In January 1970, following her "Twilight Cruise" in the North Atlantic, the U.S.S. Yorktown carried the sailors of VS-24, VS-27, and VAW-121 from NAS Norfolk, Virginia to NAS Quonset Point, Rhode Island, where they disembarked for future service aboard the U.S.S. Intrepid (CVS-11).
In the meantime (on June 27, 1970), the Yorktown was decommissioned at Philadelphia Navy Yard, where she remained until 1974, when the Navy donated her to the Patriot's Point Development Authority at Mount Pleasant (near Charleston), South Carolina. In June 1975, the Yorktown was towed from Bayonne, New Jersey to her new berth at Patriots Point. Following ceremonies held on October 13, 1975, the 200th anniversary of the United States Navy, "The Fighting Lady" formally began her new career as a memorial and floating maritime museum.
About thirty years ago, after I learned that the Yorktown had been turned into a museum, I formed the idea of revisiting it someday, to recreate the photo that a shipmate took of my then-future-wife and me on the ship's fantail in November 1969, when she and I were dating and the Yorktown was docked at Portsmouth, England. (See photo, right.)
As it turned out, many years would pass before my idea finally became a reality!
In 2009, my wife and I returned to Portsmouth, England, where our oldest son took a photo of us posed near the buildings that form the backdrop of our 1969 picture (see photo, left)--but of course there was no ship there!
Finally, on Monday, August 16, 2010--during a vacation trip to Charleston, South Carolina and more than forty years after either one of us had seen it in person, my wife and I once again went aboard the Yorktown.
For me, it was a surreal experience. The last time I had walked her decks, the Yorktown was a commissioned, working warship and I was a member of her crew. This time, I was a visitor to what was now a floating museum.
The first thing that struck me as I entered the hanger deck was the familiar smell that any sailor who has ever served aboard an aircraft carrier probably remembers for the rest of his life--a hard-to-describe combination of salt water, paint, steel, oil, jet fuel, and aviation gas, although the latter two odors, which I recalled as being very strong, were now conspicuous by their absence.
We were met near the information desk on the hanger deck by Jim Vickers, the Patriots Point Graphics Director, who had very graciously volunteered to help us recreate our 1969 photo after I sent an email to Dick Trammell, the museum's executive director, to make sure we would be able to access the fantail when we came to visit. (I didn't want to travel all the way to Charleston only to find it off limits!) Moved by my story of how the Yorktown was central to our meeting, and how my wife and I were coming to Charleston especially to celebrate our upcoming 40th wedding anniversary, Dick very graciously invited us to come aboard as his special guests!
After Jim introduced us to some of the veteran volunteers who man the information desk and then took us into the executive offices to meet Dick in person, we headed back to the fantail to do the thing for which we had traveled more than a thousand miles to do!
Thankfully, although the day had started out rainy, by the time we got back to the fantail, the sun was coming out and blue sky could be seen through the fast-dispersing clouds. There was a slight breeze. All-in-all, a perfect day for taking a photo outdoors!
After comparing the 1969 photo to the present-day layout of the fantail, Jim figured he found the spot where we had stood on that cold November day more than forty years earlier and soon had us posed. To make sure he got it right, he took nine pictures with his camera and three more with mine. You'll notice that in place of the white sailor hat I held in my hand in 1969, I grasped a framed copy of the original photograph, which has hung on the wall of our bedroom at home for more than two decades.
Afterward, Jim took us up to the flight deck, where he also helped us recreate a photo I had taken of my then-future-wife standing near the Yorktown's American flag. (See photos below.) Finally, after taking a few more shots at various places around the flight deck, Jim left us to wander around on our own but asked us to check in at the executive office before we left.
Anita Wilson aboard the Yorktown at Portsmouth, England, November 30, 1969 (Photo by Steven Butler.)
Anita Wilson Butler aboard the Yorktown at Mt. Pleasant, SC, August 16, 2010 (Photo by Jim Vickers.)
While we were up on the flight deck, my wife helped me recreate a photo a shipmate had taken of me during the Yorktown's cruise back to the United States at the end of the deployment. (Unfortunately, due to the fact that the catwalks are now off limits to visitors, we weren't able to recreate yet another photo that I wanted to re-do.)
Steve Butler on Yorktown flight deck, at sea on the Atlantic Ocean, December 1969 (Photo by unknown shipmate.)
Steve Butler on Yorktown flight deck, at Mt. Pleasant, SC, August 16, 2010 (Photo by Anita Butler.)
We spent the next hour-and-a-half or so exploring the ship, going up into the island and then back to the hanger deck. While my wife cooled off with a soft drink at the museum's snack bar, I went below decks to take two of the self-guided tours of the mess decks, sleeping compartments, heads (toilets), and working spaces.
Finally, after spending more than two hours aboard, we made our way to the executive offices located on the hanger deck, where we were very pleasantly surprised by Jim Vickers who presented us with a large composite picture of the original 1969 photo and one of the nine he had taken that same day. (See photo, mid-page.) He also presented us with a CD with all the photos he took that day. We couldn't think of a better 40th wedding anniversary present!
As Jim accompanied us down the to the dock and directed us to the ticket window of the boat service that takes visitors out to Fort Sumter (our next port-of-call), our hearts were full. Thanks to him and Dick Trammell and all the other nice people we met aboard the Yorktown, it was a memorable day and one that we will never forget.
PHOTO CREDITS: The first photo above, showing the Yorktown in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island is by Journalist Seaman Alan P. Goldstein. The next photograph, showing Steven Butler and Anita Wilson on the fantail of the U.S.S. Yorktown at Portsmouth, England is by an unknown shipmate. The third photo, showing Steven and Anita Butler at Portsmouth, England in May 2009, is by Benjamin Butler. Composite photo mid-page by Jim Vickers. All other photos are identified by captions.