Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Encounters with The Blue Ghost

During my first encounter with The Blue Ghost, and even with the second encounter, the thought never crossed my mind that these encounters would spur a new blog series. Now right off the bat, I'll let you know I'm not referring to a "Class 5 Full-Roaming Vapor" of Ghostbusters fame, nor even referring to some ethereal, blue-shaded mist. Spooky apparitions may appear later, though, no pun intended. Some of my readers will already know I'm referring to the USS Lexington (CV-16). She is a retired Essex-class aircraft carrier, now serving as a museum, after serving her country in World War II.

USS Lexington

This is the first in a series of blogs I'll call "Living History." Why am I calling it that? Unlike the generic term "history," my "Living History" blogs are about actual things you can touch and interact with. Most of these are retired military vessels and museums that offer more than just "look but don't touch." I will intersperse these Living History blogs among others that I write since I have so many other topics to write about. I truly hope my Living History blogs will be of interest to you, my readers, and even influence you to visit some of these things and places if you haven't already done so. These blogs will be photo heavy, and like the links, clicking on a photo will open a new window with a larger format version.

A brief note about this particular ship. She's actually the second aircraft carrier to be named "Lexington." The first one, designated CV-2, was lost in the Battle of Coral Sea in May 1942. She was recently discovered in about 9,000 feet of water off of Australia. As with all my blogs, clicking on any blue link will open a new window. I encourage you to follow these links, as they provide more in-depth information that's beyond the scope of my blog.

Originally named the USS Cabot, she was renamed after news of the sinking of the first Lexington was received. She was just finishing completion in the shipyard and hadn't been commissioned yet. The Lexington earned her nickname "The Blue Ghost" after being reported sunk on at least four different occasions. After each reported sinking the Japanese would then find themselves facing the Lexington again. This prompted Tokyo Rose to start calling her the Blue Ghost.

The Blue Ghost in WWII
image from Wikipedia

She participated in a few major battles in the Pacific, such as the Battle of the Philippine Sea and the Battle of Leyte Gulf. An interesting fact about the Battle of Leyte Gulf is the role of destroyer escorts and their effect on the outcome of the overall battle. You'll get a chance to meet a destroyer escort in a future Living History blog.

After WWII, she didn't see any more combat, but still served in the Pacific. She underwent major modifications in the shipyard to modernize her. In 1969, she was designated as a training carrier, and spent the majority of her time in the Gulf of Mexico, serving as a qualification platform for new naval aviators. 

T-2C Buckeye training aircraft on the Lex
By Jim Bryant, USN - U.S. DefenseImagery photo VIRIN: DN-ST-89-08969, Public Domain,

In 1991, having served a long and noble career, the Lexington was struck from the US register and donated to the city of Corpus Christi as a museum. She even rates a movie credit. Parts of the movie Pearl Harbor were filmed on the Lexington, as she stood in for the USS Hornet. 

Let's take a closer look at this piece of living history, shall we?  Before we even board the ship, you can see several displays just waiting to be admired. 

A-4 Skyhawk, Blue Angel #1

Access to the Lexington is via this large, permanent walkway. You can walk up this path or take a shuttle if you choose to wait for one. Cindy and I elected to walk so we could take our time looking at the ship and take many photos. 

Let's go!

Both days we visited the Lex, the weather was almost perfect if not just a touch warm. With a nice breeze blowing off the bay, though, and blue skies, we enjoyed the walk.

40 mm Bofors gun mounts

As you approach the actual entry point, which is on the hangar deck, you start to get a real sense of just how large this ship is. By modern standards, it's tiny when compared to our newest supercarriers.

Welcome aboard!

Just before actually entering the ship, where the walkway meets the hangar deck, you'll see a sign describing the significance of a Japanese Rising Sun flag that's painted on the superstructure, or island, of the ship. Please take a moment to read the sign by clicking on the photo. I'll wait.

Rising Sun flag

The next photo is the "island" of the carrier, and the flag showing where the Kamikaze plane hit. This was real life, y'all, and real people died here. Sobering, yes, but historically important. Reading about something like this in a history book is one thing. Actually being on or near the spot, touching the steel, is quite another.

Impact point

We enter the hangar deck and pay our entrance fee. Current fees and hours of operation can be found on the official website here. Make sure to ask for a map of the Lexington showing all the displays. The museum is laid out in several sections, color-coded to match specific areas. The hangar deck is one color on the map, the flight deck another color, and so on.

The hangar deck contains the biggest portion of displays, as well as a small cafeteria (the "Mess Deck Cafe") and the 3-D Mega Theatre. Multiple simulators enhance an already rich experience. We'll take a stroll around the hangar deck and find some cool displays.

With a mix of modern and vintage aircraft displays, the Lex offers something for everyone to enjoy. Our first stop on the hangar deck is to take a good look at a workhorse airplane in WWII, the Dauntless dive bomber. It had a crew of 2: pilot and radio operator/gunner. 

SBD-3 dive bomber

Closeup of the crew

This aircraft played a pivotal role in the Battle of Midway in June 1942. One of the iconic photos of this battle happens to be of this very type of aircraft. 

SBD-3 aircraft during Battle of Midway
Official U.S. Navy photo 80-G-17054 from the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command; originally from en.wikipedia; description page is/was here., Public Domain,

Close to the static display of the actual bomber is a simulator of the gunner's position. This makes a great photo op, one of many on the ship. Hop in, grab the machine gun handles and try to imagine what it was like in actual combat.

Shoot 'em!

I don't think I embarrassed Cindy too much when I added sound effects to my pose. Well, other than an eye roll she seemed to be a good sport about it. I would still rather ride in a real SBD instead of sitting in a simulator. Actually, for a mere $995, this could happen at the Lone Star Flight Museum at Ellington Field near Houston. There are other aircraft types you can experience a real flight in for various prices. Bucket list item? Heck yeah!

There are a few cockpit mockups as well, ready for a visitor to have a seat and get a taste of what it felt like to sit in a fighter's cockpit. Cindy was more interested in the cockpit mockups than the gunner's position. What, you don't like flying backward, Cindy?

F-4 Phantom cockpit simulator

If anyone reading this blog happens to be an ex-Phantom jockey, is that old saying really true about the Phantom? "Given a big enough engine, even a brick will fly." Hey, it's just something I've heard pretty much all my life.

Another, more modern mockup is the F-18 Hornet's cockpit, naturally painted in the Blue Angels colors. I remember as a child watching "the Blues" fly when they still had the A-4 Skyhawk. A good friend of mine had our future all planned out, even while we were in elementary school. We'd join the Navy, and eventually find our way onto the Blue Angels team. I would fly Blue Angel #5, Lead Solo, and Dan would fly Blue Angel #6, Opposing Solo. Yeah, right. Life just listened to us make our plans then said: "Hold my beer."

Blue Angel #5?

Let's turn and burn!

Just off the hangar deck is a row of 40 mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun mounts, just like the photo near the beginning of this blog. What makes this particular area interesting is that one mount can be operated by the guests. One person sits on the left, and the other sits on the right. One person can elevate and depress the cannons while the other can traverse the mounts left and right. 

There was one particular display that caught Cindy's attention, and she insisted that both of us pose for a photo. I wonder what message she's trying to send me.

I didn't do it.

Where's my lawyer??

Between all the simulators and displays just on the hangar deck, not to mention the IMAX movie, you could spend almost a whole day here and not even see the other parts of the ship. Let's move on, though, and go up to the flight deck. Unfortunately, I didn't think to capture any shots of the living quarters on the Lexington, or views of the flight deck from the bridge. No worries. I did capture several photos of life below decks on a couple of other ships that will be part of this Living History series.

If you have even a shred of interest in aviation, the flight deck will put you into sensory overload. OK, maybe not everyone, but there are plenty of aircraft to see and admire on the flight deck. Follow me up to "the roof" and let's explore what's on display. 

Stepping onto the flight deck the first thing you'll probably notice is just how big it is, even for a "small" carrier. You'll more contemporary aircraft on the flight deck, while the vintage aircraft are below on the hangar deck. 

Forward part of the flight deck

Lexington's island

Looking over the side of the ship, from the flight deck, you'll see the 40 mm gun mounts I mentioned earlier. Can you just imagine how loud it would've been when all of these weapons were firing?

Bofors 40 mm anti-aircraft gun mounts

Of course we'll walk over to the aircraft. In fact, now's a good time to do so. What do we want to see first? 

F-14 Tomcat

F/A-18 Hornet

TF-4A Phantom

A-4 Skyhawk

A-7 Corsair

A-6 Intruder cockpit

Multiple-ejector racks on the A-6

Closeup of the bomb rack

AH-1S Cobra

T-28B Trojan

T-2C Buckeye

Whew! Lots of cool airplanes to look at and see up close. I deliberately finished these photos with trainers, as that's how the Lexington finished her career: as a training ship. 

I mentioned at the beginning of this blog that ghosts may come up again. Yes, the Lexington apparently has its own share of resident ghosts. You can read more in detail here if you are interested in that aspect. 

What I described throughout this blog was what Cindy and I did, which was a self-guided tour. The Lexington also offers guided tours, taking you to places not normally accessible to the public on self-guided tours. I definitely want to go back and experience some of these guided tours. Check out these tours here. Trust me, you'll want to follow that link and see what else the Lexington has to offer. 

I hope you enjoyed this virtual tour with me. I have several more of these to do that I'll mix in with my other blogs. 

Have you toured the USS Lexington, especially taken one of the guided tours? What did you think? I'd be thrilled to read your comments below. 

Until next time....

carpe cerevisi


  1. Well written and so informative. Each time I tried to go, the lines were unbearably long! Thanks for this. Love the history AND the humor!

    1. Thank you! You *really* need to go the next time you are in CC. Heck, let's just coordinate a trip down there when you are able and we'll do one of the special tours.

  2. That was a fun read. The Lexington is so cool. We have been with the Scouts and have slept in the bunks overnight. It's cool. They put on a good show too.
    It's a wonderful ship to visit, in very good shape.
    oh! And we did the haunted ship there one time for Halloween! It was a hoot.
    Thank you for the blog post.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed reading it! I really want to go back and do a couple of the guided tours. They look like a lot of fun.