Memories from an old press kit for the USS Ranger

RangerPressKit-1

USS Ranger at sea in 1968 - US Navy Photo, cleared for publication
USS Ranger at sea in 1968 – US Navy Photo, cleared for publication

While sorting through boxes of old file folders in the garage, I came across a 1968 press kit for the decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CVA-61). (The Ranger was active between 1957 and 1993).

These kits were handed out to reporters and special guests who came aboard ship in port or at sea. They contained information about the ship’s history and its departments, aircraft, and a variety of photographs of the ship, planes and personnel.

In addition to the carrier’s missions that stretched between the Vietnam War and the Gulf War, the Ranger is notable for being the first carrier to be built from the keel up with an angled deck.

A Portland Oregon foundation worked for some time to acquire the ship for use as a museum, but the effort fell through when it didn’t gain enough support from high-profile financial and political individuals and groups to put together a working plan that met the navy’s strict requirements.

To learn more about this effort, see USS Ranger Closer to New Home in Portland and Navy to Scrap Historic Aircraft Carrier – UPDATE.

Flight deck crews move two A-4 Skyhawks - US Navy photo, cleared for publication.
Flight deck crews move two A-4 Skyhawks – US Navy photo, cleared for publication.

Consequently, the ship is being scrapped this year. Had the ship been converted into a museum, I would have sent them this press kit, copies of the shipboard magazine and cruise book, and a fair number of news releases I wrote for the military and civilian press while on board.

Ranger in Films

As Wikipedia reminds us, “Ranger appeared on television in The Six Million Dollar Man, Baa Baa Black Sheep and in the films Top Gun, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (standing in for the carrier USS Enterprise), and Flight of the Intruder.”

I worked in the ship’s public affairs office and put together a lot of these kits during my time on board in 1968 and 1969.

The press kit usually contained pictures of the aircraft of from the squadrons assigned to the ship during the October-to-May deployments to the western pacific. The A-4s in this photo belonged to Squadron VA-155, the “Silver Foxes.

In addition to the standard materials, we included copies of the latest news releases about shipboard operations and deployments as well as visits by film companies and USO shows.

Finding Your Way Around

Handout Sheet
Handout Sheet

Television shows like JAG and NCIS frequently show shore-based navy and marine personnel getting lost on board aircraft carriers when trying to find their way between the bridge, the mess decks and their quarters. It’s easy to do. We cleared up the confusion for guests by handing out a diagram that showed how the decks were numbered.

The sheet noted that every single compartment on board has a number indicating its deck, location, purpose and opened/closed status based on the ship’s “Material Condition of Readiness” (XRAY, YOKE, ZEBRA and WILLIAM).

I read with interest the news stories about the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) which is currently undergoing tests prior to its entry into the fleet in 2016. The changes in design and capability of the Forrestal-class carriers ( Forrestal, Saratoga, Ranger and Independence) built in the 1950s and the new Ford-class carriers (to include the Ford, Kennedy and Enterprise) is amazing. Even the sailors serving aboard the current Nimitz-class carriers will see exciting changes.

The Ford-class carriers will have three aircraft elevators, upgraded RADAR systems, and more efficient nuclear power plants, and Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) rather than conventional steam pistons for launching aircraft.

I suppose ships will continue to use some form of press kit, perhaps printed off as needed with different combinations of pages and pictures when dignitaries and reporters arrive. Most of these folks will probably look at the skips’ websites and print out their own press materials before they arrive. When describing the Ranger to others, we mentioned the size of the flight deck, the weight of the anchors, and the number of crew members.

We also said the ship was a floating city. I see that some things don’t change. In the news stories about the Gerald R. Ford, that phrase is still being used.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s novels include “At Sea,” an adventure inspired by his two western Pacific cruises on board the USS Ranger. Ranger was, in those days, called the top gun of the Pacific Fleet.

Navy to Scrap Historic Aircraft Carrier – 2015 UPDATES (now in Port of Brownsville)

Ranger - Wikipedia Photo
Ranger – Wikipedia Photo

“The seventh USS Ranger (CV/CVA-61) is one of four Forrestal-class supercarriers built for the US Navy in the 1950s. Although all four ships of the class were completed with angled decks,Ranger had the distinction of being the first US carrier built from the very beginning as an angled deck ship.” – Wikipedia (See continuing updates at the end of this post.)

In matters of war, I am a pacifist.

That said, I believe our troops merit our support whether or not the war they’re fighting in is popular or not.

I also think history and historical artifacts, objects and memorabilia are important, for they help communicate the stories of other eras. It’s been a pleasure working with museums as a grant writer and as a collections manager and seeing first hand how excited people can get when shown historic equipment, documents and photographs.

RangerPosterI served aboard the USS Ranger (CVA-61) during the Vietnam War. The war was probably the country’s most unpopular war. When I appeared in public wearing my uniform, I was intentionally bumped into on the street, spat on, and called a baby killer. Yet our history and memories of that time must be preserved.

So, in matters of history, especially those that focus on museums and other educational experiences, I am an activist. In Charleston, I have seen the displays on the USS Yorktown and I have seen the reactions of tourists and school groups as they toured the flight deck, the hangar deck, the mess decks, bridge and ready rooms of the old ship.

When the USS Ranger Foundation was formed in Oregon with the hope of following the examples of those who saved the USS Yorktown in Charleston and the USS Midway in San Diego as museums, I was happy to join up even though I don’t have the financial means to donate money nor the proximity to the ship and selected museum site to volunteer.

Ranger in 1961 - Kemon01 photo on Flickr
Ranger in 1961 – Kemon01 photo on Flickr

First, the educational opportunities here are immense. It’s one thing to read about military history. It’s quite another to walk through a fort, battlefield or restored ship. Aircraft carriers have evolved since the Vietnam War—I can hardly even recognize the modern navy uniform. As I write this, there have been tests of flying drones off of carriers rather than expensive manned aircraft. As a museum, Ranger could have been a piece of history on the Columbia River at the donated site in Fairview for many years to come.

Second, museums and other cultural tourism sites bring dollars and jobs into communities. Many studies have been done showing that a tourist destination such as the USS Ranger can bring in a higher percentage of every tourist dollar than other attractions.

Apparently this is not to be

USS Ranger Public Affairs Office on the 03 level. I am second from the right.
USS Ranger Public Affairs Office on the 03 level. I am second from the right here in 1968.

I salute the long hours and dedicated efforts of the volunteers and directors of the USS Ranger Foundation. But I think I missed a memo.

The application process for the acquisition of a decommissioned navy ship is difficult, expensive and lengthy. Unfortunately, the Foundation’s application was rejected by the Navy last October. (See Foundation to Fight NAVSEA Decision to Scrap Ranger) At that time, the Foundation was looking for ways to have that decision reversed.

Over the Christmas holidays, the Foundation said that constraints were keeping them from having more time to develop their application. Here’s where I missed the memo, I think.

I never heard what those constraints were, what (if anything) was missing or incomplete in the Foundation’s original application, or whether or not the support of influential people in and out of government could influence the Navy to provide more time, reconsider, or otherwise work with the Foundation to save the ship rather than scrapping the ship.

rangerlogoNow, the Foundation is looking for another ship. That’s probably a reasonable backup approach. Nonetheless, I think we need to know:

  • Why the application was rejected.
  • What, if anything, could be done to make the application acceptable.
  • Who, if anyone, could be enlisted to garner political and public attention to urge the Navy to delay the scrapping schedule and,
  • Who, if anyone, could raise additional funds and increased public support within the State of Oregon to save the ship and bring it to the Portland area.

We don’t know any of these things. Perhaps, in knowing them, we would see that placing a historic aircraft carrier in a Columbia River museum site had too many insurmountable obstacles in it to ever succeed even if the navy waited five more years or ten more years.

A-4 Skyhawk landing in 1980 - Kookaburra2011 photo on flickr
A-4 Skyhawk landing in 1980 – Kookaburra2011 photo on flickr

I have worked with museums and I have seen the impossible done before. Those in the know said “It will never happen.” But it did happen, with money left over and with the partnering help of those who had been thought, by those afraid to ask, to be the least likely to assist a museum.

So it is, that I do not like seeing this project fade away without a ramped up, viral PR campaign and without the help of high-level thought leaders and influencers who might be able to make a USS Ranger museum a reality. A successful aircraft carrier museum helps everyone, including the Navy. A scrapped ship frees up space at a pier and brings in a few dollars, but otherwise helps no one.

Worse yet, our history is lost in the bureaucratic shuffle. Rather than fading away, I would have preferred seeing this project end, if it had to end, with nothing less than a noisy, failure-is-not-an-option, Hail Mary, damn-the-torpedoes effort.

As always, I wish the Foundation fair winds and following seas.

Malcolm R. Campbell, Journalist
USS Ranger Public Affairs Office and Naval Station Great Lakes  1968 – 1970

Update – January 9, 2014

Those of you who live in the Bremmerton area may have a better means of finding out whether the ship has been scrapped already than I do. However, I have checked with the Navy about the rationale for disposing of the ship (in addition to the costs of maintaining mothballed ships).

From the Navy’s perspective, the USS Ranger Foundation’s progress throughout the entire application process was slow and it finally appeared that little or no progress was being made on some fairly large obstacles:

  • En route to the ship’s proposed mooring site, the BNSF bridge at river mile 80.9 had not been solved. Basically, the ship couldn’t clear the bridge without a major effort on the railroad’s part.
  • The foundation’s cost estimates for the project were incomplete. They gave an overall figure to the Navy about projected costs, but only documented a fraction of those costs.
  • The USS Ranger was placed on a donation hold in 2004. Even though the foundation had expressed an interest in the ship in 2003, the application wasn’t filed until 2009. With the ship available for an eight-year period and with major obstacles not being resolved, it seemed unlikely that the foundation would ever present a complete and viable application. Unfortunately, the Navy’s assessment about this is probably correct.

Update – February 3, 2014

More Updates:

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell, who  served on the USS Ranger during the Vietnam War, is the author of the Jim Crow era novella “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”

‘Top Gun’ on the Big Screen in Gresham, Oregon

Did you know that many of the scenes in the 1986 action/adventure movie “Top Gun” were filmed aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CVA-61) pretending to be the USS Enterprise?

Now decommissioned, the USS Ranger is en route to becoming a museum in Fairview, Oregon through the efforts of the USS Ranger Foundation.

In support of this project, the foundation is sponsoring a 25th anniversary showing of “Top Gun” as a fundraising project on Sunday, May 6, 2012 at the Mt. Hood Theatre, 401 E. Powell Blvd, Gresham, OR 97030, 12-3pm.

Click here for more information along with a nice film trailer showing some realistic launch and recovery operations along with the kind of flying hi-jinks you might expect out of any character played by Tom Cruise.

If you live in or near Gresham, this movie will make for a great afternoon of entertainment in support of a good cause!

Malcolm

New USS Ranger Foundation Video

The USS Ranger Foundation, currently working to transform the decommissioned carrier into a museum and heritage center in Fairview, Oregon, has posted a new video of YouTube.

The video displays a combination of great in-service photographs along with a selection of current-day photographs.

Fairview has a population of slightly less than 10,000 residents.

Project Overview (from the foundation web site)

The USS Ranger Foundation is dedicated to preserving USS Ranger as a community heritage center through public and private partnerships.

Ranger represented our country’s interests around the world as the “Top Gun of the Pacific Fleet” from 1957 through 1993. Earning 13 battle stars in Vietnam and taking a lead role in Desert Storm in the Middle East. She also supported humanitarian missions like Operation Restore Hope off the African coast.

The supercarrier is more than three football fields long, towering 15 stories above the waterline. A floating city that held over 5,000 crew members, Ranger has a 4.5 acre flight deck, 60-bed hospital, communications center and classrooms.

With Ranger’s active service over, the USS Ranger Foundation is working with the Navy to secure her donation and preserve important Naval history. Ranger will serve her new mission as the centerpiece of a destination complex. This will include a museum, memorial to those who served, educational training facility, emergency preparedness site and civic /convention resource.

Chinook Landing Marine Park, on the Columbia River in Fairview, Oregon, will be Ranger’s new home. Market research confirms the potential for the new
destination complex is significant, boosting local and regional economies. Support for the project has been widespread given the favorable research and
the obvious impact on jobs, business growth and a significant resource to the community.

The Foundation has launched a major fund raising campaign to support ship acquisition, site development, and completion of the heritage center.
The success of Ranger’s new mission will be the result of partnerships that create an exceptional public resource and the largest floating museum in the world. For more information on this project, please check our website at http://www.ussranger.org, or call 503-558-8519.

Malcolm
I served onboard the U.S.S. Ranger on two Western Pacific cruises (1968-1970) and based parts of my novel Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey on my experiences.

Branding at Sea: Lone Ranger Aboard the USS Ranger

This story about the beginning of the USS Ranger’s “Lone Ranger and Silver” theme appeared April 7, 1969 as U.S. Navy News Release 101-69 (USS Ranger) and subsequently in the May, 1969 issue of the ship’s magazine “Shield.” The Ranger, a Forrestal Class aircraft carrier, was in service between April 10, 1957 and July 10, 1993. Decommissioned after Desert Storm, the ship is currently docked in Bremerton, Washington. The USS Ranger Museum Foundation is working to save the former TOP GUN of the Pacific Fleet and preserve it for use as a museum and educational facility at Fairview, Oregon.

Flight Ops

USS RANGER (CVA-61) April 7, 1969–Early this year, Ranger was informed by the sheriff and stockmen of Freemont County, Wyoming, that the ship was violating the state’s range laws. The problem was not that the carrier was steaming wildly up and down Wyoming’s North Platte or Big Horn Rivers. The violation was the fact that the Lone Ranger’s horse Silver was running wild on Ranger without a brand.

Sheriff C.A. “Pee Wee” McDougall directed that the horse be branded as soon as possible. A copy of the brand should, then be sent to him for forwarding to the Registrar of Brands, State of Wyoming.

Even though the fiberglass, life-sized model horse was foaled at the Alkire Fiberglass Company of Billings, Montana, the people of Lander, Wyoming, located the stallion and feel responsible for its welfare.

Lander, Wyoming Connection

Captain Livingston wrote to the people of Lander and expressed concern that his command was in violation of their range laws.

He wrote, “The desirability of the brand was brought most forcibly and near tragically to the attention of all hands during Ranger’s last in-port period at Subic Bay, Republic of the Philippines.

“While grazing on authorized liberty, the great white stallion was rustled by a band of shifty eyed varmints professing to be United States Marines. Only the exceptional alertness of the ‘Top Gun’ crew prevented the scoundrels from carrying Silver to Vietnam.”

Finding the TOP GUN BAR NONE Brand for Silver

Captain Livingston assured them, however, that the horse was recovered unharmed and that a contest was being started to allow the crew to design a suitable brand. The prize for the best brand submitted would be $50, money that would be handy in Yokosuka, Japan, when the ship pulled in there in late March.

In the “Plan of the. Day,” Executive Officer CDR H. Edward Graham told the crew; “Help keep varmints from rustling Silver and the sheriff from capturing the Captain.”

And the crew responded. Over 200 entries were turned in to CDR R.J. Brunskill (AIMD), Ranger’s Horse Control Officer. On March 24, during a bingo game in the hangar bay, Captain Livingston announced the winner, AEI Charles 0. Brill from Mobile, Alabama. Petty Officer Brill is the shop supervisor of AIMD’s Shop.

Brill, who reported a-board Ranger in August 1966, submitted the brand “Top Gun Bar None.” Brill, who has had experience on an Alabama dairy farm and has done some branding, said that a brand should be simple, original and must say something.

The brands were judged by a panel of three Ranger cowboys, all of whom have worked on ranches. The men were CDR Louis Page (CAG), from Cushing, Oklahoma; LT Richard “Cowboy” Neifert, (VA-I54), from Townsend, Montana; and DC3 Bob Creech (DC Division), from Waco, Texas.

CDR Page said that of all the brands, about 40 were real brands. He said that a brand is somewhat like a sentence that conveys a thought or expression. Petty Officer Brill’s “Top Gun Bar None” brand was appropriate for Ranger. “A real cowboy, knowing of Ranger’s nickname, could read the brand in a snap,” Page said.

LT Neifert said the panel of judges looked for a brand that stood out and was registerable. Brill’s entry was just that, as well as being subtle. Petty Officer Creech said hat the “Top Gun Bar None” brand was catchy and was a normal looking brand that could be made into an iron. The judges all mentioned that they were looking for a realistic brand that had a special significance for Ranger.

Brand Officially Registered

Horse Control Officer, CDR Brunskill made arrangements to have a copy of the brand send to the Wyoming State Registrar of brands. CDR Brunskill had Silver shipped to Ranger from Billings, Montana, and has been responsible for the horse’s feeding and stabling. (NOTE: Ranger’s brand was dropped in 1975 when it was not renewed.)

One thing is certain, and that is the greater feeling of security aboard Ranger not that Silver has been properly branded. The Ranger ranch encompasses the largest grazing area in the world, from California to Japan. And if the horse were missing out there somewhere in the seaweed sagebrush, the Lone Ranger would have no horse to ride across the flight deck when the ship pulls in and out of port. As it is, he can brandish his six-guns and yell “Hi, Yo Silver, Away” from a properly squared away horse.

Ensign Jim Block as the Lone Ranger

Article and news release by Malcolm R. Campbell who, in 1969, was a Navy Journalist in the Ranger Public Affairs Office. While public affairs officer Ensign Jim Block sat the horse (firing his six guns) as Silver “trotted” along the flight deck at the end of underway replenishments, the enlisted men in the office pushed the cart on which the fiberglass horse was positioned.

thesailorcoverMy days aboard the USS Ranger were the inspiration behind my 2013 novel, “The Sailor.” Unfortunately, the Ranger is being, or already has been, scrapped in 2014.

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