NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) - A big day for the "Big E". The USS Enterprise, the nation's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, is celebrating it's 50th birthday.
Monday, past and current crew members gathered for a special memorial service to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving aboard the Enterprise.
RADM Walter "Ted" Carter Jr. , the CO of the Enterprise Strike Group, said, "Maybe the most defining moment of USS Enterprise's history and the greatest loss of life, was the fire that happened on 14 January, 1969."
Just after 8 a.m. that January day, the ship was sailing off the coast of Honolulu when a fueling accident triggered several massive explosions and a huge fire that claimed the lives of 28 men and injured many more.
Don Thiry was a young sailor aboard Enterprise the day of the accident. Thiry, who is now retired, said, "It was a very hectic, very confusing day..."
Thiry agrees with making the memorial service a part of the birthday celebration.
"I like to come back thinking the four people that were killed in my, my general quarters unit (Repair 7Alpha) ah, got remembered. Made sure that they were remembered," Thiry said.
They are remembered not just for their deeds, but their enduring legacy.
U.S. Navy Chaplain John Owen said, "Without the unique and brave service of committed, individual men and women there would be no "we" to celebrate..."
In the past 50 years, 250,000 men and women have served aboard the USS Enterprise.
Now, a half century later, a new generation of sailors are waiting to serve aboard the nation's first nuclear aircraft carrier for the first time when the ship makes it's final deployment sometime next year.
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