Ah, Memorial Day weekend. Unofficial start of summer, the chance to break out the BBQ, don your white shoes for the first time since Labor day, and maybe even leave town for a few days. As it happened we did none of these things, but we did think it would be a good opportunity to visit the Intrepid Museum instead.
Depending on how you look at it, this was either a great choice or a really stupid one. As well as being a beautiful weekend weather-wise, with lots of tourists in town for the holiday, our visit also coincided with the annual Fleet Week celebrations, so there were even more people visiting the piers than might otherwise have been the case. That said, on an aircraft carrier which used to house over 3000 personnel (in addition to however many planes), it didn’t exactly feel crowded.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the tone of the whole exhibit. Rather than being a celebration of US military might, it focussed more on what life was like for the men serving on board. There were plenty of historical facts available about the ship itself, and displays on some of the practical aspects of shipboard life, as well as some dramatic recreations and details of its military engagements.
Up on deck we enjoyed the sunshine and looked at the collection of military aircraft. Some of these would have flown from carriers such as the Intrepid, whilst others (such as the Blackbird) were there I guess for more general interest – it was certainly a rather impressive collection!
Having done the rounds of all the smaller planes, it would have been rude not to stop by and say hello to Concorde as well.
Then it was on to the Cold War-era submarine Growler. Probably the thing I found most remarkable about this was the fact that the sailors were permitted to smoke on board, despite the fact that they remained submerged for months at a time! With that and the extremely limited amount of water for washing (seawater had to be pumped aboard and desalinated, so was prioritised for the engines, cooking and drinking) you can only imagine the stench… I was also highly entertained by the fact that right behind us was a group of middle-aged german gentlemen getting very excited by some of the equipment – at times it felt a little like we had strayed into a remake of Das Boot.
As we moved through the boat I found myself wondering whether the US submarine service recruited particularly small sailors – Tom is not especially tall, but even at his height passing through the bulkhead openings was a bit of a chore. I suppose they all got used to it though, during their months at sea.
Looking almost cheerful in the sun was one of 4 nuclear missiles carried by the Growler, each of which had significantly more destructive power than the bombs dropped on Japan – I forget the exact details, but having visited Hiroshima a couple of years ago I can only imagine what the result would have been if one of these had ever been deployed. This was pretty much the first thing we saw after entering the Intrepid’s pier, but I thought it made an interesting note to end on…