The sun was shining down from between the fluffy cumulous clouds on that summer’s day in 1974. I remember it was summer mostly because I was with my dad at his job and it was just the two of us. We were on the deck of the U.S.S. Nimitz when it was docked in Newport News Virginia, dad having finagled a tour of the massive ship. As big as the ship was, the corridors, gangways and berths all seemed cramped even to an 8-year-old. The bunks seemed smaller than my own bunk bed that I shared with my brother. Everything was gun-metal gray and industrial looking. There was no way someone could spend a whole year on this ship without going insane. Now my dad was talking to one of the crew and, at 8, I didn’t pay attention to details so he could have been a boson’s mate, a deck hand or the captain for all I knew. My ears did pick up when my dad asked one question: “Is she as big as the Enterprise?”
The Nimitz was launched in 1972, and my dad was stationed at Newport News in 1974, which is when he got us on board. But as impressive as the 100-plus thousand ton supercarrier was, there was no way she was as big as the U.S.S Enterprise. Granted, the Nimitz was big. Dad led me up stairs that were more like permanent ladders, down narrow corridors through bulkheads with giant wheels that locked them like safe doors, into areas that began to blend into one long grey room. The Galley looked like the sick bay except for the appliances. Dad showed me the berths where the sailors slept when they weren’t on duty. Not too comfortable looking stacked three deep as they were. Definitely not what one would expect on a ship as famous as the Enterprise.
After all, the Enterprise had warp drive and shuttle craft and flew among the stars. She was the flagship of the United Federation of Planets. She was commanded by Captain James T. Kirk. There was no way that this hunk of cramped metal rooms could compare to the Enterprise. Besides, the Enterprise was science fiction. Even I knew that.
The way he asked it, however, so matter of factly, gave credence to the fantasy of there actually being a real starship and that one day, my dad would finagle a passage on THAT Enterprise. We would explore those oddly curving, day-glow painted corridors, walk through doors that shushed open and closed without being touched and maybe even beam down home when we were finished. Maybe the Klingons or the Romulans would attack while we were on board. Maybe dad and I would be given a Starfleet tunic and drafted into the crew. My dad was a captain in the Army, so he would naturally be one of Kirk’s senior staff, and I could be the youngest helmsman in the fleet. Oh, the day we would have. But why was he asking if this ship was bigger than the Enterprise?
Of course, I was to find out later that he was referring to the eighth in a long line of war ships bearing the name Enterprise. At 94,000 tons, the aircraft carrier Enterprise was indeed smaller than the Nimitz, but not by much, and it never went to warp speed and never fired a phaser at a Klingon battle cruiser. Even so, I was far from disappointed at my tour of the Nimitz. It was some quality father-son time with my dad. As one of four kids, I ate up the one-on-one time when I got it. It is one of the strongest memories of my childhood and one of the memories that have been coming to mind since Alzheimer’s claimed my father a few years ago. It’s my job to remember them now. It’s how he stays alive and it is the only way my grandchildren can ever get to know their great granddad.