BREMERTON, Wash. —
The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz has completed 28 deployments, more than a quarter of a million catapult launches and arrested landings, five homeport changes, and countless operations and missions successfully executed. The decorated history of the oldest aircraft carrier in active U.S. Navy service began 50 years ago this month, when the carrier’s keel was laid June 22, 1968.
This was a plan set in motion long ago when, after the successful implementation of the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, the Navy recognized the need to expand its projection and influence and create an entire class of aircraft carriers powered by nuclear reactors.
Nimitz’s story began when Congress authorized the construction during fiscal year 1967. A contract was negotiated with Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co. in Newport News, Virginia, to begin building the following year.
The ship was christened May 13, 1972, by the late Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz’s daughter, Catherine, and the carrier was commissioned May 3, 1975, by President Gerald R. Ford at its first homeport at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia.
The namesake of the Nimitz class of aircraft carriers, this state-of-the-art warship boasts a 100,000-ton displacement, is 1,092 feet long and has a complement of 5,000 sailors and Marines onboard. The ship is powered by two nuclear power plants providing steam-powered propulsion to four engines with more than 250,000 horsepower. There are also four catapults and four arresting wires, the capability of serving 18,000 meals per day, and four distilling units making more than 400,000 gallons of fresh water daily.
Since being commissioned into active service, Nimitz has spent years out to sea and has been an instrumental part of the success and longevity of the Navy’s mission. Its 28 deployments have been an essential aspect in supporting peace, security and prosperity throughout the oceans of the world, with its latest deployment concluding in December 2017.
Throughout its time, tens of thousands of sailors have spent formative years of their naval careers as Nimitz crew members, some having completed multiple tours onboard. Navy Cmdr. Chuck Jones, from LaCenter, Washington, is currently on his third Nimitz tour. He served as a chief electrician’s mate and leading chief petty officer of a division in reactor department from 1995 to 1997. On his second tour, from 2010 until 2013, he was a lieutenant commander serving as the ship’s maintenance manager. His current tour began in April 2017, and he serves as the ship’s chief engineer.
He recognizes the importance of perpetuating the proud history and heritage of the ship the crew calls home.
“It’s a big deal for a ship to reach close to 50 years and have people say she looks like she can do many more,” Jones said. “We have done a very good job of taking care of her over the years.”
Another group of people with special ties to Nimitz are sailors who were part of the first crew upon the ship’s commissioning. These sailors, known as “plank owners,” have the distinction of being the first crew to take a newly commissioned ship out to sea. Scott Telecky, from Wenatchee, Washington, is one such sailor. Telecky served as an electronics technician first class onboard Nimitz from 1975 until 1978, and he looks back on his time on Nimitz with much fondness.
“Being a plank owner creates a special bond with the ship. Watching the president of the United States actually commissioning the ship is a moment I’ll always recall with great clarity,” he said.
Telecky also spoke warmly about the long-standing friendships he made with his fellow sailors. “After 43 years, I still keep in touch with many of my shipmates,” he said. “The camaraderie is still there whenever we start reminiscing about the old days. It’s a bond we’ll always have.”
With the coming implementation of the Gerald R. Ford-class of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, and due to the active service life of a Nimitz-class carrier being 50 years, the legendary career of the USS Nimitz is projected to end in the coming years. However, the legacy of this renowned ship and its monumental achievements over its storied, decades-long career will never be forgotten, and the tradition of teamwork will continue to live on.
Nimitz is undergoing scheduled maintenance and upgrades at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility in Washington state.