In the Gulf of Mexico, a couple of hours down the coast from Houston, the USS Lexington (CV16) is moored at the North Shore of Corpus Christi harbour. She is an aircraft carrier decommission from the US Navy and now operates as a museum and educational facility. On the morning I visited, children were leaving with sleeping bags, I therefore assume they had taken part in one of the ‘sleep aboard’ camps, living as a sailor would have done 70 years ago.
As you walk up to the ship you see the a Rising Sun flag on the island, which marks the spot where in 1944 a kamikaze pilot crashed his plane into her.
The main aircraft hangar houses a number of restored aeroplanes and it is the start for five self-guided tours around the ship.
The tours are fascinating, giving and insight into life on board; the sick-bay which included a full dental suite with x-ray machine, an optician’s office as well as an audio testing lab; staterooms for various officer ranks as well as the bunk rooms for the enlisted men, the galley, post office, air and navigation control and ready rooms. There are some wonderful collections of memorabilia from life on board, my favourite was this certificate for crossing the equator on which the longitude of the crossing is censored.
There is also a fantastic collection of model aircraft, mainly military right up to the current day. If you are interested in model aeroplanes or a history of military aeroplanes from around the world, it is worth going to visit.
The key attraction of being an aircraft carrier is of course the launch and landing of ‘planes on deck. In the main hangar you get to see the steam accumulator which builds up the power to catapult the ‘planes off the runway and later, as part of the tour of the flight deck you get to see the arresting gear too.
The collection of ‘planes (and one Cobra helicopter) on the flight deck have all been restored for display on the USS Lexington, demonstrating the wide variety of ‘planes that have been used by the US Military over the years.
Spending half a day walking up and down original ship steps and making sure I wasn’t tripping up when walking through doorways required balance and concentration – and the ship is moored in a quiet harbour. As much as I can’t imagine myself running on a ship like this, I’m sure the seamen and airmen who served on her got used to the obstacles and navigated them swiftly.
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