The juxtaposition of an historic, slate gray battleship against the golden light of San Diego’s happy coastline offers both a stark contrast and constant reminder.
The USS Midway Aircraft Carrier earned a permanent port following nearly 50 years of active service. Built at the tail end of Word War II, she played a key role in the Cold War and in Vietnam, where she ferried more than 3,000 refugees during the fall of Saigon. She operated as the flagship for naval forces during Desert Storm. By the time she retired, the USS Midway had sailed in every ocean in the world and, with a capacity of 4,000, carried more than 200,000 young sailors.
Their voices echo through very close quarters today as tourists, like me, stroll the decks of the living museum.
It doesn’t take much effort to picture what life must have been like aboard the enormous carrier. And for the imagination challenged among us, the ship thoughtfully provides well-placed mannequins, sound effects and even, in the case of the dentist office, distinctive smells like minty tooth polish.
Anchored as it is in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, the ship will spend the rest of its natural life observing what she fought so hard to defend. There, along the Embarcadero Waterfront, stroll tourists, fortune tellers, roller bladers, ice cream cone drippers, fishermen, mimes and kite fliers.
On the ship a metal sign alerts sailors to their nearest “fresh air supply,” while along the harbor a sweet breeze blows off the water and anyone with half a lung can soak it in.
You can dine al fresco from many spots along the harbor, soaking in laughter that drifts up from the park and enjoying a consistently perfect sunset. From that spot, though, I also recommend a slow gaze north and a silent nod of respect to the giant ship anchored there, whose brave crew and nearly half-century patrol through international waters allow us all to relax and enjoy that spectacular view.