The Blog

The USS Oriskany's Final Mission

4:40 PM, May 11, 2006 • By DANIEL MCKIVERGAN
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Commissioned in 1950, the aircraft on the carrier Oriskany launched attacks on North Korean forces and supply lines, conducted thousands of combat missions against North Vietnamese targets and even played a major in the film "The Bridges of Toko Ri," starring Grace Kelly and William Holden. Now, the Los Angeles Times reports that the Oriskany will spend its remaining years submerged off the coast of Florida continuing its service to our nation.

PENSACOLA NAVAL AIR STATION, Fla. - After more than half a century of wartime valor, maritime tragedy and cinematic triumph, the aircraft carrier Oriskany is preparing for its final mission: sinking into an afterlife as an artificial reef....

Although thousands of artificial reefs have been created along U.S. coastlines, the 900-foot-long Oriskany is the largest vessel ever designated for sea-bottom service.

Weather permitting, the now-corroded carrier that was home to 3,460 sailors - including a future Sen. John McCain - and 80 aircraft during the wars in Korea and Vietnam will be towed 24 miles offshore on Tuesday and sunk a day later. To minimize the risk of storms or tidal action affecting its position, it will be aligned north to south, bow out and stern to the distant shoreline....

One who hopes to be among the spectators is Charles Tinker, a retired Navy captain who was a 34-year-old fighter squadron pilot when the Oriskany endured its deadliest incident, an Oct. 26, 1966, fire that took the lives of 44 shipmates.

"I've got a sentimental feeling toward the ship. I spent a lot of my life aboard, an important part of my life," said Tinker of his two separate tours of Oriskany duty. He remembers the harrowing fire "as if it was last week."

Sending the Oriskany to a watery grave for the enjoyment of tourists "initially didn't sit too well," Tinker said. But with time he's come to regard the reef project as a way of keeping the carrier in public service instead of in the scrap yard....

"There's some vets who think it's not dignified" to sink the Oriskany, said Denny Earl, another Vietnam-era flier. Earl, an avid diver, isn't among them.

"A lot of ships are sold for scrap," he said. "To me, being converted to razor blades is not very dignified either." Now 65, Earl plans to pay an undersea visit to the old warship as soon as state authorities deem it opened, likely within a week of the sinking.

Earl earned citations for exceptional valor during the Vietnam War when, wounded in both legs by enemy fire, he dropped his payload and returned his A-4 Skyhawk for a textbook landing on the Oriskany while banging his fist against the cockpit window to stay conscious....