoming for JFK alumni

From afar, it might seem like just a ship.

A massive ship. A ship that, as the last conventionally powered aircraft carrier built by the Navy, represents a disappearing piece of U.S. military history. A ship that received so many modifications that it’s basically one of a kind.

But it’s still just a ship, right?

Not to the hundreds of people who stepped back onto the USS John F. Kennedy on Thursday – some of them for the first time since they stepped off it decades ago.

It was Alumni Day, a chance for former crew members to return to the JFK before today’s decommissioning ceremony.

They came from all over the country. They showed spouses and children and grandchildren where they used to live and work. They bumped into old buddies and told old stories, some of which they insisted were true.

They walked up and down familiar steps, grabbing familiar pieces of metal, holding on a little longer than they once did. And not just because they haven’t been on the ship in a while.

Because they knew this was it. They were saying goodbye to something that, to them, is much more than a ship.

“It’s my second home,” said Mike Friedman, 44, of Toledo, Ohio, recalling his three cruises in three different decades.

“Coming back is like going back to your hometown,” said Laurie Jacobs, 45, of Jacksonville.
“It’s part of my life, that is what it is,” said Norman Hults of Windsor, Va.

Hults, 64, stood on the flight deck with his wife, Ruth. He explained that he met her while on leave, more than 32 years ago. Returning to the ship brought back memories of that time, of working in the engine rooms, of being a sailor on the JFK.

“There were good days and bad days,” Hults said, adding with a smile, “but I’ve forgotten all the bad ones.”

He recently watched as another ship he served on was dismantled and turned into scrap metal. That left the Kennedy as the last ship he has served on that’s still around. So when asked about the decommissioning, he said, “It brings tears to my eyes.”

Moments later – and throughout the morning – there was the sound of a clang, clang, followed by an announcement.

“Plank owner arriving.”

The “plank owners” are the ship’s original crew members, the sailors who were there when the ship was commissioned on Sept. 7, 1968.

Robert Lehman was a machinist mate 2nd class working with air-conditioning and refrigeration. He hadn’t been back on the ship since 1971. Standing in the bright sunlight on the flight deck, he said: “It’s weird. I remember coming up here in the middle of the ocean, pitch black and nothing but the moon and stars. I miss the Navy days.”

Some of the alumni went up to the navigation bridge. Some had their children sit in the captain’s chair for photos. Frank Galietti, one of the plank owners, grabbed some familiar controls and said with a grin, “I feel 40 years younger.”

To the alumni, the ship is much more than tons of metal. It’s sweat and blood. Their sweat and blood.

Jack Devlin, a plank owner now living in Boston, talked about the commissioning and how, on that day, they gave Big John its “heartbeat.”

“It has a life,” said Devlin, who was a radar operator on the ship. “It absolutely has a life.”

If that’s the case, then it was a good, long life. And as is the case with all long lives, it included plenty of ups and downs. Repeated cruises to the Middle East, dating back to the 1970s. A massive homecoming celebration in Virginia after Desert Storm. A collision with the USS Belknap in 1975. Periods of disrepair. Periods of repair.

It’s a tribute to the sailors who served on the Kennedy that it survived this long. Some of them wish it could last longer. Others say it’s time. Maybe even past time.

“It’s kind of like the aging parent that finally passes,” said Jacobs, who was the ship’s first dental hygienist. “It’s bittersweet.”

It’s not just that the ship has had a good life. So have the people who served on it.

That’s what they kept saying as they walked around the Kennedy one last time.

There were times during their cruises when they couldn’t wait to get off the ship. That’s what happens when you serve on an aircraft carrier, when you’re at sea for months at a time. But this day, they didn’t want to leave.

They lingered.

They sounded homesick.

For a ship, they kept saying, is much more than a ship.


Kennedy sat at Naval Base Norfolk’s Pier 6 for the better part of a year while preparations for her tow up to Philadelphia’s inactive ship facility were made.  There hadn’t been a carrier there since America left for (horrors) a weapons-testing sinkex a few years prior in 2005.

They wouldn’t let anyone on board Kennedy during her time spent in Norfolk.  I managed to get a few shots of her, though, as she sat, deader than a doornail, awaiting her long-term storage.

Jack Closed Up

The island, all closed and boarded up looking like a condemned old tenement from the projects, ready to be torn down for a super Wal Mart or something.


The waterline, showing how much weight was taken off.  She’s riding high, no doubt.

Aft Settle Jack

A shot from aft, looking at how the stern settles down with the weight of those big diesel engines still in her.

Latest Norfolk 251

Too much of a sad note to end this post with,…SO…let’s leave her on a happy note – in better days!



14 Comments so far ↓

  • Glenn Mark Cassel AMH1(AW) USN Ret.

    It does tug at the heart strings, does it not? I saw three of the ships I served in be stood down. One of them, Ranger was decommissioned while I was still in, toward the very end of my career. Independence and Kitty Hawk are waiting the torch in Bremerton. I did two deployments on each of the three. Not to mention the squadrons that no longer exist.
    Am I getting old, Pinch?

  • Pinch

    We all are, Glenn! But we’re also getting better :)

  • Byron

    Diesels? You meant to say 1200 pd steam plants, didn’t you? :) And she isn’t boarded up…every single opening to weather, under the catwalks, all down the sides, from the stern to the 0-10 level, all of it is 14 gauge sheet metal tack welded on and caulked shut. We did it from barges and high reaches and I’m here to tell you I had some interesting discussions with the Maypot tugs about the wake they made around my barges while my guys were 80 feet in the air trying to tack on large sheets of sheet metal. I did a lot of small boat handling that summer getting people and materials to and from those barges. Interesting times….

  • Kath

    Byron — why? Why cover all the openings to weather? So birds and animals won’t get in it? Or just keeping people out?

  • Byron

    Birds and animals, mostly. On the off chance that the ship could be re-called back into active service, it would be a nasty task to have to dig out and clean thousands of pigeons and their guano out of the many and various openings in the ships hull and island. We found one that was already full of dead pigeons and nests forward of El 4 in the angle sponson.

  • Byron

    Oh…and the last thing we did, was to take wire to every watertight door that lead to the outside of the ship save the one at the officers quarterdeck and lace it in a manner to keep people out. Kath, the ship would be without power, and anyone not familiar with the Kennedy would be in grave danger walking around her.

  • Kath


    What a sad job to have to do that. Keeping people out and locking the ghosts in.

  • Byron

    You should walk around the lower decks the day before they towed her away. Not a soul. Not a sound. No ventilation, no motors, nothing. It can get downright scary.

  • jpdraven

    As with everything in life, nothing lasts forever. As we get older we are forced to leave more and more behind as we move forward. But even though certain beloved things aren’t with us as we progress through life in a physical sense they are there mentally and emotionally.

    The Aircraft Carrier…. an island unto itself with it’s own community. There is a camaraderie formed between people that share a working/living space for long periods of time, the only others to know this feeling are soldiers who have gone to war together. You become family, friends, confidants, teachers, leaders, and so much more to one another.

    Without the Carrier that portion of your lives would certainly have been different and you may not have learned the meaning of camaraderie to the level you know it.

    Pilots and RIOS know this all too well.

    Being Memorial Day Weekend and having the Bethpage Federal Credit Union Air Show going on I can’t help but be reminded of this as I watch the Blue Angels Taxi onto the runway at of Republic Airport in Farmingdale NY.

    It makes me remember what each and every one of you did to protect America, me, and my family. ( Pinch you know Long Island well, were stationed here when you worked with Grumman in Calverton )

    And that brings me to a great point. Pinch for a short time was here, in my backyard, working with Grumman and the F-14 project. He is one of many to serve honorably for our country and deserves our thanks and respect.

    So on this Memorial Day, when you see Fleet Week in NY Harbor, OR NAS Oceana, OR hell, anywhere you see our military, HONOR THEM with a smile, and hand shake or a salute and a simple thank you. It makes a HUGE difference in their moral, and those are the people we need to make sure live happily for the sacrifices they have made for our happiness, safety, and freedom.

    OH and the old dogs of war like the J.F.K…….. Honor them by remembering them, the times you spent with them, and the relationships you made with the men and women you served with thanks to be stationed on them. It’s not a sad day when we retire our military hardware. It is a day to celebrate the wonderful career they had and the purpose they served for all Americans to be free. I say JOB WELL DONE, now go enjoy your retirement!

  • Byron

    Here, here!

  • Pinch


    Thank you. I was impressed with those folks from Long Island when I moved up there and remain so to this day. Mr. Grumman picked some absolutely stellar Americans to help build his airplanes.

    Again, many thanks.


    • jpdraven aka Jay


      Much appreciated BUT Thank you buddy for protecting me, my family, friends and all Americans.

      Yes Grumman was a unique company, ahead of it’s time in terms of it’s roots in family and camaraderie. You’d be saddened to see the state of the Calverton and Bethpage plants, but “nothing lasts forever.”

      With the 4th of July coming up I just hope you and yours have a very safe and happy!

  • Jersey

    Birds and animals, mostly. On the off chance that the ship could be re-called back into active service, it would be a nasty task to have to dig out and clean thousands of pigeons and their guano out of the many and various openings in the ships hull and island. We found one that was already full of dead pigeons and nests forward of El 4 in the angle sponson.

  • David Abell

    God Bless President John F Kennedy

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