My grandfather was a career Naval officer, enlisting in the late 1920s and then serving for much of his adult life. He was at Pearl Harbor on the day of the attack, and our family still has a box with artifacts from it.
After World War II, he served for quite some time on the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany. A couple of years ago, that ship was sunk off the coast of Florida, to create an artificial reef. I remember being saddened to hear that his ship was going to the bottom of the ocean — but the more I thought about it, the better of an idea it seemed. Rather than rusting away in a shipyard, or being cut up for scrap, the vessel would provide a refuge for fish and a fascinating place for divers to explore.
The NY Times is up today with a story about the “Great Carrier Reef,” two years later. It includes some remarkable photographs, and even a video from one dive.
“There’s definitely an enthusiasm for this,” said Glen Clark of the Navy’s Inactive Ships Program. “There’s actually more interest than we have ships.”
The potential economic benefits of sinking ships for reefs are significant. A report from the University of Western Florida says that the sinking of the Oriskany enerated nearly $4 million for Pensacola and Escambia County in 2007.
“It put Pensacola on the map as a diving spot,” said Jim Phillips, co-owner of MBT Divers in Pensacola. All three of Pensacola’s dive shops are reporting brisk business related to the Oriskany, with 4,200 dive trips to the wreck reported in 2007.
And the story provides another interesting detail that I had not been aware of:
The ship has become a big lure for military buffs, as well, including veterans who once served on the ship. But one veteran who has not dived the Oriskany yet is Senator John McCain, whose final bombing mission left the carrier on Oct. 26, 1967. During that mission, he was shot down and became a prisoner of war for six years.
My grandfather was a big supporter of John McCain back in 2000, in large part because of the Navy connection. But I never knew that they had served on the same ship (albeit separated by several years — Grandpa had retired long before McCain would have been on the Oriskany). Grandpa didn’t live long enough to see the sinking of the Oriskany, but I have no doubt that he’s very pleased as he looks on and sees the use that it’s being put to. And that he’s pulling for John McCain even now.