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On April 29th, 1975 the North Vietnamese launched their final offensive against the South Vietnamese. The United States and South Vietnamese were quickly loosing. US Ambassador Graham Martin ordered the evacuation known as Operation Frequent Wind.
In 19 hours, 81 helicopters carried 1,000 Americans and 6,000 Vietnamese to the aircraft carriers offshore. The USS Midway aircraft carrier took on over 3,000 of those refugees.
Stories like these remind us some that the US Military does more than just fight wars.
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The USS Midway was decommissioned in 1992 as one of the longest-serving aircraft carriers. Now has a permanent home in the San Diego Harbor off Navy Pier. It has been transformed into a museum, giving everyone the opportunity to step on board.
Today, stepping on deck amongst the 1.4 million annual visitors every, you can imagine what life aboard was like.
The sound of the thunderous blades of a Navy Helicopter going overhead from the neighboring base add to the excitement. Veteran Midway Sailors can be found sharing their stories about their time aboard the ship.
On top, over 30 different aircraft line the flight deck. They range from fighter pilots to rescue helicopters. They even have the Helo 66, the helicopter responsible for recovering 5 of the Apollo Space capsules.
The USS Midway Museum gives you the opportunity to sit in the cockpit of some of these aircraft.
On board, you can act out the roles of some of the different crewmember duties. Inside, you can sit behind the controls and check the radar, or even sit in an actual simulator.
Down below decks, it’s a little calmer without the heat of the sun beating down. This is where the crew called home. To the guests that now visit it in the thousands each day, finding new areas of the ship to explore below decks is an adventure.
Without the training that our service members have, it’s nothing more than a maze to us. Visitors have the opportunity to visit the mess hall, dentist, mailroom, and living quarters. Here are some tips for your visit to the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier San Diego.
Visiting the USS Midway and Tips
Parking Near the USS Midway
You can also park right on the pier in front of the Midway. If there isn’t space there, check out the Fisherman’s Pire. It’s a little further of a walk, but this is the best spot to be in to photograph the Air Craft Carrier.
It’s also where the giant statue is of the sailor kissing a nurse can be found.
If both those locations are filled, don’t worry, San Diego has public parking all over. Expect to pay around $10-20 for the lots. There is also metered parking for around $1 an hour.
Photo courtesy of USS Midway Museum
Tickets and Discounts
Arrive either early and get in line, or get your tickets ahead of time and arrive about 10 minutes after they open. Even before they open, there are massive lines forming for both those wishing to purchase tickets and those that had printed up their tickets ahead of time.
Ticket prices are anywhere from free to $23 per person. They have different prices for adults, seniors, students, retired military, and more. Check out their website for all the details.
The other option is to get a Go City Card. This pass is a great deal. You can purchase a pass for the exact number of days you want to do attractions.
If you plan in outright, you can save yourself a lot of money using this pass. But you may need a few days poolside to recover.
Self Guided Audio Tour of the USS Midway
The self guided audio tour of the USS Midway is available in English, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, German, and French. Instead of forcing you to go to certain points of interest in order, you create your own tour. When you find an audio icon, you put your controller up to it and press play. You’ll find firsthand accounts from the brave men that worked on the ship.
The tour will take 2-4 hours to hit up all the points of interest. For families, they have a Green Icon. Visiting all the spots will take 2-3hrs.
The only downside to the tour is you have a bunch of individuals running around with speakers up to their ears. To avoid this, bring a pair of earbuds to plugin.
The audio guides are only available for ages 6 and up. If you have a younger child, bring an earphone splitter so you can both listen.
Volunteers and Dockets
Do not leave the ship without visiting with one of the 800 different volunteers and Dockets. They are on every level of the ship and can answer just about any question you have about the ship and will sometimes tell you more than you need.
They are former navy and some have even served on USS Midway already.
Junior Aviator Wings
Kids have an opportunity to earn their Junior Pilots wings. By completing a scavenger hunt, designed to get them to learn more about the ship, they will earn their wings.
It’s a fun way to get them interested in learning and talking to the other Dockets aboard the ship. The program is best suited for those 7 and older.
What to see first on the USS Midway?
If you are interested in stepping foot on the bridge, go directly to it when you first get on board. This line fills up incredibly fast and you’ll often see waiting lines of an hour to see it.
If this doesn’t interest you, start in the hanger area, then move to the top deck before it gets too hot out. Then cool off by going and exploring the lower section.
Some of the best features were the climb aboard aircraft and getting to see the helicopter that picked up the Apollo 13 crew.
If you have limited mobility, know that only 60% of the ship can accommodate you. Down below the decks, things get a little crazy and when you see a set of stairs, there is no telling how many more you will find. If you go down, you will likely have to go back up again.
When you go down to the engine room, make sure to take a look at the waterline markers painted on the wall. You have just gone below sea level!
When they say, plan to spend 2-4 hours on board, they mean it. Prepare your young kids by having a snack or stop in the galley to fill up their bellies. You’re on the water, so don’t forget the sunblock. The USS Midway Museum is part of a collection of over 20 different US Navy Museum Ships and one you don’t want to miss.
Would I go back?
Yes, I would love to spend some more time onboard, preferably on a cooler day. To some, the USS Midway is nothing more than another Aircraft Carrier.
To others it represents freedom and sacrifice, to those 3,000 people it picked up that day, it is a symbol of hope.
As a daughter of a Navy Veteran, I think visiting these ships are important. While I have never served on one, I have the deepest respect for everyone that serves.
It’s no wonder this is one of the most visited places in San Diego and is the most visited decommissioned aircraft carrier. Another cool set of ships to bard are the two ships on Seawolf Park in Galveston TX.