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.”

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.