NEW YORK—Despite being hit by five kamikazes and taking a torpedo through its hull in the Pacific theater during World War II, the U.S.S. Intrepid kept sailing and kept in the fight. The aircraft carrier and the planes it held shot down more enemy planes and sunk more enemy ships than the Japanese did in the entire strike on Pearl Harbor. Yet the acts of heroism are not on the ship, but rather on its crew.
“They called us ‘the ghost ship’ because we always came back,” said Ray Stone, who served on the Intrepid from 1943 to 1945. It was his job to watch the radar, track enemy planes, and help direct U.S. planes to intercept enemies.
“Nobody wants war, but when you’re in war, you fight to [win]. You don’t mollycoddle,” Stone said.
Like those who served on and below its decks, the Intrepid is now retired—70 years after it began its service in 1943. It resides in Manhattan as a sea, air, and space museum, and serves as a memorial to its 270 crew who gave their lives for the values they upheld.
On May 27, the trumpets and drums of a military band greeted many of the veterans who had served on the Intrepid, as they joined a Memorial Day celebration.
“The Intrepid is an inspiration to us all, to all of us who know it’s brilliant story—a monumental example of the selfless sacrifice of all those in uniform who have served our country, lived its values, earned our freedoms,” said Lieutenant General David Huntoon, superintendent of the West Point U.S. Military Academy.
“They do this for us, they do this for their country, they do this because like millions before them, and like so many of you, they answered a higher calling to preserve our liberty and that of others,” Huntoon said.
The message sent by the speakers and by the veterans who attended was to remember that the values and freedoms enjoyed today were hard-won. It was military that freed America from British rule, that freed the world from fascism and tyranny during World War II, and that helped stop the spread of communism.
Clark Simmons, a Navy veteran and a survivor of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, said that as an African American and a veteran, he faced segregation, and fought for the liberties that many people today take for granted.
Simmons served from 1939 to 1945 then reenlisted until 1963. He said he often looks at young people, “and they don’t know what this country was like before 2001 and 9/11, and they don’t know the freedom that we have.”
After speeches finished, wreathes were thrown into the ocean in honor of the men and women who gave their lives in the armed forces. Veterans then gathered and unfurled a massive flag. A solitary trumpet played “Taps,” a song for military funerals.
For most people, Memorial Day is a day to pay respect to the armed forces, but for many veterans, it’s a day to remember their friends who never came home.
Major General Juan Ayala, inspector general of the Marine Corps, said Memorial Day is always a humbling experience.
Having served in the military for 34 years in deployments around the world, he served four tours in Iraq, and has lost many friends.
“I was glad to hear everybody mention the fact that we’re honoring the fallen from all the wars,” Ayala said.
“It’s a chance for me to remember those who didn’t come back from my deployments, and it’s not a good feeling,” he said. “But you’ve got to remember them.”
He said, “It’s a time you just really reflect.”