NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) - The world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise (CVN 65), will celebrate its 49th birthday on Thursday.
The Big E's birthday celebration will take place as the crew celebrates Thanksgiving.
With the exception of USS Constitution, the Enterprise is the oldest commissioned warship in the Navy. CVN-65 is the eighth U.S. ship bearing the name Enterprise and was commissioned Nov. 25, 1961.
During the commissioning, then Secretary of the Navy John B. Connally Jr. called the ship a worthy successor to the seventh Enterprise (CV 6), which was the most decorated ship in World War II. In his remarks, Connally said Enterprise will reign for a long, long time as "queen of the seas."
Former Aviation Boatswain's Mate Airman Jack Kepics was there that historic day and remembers it vividly.
"There was a chilly breeze that blew through the hangar bay as about 3,000 of us stood in ranks shivering in our dress blues," said Kepics. "Despite the dreary weather, the atmosphere was very festive, and a sense of pride beamed from every Sailor and officer as we stood and listened to the commissioning speeches."
The Enterprise is the largest aircraft carrier to ever be built. The "Big E" stretches 1,123 feet and weighs 73,858 tons. Enterprise is the only ship to ever house eight nuclear reactors.
"This is significant because we are still operating as efficiently as we did 49 years ago," said USS Enterprise Command Master Chief (AW/SW) Keith Oxley. "Roughly 250,000 sailors have served aboard Enterprise in her 49-year tenure, and we are carrying on that legacy."
The ship's first mission was to track and measure the flight of Mercury 'Friendship 7'. Big E's efforts culminated May 5, 1962 when Cmdr. Alan B. Shepard, Jr., became the first American to break the barrier of the Earth's atmosphere and ascend 116.5 miles in the Mercury capsule.
Big E has played a role in almost every major conflict since her commissioning - from the Cuban Missile Crisis, through multiple tours off Yankee Station in the Vietnam conflict, cold war tensions, and culminating with it's rapid response on 9/11.
"I've been in the Navy for 25 years, and I cannot recall a ship that has been as active for this period of time," said Oxley. "I came to Enterprise for the sole reason of helping this fine ship to the very end of its life and also to be part of its history and heritage."
The Enterprise is currently in port at Naval Station Norfolk undergoing preparations for an upcoming deployment.
(Compiled from story by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jared M. King)