Constellation’s final journey

Story by Gary Robbins, photos by Cody Long, photo gallery by Andrell Bower
FEBRUARY 14, 2014

The “ghost fleet” is losing one of it spirits.

A tugboat crew will soon attach a steel line to the bow of the aircraft carrier Constellation and tow it from the corner of the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard where decommissioned flattops are left to rust away. The Navy is trying to save money: It costs about $100,000 a year to maintain the carriers, so the ships are being turned over to scrap dealers.

The “Connie,” as everyone calls it, was towed here in 2003 from San Diego, its home for about 40 years. Now, it will be towed to an as-yet unnamed shipyard, where hundreds of workers will spend at least a couple of years dismantling and recycling the 60,000-ton carrier.

A star is worn

Constellation – the decommissioned carrier that was homeported in San Diego for 41 years – will soon be towed from a dock in Bremerton, Washington, to a shipyard for scrapping. The “Connie” has been quietly rusting away in Puget Sound.

Anchors Aweigh

Sailors regularly painted and inspected the links of the 1,080-foot long chains that were attached to the Constellation’s two anchors. The integrity of the chain was crucial; each anchor weighed 30 tons.

By the time their job is done, the Constellation will be reduced to pieces of metal that can be used for everything from constructing buildings to creating the frames of automobiles to fashioning much smaller objects.

There are three other “ghosts” in Bremerton — the Ranger, the Independence and the Kitty Hawk. Like the Constellation, they all called San Diego home for at least part of their service life. But the Constellation seems to have a special pull on the people of “Navy Town.”

People like Scott Oram of Santee, who served on the Constellation in 2002-03, the carrier’s last years of duty. Decades earlier, his grandfather served as a hitch on the same ship, riding the carrier here from Brooklyn, N.Y., where it was built.

“Carriers come and go, but the Connie always came back to San Diego,” Oram said. “For most of my life, there was no San Diego without the Constellation.”

Bruce Churchill of San Diego also served on the Constellation. He was the ship’s executive officer in the early 1980s when President Ronald Reagan visited the carrier off Southern California and dubbed it “America’s Flagship.”

Churchill understands why the ship is being scrapped. But he doesn’t like it, saying, “It’s almost inconceivable to think of a ship of that size and power and capability ending up as razor blades.”

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