The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland Tennessee (TN) and Bradley County Tennessee (Tn).

Of Bradley County Tn.

JULY  2007

                            The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland and Bradley County Tn.






The Death of "Big John"

Bizarre, Fascinating, and Wacky World War I & ll Secrets.

by Cecil Owen

The beautiful but haunting melody of "Taps" rings out loudly and fills the morning breeze. Taps is a bugle call usually played at a military funeral. And to most people present at the time, this is exactly their feelings: This is a funeral but this is not the death of a person but the death of a warship. And not just any warship, but a very special warship, the USS John F. Kennedy CV67 super aircraft carrier. Furthermore, it has not been lost in battle, but is being decommissioned to join the "mothball fleet." The day is March 23, 2007 and the place is the U.S. Navy station in Mayport, Florida. Grown men everywhere are crying, being overcome by their emotions. From ordinary enlisted sailors way up to the haughty Admirals.

A large number of retired and active duty Captains and Admirals are among the invited VIP's. Captain Earl Yates, the warship's First Skipper (commanding officer) is present. In fact, 19 of the  29 former JFK Skippers are present. And leading the official  decommissioning party is the Kennedy's final Skipper, Captain Todd Zecchin. Also included is rear Admiral H. Denby Starling, Admiral John Nathman, and Mrs Kitty Crenshaw. (She is the wife of U.S. Representative, Ander Crenshaw). One guest is an aged and retired Admiral, shuffling slowly along with the aid of a walker. He is guided by a Naval escort on both sides to keep him on course. An officer approaches and asks, "Don't you need the help of a wheel chair?" "I prefer to walk, for I don't want to miss seeing anything," he replied. This is just one example of what the Navy thought of this grand ole' warship, the USS John. F. Kennedy CV67. Admiral Nathman said, "there is no greater calling card than the hulking profile of a United States Navy Aircraft

Cecil Owen


This warship of course was named after our 35th President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Most warships in our Navy are usually referred to as a "she", but this aircraft carrier is known affectionately as "Big John." Four of these super carriers were built from 1961 through 1968; USS Kitty Hawk CV63,  USS Constellation CV64, USS America CV66, and USS John F. Kennedy CV67.

The Big John was launched on May 27, 1967 at Newport News Navy Station in Newport, Virginia. The aircraft carrier was christened by President Kennedy's nine

year old daughter, Caroline. Then it was outfitted and commissioned on September 7, 1968.

When the super aircraft carrier, USS John F. Kennedy CV67, finally sailed out of port, it became a floating city. Big John was 23 stories high and 1,050 feet long. The flight deck was 267 feet wide and spread out over 4 whole acres. Each of the two anchors weighed 30 tons and the screws (propellers) weighed 34 tons a

piece. Fully loaded Big John could carry from 78 to 85 airplanes. The entire crew for this "steel behemoth" was a whopping 5,597. 3117 to run the warship, and 2480 in the air wing. In spite of the huge size of Big John, its steam turbine engines could reach 280,000 horse power. At full power, Big John could speed along at 33.6 knots per hour. (A knot is a nautical mile) so 33.6 knots is equivalent to around 38.6 miles per hour. And that is certainly amazing because Big John weighed 80,950 tons when fully loaded. (This includes two million gallons of aviation fuel).

It did not matter what a sailor might need onboard Big John, it could always be found. "What, you want a strawberry soda and banana split? ..Go to the soda fountain." "Oh, got a toothache? ....Go to the dentist's office."

If you had  a belly ache you could go to the doctor's office. If the ole appendix acted up you could go to the ship's complete hospital. It was equipped for all emergencies, even for the smaller ships in the task force. If you were looking for a letter from your sweetheart you could go to the post office. If a heel come off your work shoe you could go to the cobbler's shop.  Well, believe it or not but Big John even had a rather large distillery onboard the ship. But this distillery did not supply the sailors with any moonshine whiskey, the machinery changed salty sea water into fresh water and the USS Kennedy needed a very large amount of fresh water daily... 359,000 gals daily to supply cooking and drinking water for 5,597 men and women. 

Big John had four steam turbines to propel the ship and up on the flight deck were four airplane steam catapults. To use steam, you must have water.

Six decks (stories) below the topside flight deck was the "galley" (ship's kitchen). How would you like to help peel 'spuds" (white potatoes) for 5,597 hungry men and women? The galley of Big John was kept rather busy, for at least 16,791 meals a day were served. On one six month tour of duty, Big John's crew consumed 36,000 loaves of baked bread, 876,000 eggs, and 200,000 pounds of chicken.

Now let us go topside on the flight deck and launch a "war bird." Along the bow (front) of Big John were two 300 ft. catapults, most of which were concealed under the deck. Two slotted cylinders in a long steel trough with a narrow gap across the top. In each cylinder is a piston with a shuttle attached, which was up on the flight deck. When a plane was ready to be launched, a plane handler maneuvered it into place. At the back of the plane a metal blast deflector was raised to keep the hot engines from scorching everything, when the plane's nose wheel was just behind the shuttle, a tow bar arm was lowered into a slot. Another arm was attached to the nose gear called a "holdback." This allowed the plane to be held back while the engines were revved up to full power. The expected takeoff weight of every airplane had to be double checked. Then the catapult officer filled the two pistons with a

pressurized charge of saturated steam the steam pressure had to be carefully regulated to match the takeoff weight of the airplane, plus the speed of the wind blowing across the flight deck. Too much pressure would rip the nose wheel gear out of the airplane, too little pressure could cause a slow takeoff speed and  hurl the airplane into the ocean just ahead of the onrushing aircraft carrier.

Once the desired pressure was reached, the "shooter" would hit a button which released the two cylinders. This snapped the holdback arm and the airplane was hurled down the catapult track. About 300 ft. and two seconds later, the tow bar popped out of the catapult shuttle and the airplane was airborne under its own power, and hopefully had reached its flying speed of 150 knots (173 miles per hour).

Illustrated Directory of Warships - David Miller
Carrier: A Guided Tour - Tom Clancy
Jackson Magazine of Northeast Florida - Joseph White