U.S.S. Kitty Hawk begins her final voyage

The decommissioned U.S.S. Kitty Hawk left Bremerton, Washington on foggy morning of Jan. 16, 2022. [Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Heather Wamsley]

The U.S.S. Kitty Hawk has started her final voyage.

The last oil-powered aircraft carrier in the fleet before being decommissioned 13 years ago, the “Battle Cat” (although she went by another, more colorful moniker with many of her crews) departed Naval Base Kitsap in Bremerton, Washington last weekend on a journey that will take her the long way around the Western Hemisphere to a ship-breaker in Brownsville, Texas.

Because the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk is so large, at over 280 feet wide and more than 1,000 feet long, to traverse the Panama Canal, she will make its final journey to Texas via the Strait of Magellan.

The trip around the Americas will be roughly 16,000 miles and take over 130 days to complete. The towing company will use three separate crews over the entire journey.

When the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk entered retirement, the ship’s crew and personnel from the Naval Historical Center dismantled the ship’s Welcome Room, and collected artifacts from her distinguished years of service.

Some of the artifacts were shipped to the Outer Banks and are on display in Kitty Hawk’s Town Hall.

USS Kitty Hawk Ship’s Crest – The ship’s crest, measuring approximately 43 X 49 inches, is part of a photographic display in the Town Council chamber at Town Hall. [courtesy KittyHawkNC.gov]
This plaque, which formerly welcomed visitors and crew aboard USS Kitty Hawk, now welcomes citizens and employees to the reception area of Kitty Hawk Town Hall. [courtesy KittyHawkNC.gov]

Only two ships in the U.S. Navy have carried the name U.S.S. Kitty Hawk. The first was the civilian ship SS Seatrain New York, which was acquired by the Navy, renamed, and converted into an aircraft transport ship during World War II. It was decommissioned and given back to its original owners in 1946.

The keel of the carrier U.S.S. Kitty Hawk was laid in Camden, New Jersey, in December 1956, and was launched into the Delaware River in May 1960 and commissioned the following year at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. She was one of just three Kitty Hawk-class carriers made.

Following shakedown cruises out of Naval Station Norfolk, the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk would spend the next 48 years in the Pacific Theater, including six tours in Vietnam. She was the first aircraft carrier ever to be awarded a Presidential Unit Citation. The award, the unit equivalent of the Navy Cross, was presented by President Lyndon B. Johnson on Dec. 20, 1968, to the ship and Carrier Air Wing 11.

She was officially decommissioned in May 2009, and has sat at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard awaiting her fate. Multiple efforts were launched to preserve the ship in one way or another, but never came to pass.