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Nimitz has been a long time coming

  • Jim Haley (right) enjoys coffee and pastries during a presentation of the day's events aboard the USS Nimitz several hundred miles off San Diego on Ju...

    Dan Bates / The Herald

    Jim Haley (right) enjoys coffee and pastries during a presentation of the day's events aboard the USS Nimitz several hundred miles off San Diego on June 25, 1987.

  • Jim Haley on the Lincoln

    Jim Haley on the Lincoln

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By Jim Haley
Special to The Herald
Published:
  • Jim Haley (right) enjoys coffee and pastries during a presentation of the day's events aboard the USS Nimitz several hundred miles off San Diego on Ju...

    Dan Bates / The Herald

    Jim Haley (right) enjoys coffee and pastries during a presentation of the day's events aboard the USS Nimitz several hundred miles off San Diego on June 25, 1987.

  • Jim Haley on the Lincoln

    Jim Haley on the Lincoln

It was the middle of 1987 and I was sitting in an office on a pier at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard concentrating on a story that was to be published in that day's edition of The Herald. The office was nearly deserted except for myself and then Rear Adm. J. Paul Reason, who was the commander of Naval Base Seattle. I suddenly looked up past the admiral and out the window facing a nearby pier. I was startled. The enormous steel-gray hulk of the USS Nimitz, suddenly it seemed, filled the window frame and more, catching me a bit off guard. I had seen the Nimitz in the distance that day making its slow approach toward the pier and the throng of loved ones anticipating reunions after the ship's six-month deployment in the western Pacific, and a home-port change from Norfolk, Va., to Puget Sound. For years the U.S. Navy had been saying that the Nimitz would move from Norfolk, get some maintenance work done in Bremerton and then become the centerpiece of the ships assigned to the brand new Naval Station Everett, once the base was ready. Now, after more than two decades, that will finally happen. The Navy announced Thursday that the Nimitz will take the place of the USS Abraham Lincoln as the carrier based in Everett. The Lincoln next year will steam to the Norfolk area for lengthy refueling. The need to refuel the Nimitz in the 1990s was one reason given for not assigning it to Everett originally. On the pier that day 23 years ago was a throng of relatives and friends of crew members, many who had made the long cross-country trip to settle in the Northwest. At a distance in the water, the Nimitz seemed much smaller. I was familiar with the sheer size of aircraft carriers. I should not have been startled when the ship filled the window. Herald photographer Dan Bates and I traveled to Norfolk in November 1986 to inspect the ship, talk to sailors and take the temperature of the Norfolk community about losing that ship and its permanent crew of nearly 3,000. We saw first-hand how the Nimitz or any other carrier is a floating city, capable of housing about 5,000 people, feeding them, and putting them all to work in a coordinated way. We also found that there were a lot of sailors, especially those from the West Coast, who asked for assignment to the Nimitz in anticipation of being closer to home. Some sailors and their families also were looking forward to the adventure of moving across the country. Others were not. This time the move won't be quite so onerous. The Nimitz has recently been assigned to San Diego. Norfolk civic leaders weren't so hot about giving up a carrier and its crew to the West Coast, then part of Navy Secretary John Lehman's “strategic” plan to split up the U. S. naval fleet in anticipation of a great many new ships coming on line. Neither the number of ships nor the expansion the naval presence to numerous other ports around the country came to be. Naval Station Everett was the only one of more than a dozen in the original planning that came close to full development. Just days before the Nimitz's arrival in Puget Sound, Bates and I also went to San Diego as the ship was ending its deployment. We were flown out to sea, landed on the Nimitz's huge flight deck and watched most of the warplanes being launched and sent home to their individual air bases. The Nimitz docked in San Diego to let off members of the air crew who were not fliers, before setting course to Bremerton. We came away with a greater appreciation of the rigors of life for long periods aboard ship and the sacrifices service members and their families make. It was 1966 when Jim Haley first sat down in front of a clunky Underwood typewriter and wrote his first story for The Herald. He retired in 2008 after a many-storied career.
Story tags » Naval Station EverettUSS Nimitz

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