The USS Midway aircraft carrier served for an unprecedented 47 years, becoming the longest-serving Navy carrier in the 20th Century. The Midway was decommissioned in 1992 and became a museum on the San Diego Bay in 2004.
As part of the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon and Operation Frequent Wind, the Midway is commemorating its role in the evacuation of 3,000 American and Vietnamese on April 29 and April 30, 1975.
Today, the museum educates 1.2 million visitors each year about its military history with interactive exhibits and memorabilia and offers an audio tour in five languages.
KPBS Evening Edition anchor Dwane Brown toured the Midway with marketing director Scott McGaugh.
Brown: What does that "41" on the side of the ship represent?
McGaugh: Well, 41 means Midway in 1945 was the 41st carrier built by this country. Today as many San Diegans know, across the bay the USS Ronald Reagan was the 76th carrier built. That's the way the Navy keeps track of its ships.
Brown: What can you tell us about all those yellow ribbons on the deck of the Midway that have been tied by visitors?
McGaugh: They represent the 58,300 Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam. In just the last two weeks, thousands of San Diegans as well as groups have come aboard to pay tribute and the black ribbons represent those still MIA or missing in action.
Brown: The remembrance also includes the names of those who died in action?
McGaugh: Yes, and so for people like me who weren't drafted, it's a real opportunity for us to pay our respects, particularly because "The Wall That Heals" is a replica of the memorial wall in Washington, D.C. With all 58,300 names now on the bow of the Midway for the next five days, open 24 hours a day at no charge, for all of San Diego to pay their respects in any way they see appropriate.
Brown: The Midway was first commissioned a week after World War II, and was the first naval ship to carry nuclear weapons?
McGaugh: Absolutely right. In fact, the Midway was really a pioneer in naval aviation. It was the first American carrier with a steel flight deck, the first carrier with an angled flight deck, the first to carry nuclear weapons in an aircraft large enough to carry those weapons in the late 1940's. It even helped pioneer auto-pilot technology in the 1960's we all take for granted, from our vehicles to the space shuttle.
Brown: How many personnel were on the carrier?
McGaugh: Well, with 4,500 men on board, only about 300 on average were pilots. The other 4,200 had city-like jobs down here, so 300 could fly. There were bakers and cobblers and cooks and electricians and welders and plumbers and postal clerks, all working so the airport could operate.
Brown: Today volunteer docents play a vital role on the Midway Museum bringing the ship's history to life for visitors of all ages?
As the world remembers the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, KPBS highlights the stories of San Diego County's Vietnamese refugees and Vietnam War veterans.
McGaugh: Yes, the vast majority served in the Navy, with 400 docents volunteering their time, they are truly a big part of the success of Midway. So when you come aboard it's a very personal experience that brings it to a level that all ages can really enjoy and appreciate.
Brown: How did the Midway get its name?
McGaugh: Many people assume that the Midway fought at the battle. It did not. It was named for the Battle of Midway. We needed to explain the entire story of the battle, its significance. It was the greatest victory in World War II in the Pacific, so we opened the (Midway) theater a few weeks ago and it's proven very popular.