Editor’s note: This piece is the introduction from the book Intrepid: The Epic Story of America’s Most Legendary Warship by Bill White and Robert Gandt, Foreword by John McCain, published by Broadway Books, a division of Random House, Inc. Reprinted with permission. The Intrepid museum is set to reopen in New York City right after Election Day.
This book by Bill White and Robert Gandt is more than just a tribute to a famous ship. The story of the USS Intrepid — which just returned to its Big Apple port and set to reopen to the public just after Election Day — is, above all else, a story about people. In the 30 years of Intrepid’s military career, some 55,000 Americans served aboard her. She is an amalgam of all their stories, some incredibly heroic, some poignant, some heartbreakingly sad. It is the spirit of those men that gives life to this great warship. Her history is our history; her story tells us not just about a ship, but about a country.
For me, the story of the USS Intrepid is a personal journey and my relationship with this remarkable vessel spans three generations. My grandfather, Adm. John S. “Slew” McCain, commanded Carrier Task Force 38 during the final, decisive sea battles of World War II. Intrepid was one of the fast carriers of his task force. She fought under his command in the Philippines in 1944, and he stood aboard her after she endured a near-fatal kamikaze attack in November, 1944.
Over two decades later, during Intrepid’s third deployment to Vietnam, she served under my father, Adm. John S. McCain, Jr., who was Commander-in-Chief of US forces in the Pacific. Under his command, Intrepid’s aircraft flew hundreds of combat sorties and bombing runs over North Vietnam, while I, coincidentally, resided in a Hanoi prison. On Christmas Day, 1968, my father went aboard Intrepid to celebrate the holiday with the crew in the Tonkin Gulf.
#ad#My own first contact with Intrepid came early in my career. As a newly winged naval aviator — a “nugget” in Navy parlance — Intrepid was my first carrier. I was assigned to Attack Squadron 65 and flew the venerable Douglas AD-6 Skyraider. I can still hear the loud throbbing noise of the Skyraider’s Wright engine starting up, and I remember clearly that first catapult launch from Intrepid – a wild, exhilarating ride like being shot from a cannon. Like every fledgling carrier pilot, I remember staring in awe at Intrepid’s postage stamp-sized deck as I closed in to make my first arrested landing.
I made several deployments aboard Intrepid, including two to the Mediterranean Sea. As an older, Essex-class carrier, she was overshadowed by the big deck supercarriers like Forrestal and Saratoga. She had only two catapults versus their four and yet she consistently beat them at their own game, launching and recovering aircraft as fast as and often faster than her bigger and newer rivals. Intrepid’s crew and her air group comprised an efficient, tightly knit team, and we were all proud to serve aboard her.
This legendary ship ended her active duty life ended in 1974. After languishing for several years in a shipyard, this old ship — the survivor of kamikaze and torpedo attacks — looked to meet her final fate at the scrap yard. But then came a hero — and a city — to intervene, rescue, and transform Intrepid. She now stands as a proud air, sea, and space museum, moored near the heart of one of our greatest cities.
Famous warships, like consecrated battlefields and military museums, have the power to capture our imaginations. When one walks the decks of Intrepid, studies the exhibits, touches the gray steel of her bulkheads, it is impossible not to sense the closeness of history. You feel yourself being transported in time. You may hear the thunder of gunfire. You can feel the deck once again resonate with the throb of engines. Your nerves may sense the approach of kamikazes or the silent danger of an incoming torpedo.
A great ship like Intrepid also has the power to educate. From her dramatic story, our citizens learn the vital lessons of their own history. They understand the sacrifices made by their fathers and grandfathers in the most cataclysmic of all wars. They grasp how ordinary Americans like themselves were sent into the smoke and chaos of battle and rose to greatness, achieving a victory that changed the course of humankind. Intrepid serves as a visible tribute to that greatest generation of heroes.
Intrepid is also a stage from which we honor today’s heroes. There is no better place than on the decks of this veteran warship to salute our present generation of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines, those brave Americans who risk everything on our behalf. Intrepid stands as s a living connection between our heroes of the past and those of the present.
It is also the namesake for the world’s most technologically advanced rehabilitation center for amputees and burn victims. The Center for the Intrepid, made possible by the generosity of so many to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, and particularly the Fisher Family, helps Americans who have sacrificed so much for our sake to have the care they deserve and the comfort of their families as they recover from wounds and rebuild their lives.
Of all Intrepid’s missions, perhaps her most important is to inspire our heroes of tomorrow. Our nation’s future is bright and boundless, but not guaranteed. Only through the heroic efforts of a new generation of Americans will our liberty and ideals be preserved. The USS Intrepid and her educational programs present a powerful and tangible representation of that age old virtue — love of country, pride in America.
I urge you to read this story of the magnificent Intrepid, and then, armed with the knowledge of her glorious past, take the opportunity to visit her in person. Let yourself be immersed in the sights and sounds and the feel of history. The story of the Intrepid is a classic American saga. Long may she serve as a symbol of our country’s greatness.
— John S. McCain is a Republican senator from Arizona and his party’s nominee for president of the United States.