Watson attending Enterprise deactivationPublished 4:07pm Friday, October 12, 2012
A Niles man who teaches at Southwestern Michigan College is looking forward to attending the deactivation of America’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
Tannis Watson said the U.S.S. Enterprise, which he served aboard twice, is “about the size of Buchanan,” carrying a crew of 4,600.
Its flight deck spans 4.5 acres. At 1,123 feet, it is the longest naval vessel in the world and cost more than $451 million.
It will be deactivated Dec. 1 at the U.S. Naval Station in Norfolk, Va., after a record 51 years of service. Twelve thousand are expected to attend.
Watson said the Enterprise, nicknamed the “starship,” a la “Star Trek,” for the number of admirals it produced, has a “glorious name” and gave him a feeling unlike other vessels on which he served during his 20-year career.
CVN-65 is the eighth ship to bear the name Enterprise. Her immediate predecessor, CV-6, was the most decorated carrier of World War II and saw action in most of its major engagements.
Watson, a Nebraska native and an adjunct instructor in the SMC School of Business, was assigned to Attack Squadron 146 aboard Enterprise in 1968, making a combat deployment to Vietnam in 1969.
That cruise was marred by a serious fire and series of explosions on the flight deck as the ship conducted live ammunition exercises off the coast of Hawaii.
Then-Ensign Watson was on deck when the first blast occurred. He remained on deck, off-loading bombs and ammunition from aircraft. He later manned fire hose teams until all flames were doused.
The toll was terrible, with 27 crewmen killed, several hundred injured and 14 planes destroyed.
The ship limped to Pearl Harbor for repairs over the next two months. Then Enterprise continued on to Vietnam.
Watson returned to Enterprise in 1973 assigned to the weapons department as an ordnance-handling officer. He also stood bridge watches and qualified as an officer of the deck and surface warfare officer.
During that tour Enterprise returned to Gulf of Tonkin. During that cruise in 1974-75, F-14 Tomcats made their first fleet deployment.
Enterprise also participated in evacuating U.S. personnel and Vietnamese nationals who worked for the United States from the embassy in Saigon.
Returning from that cruise, Watson was able to fly his two sons, Tannis II and Perris, then 12 and 10, to Hawaii. They rode the ship back to San Francisco in one of the Navy’s first “Tiger Cruise” operations.
Watson said he received an invitation to the deactivation ceremony on board Enterprise in Norfolk Dec. 1. He plans to attend with his son, Tannis II, of Marshall.
Two other ships he served on became museums in Charleston, S.C., and in California, but reactors make Enterprise’s fate more complicated.
He said the ship, built in Newport News, will be towed to Puget Sound, Wash.
Though born in Nebraska, Watson grew up in Long Beach, Calif.
He came to Niles about 12 years ago.
Tannis said his unusual name is of Scandinavian origin. He was named for a banker his mother knew in Nebraska, where he met his wife, Jeanne.