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The USS Hornet
The USS Hornet CV-12 is the eighth US ship to carry the Hornet name. The first was commissioned in 1775 and battled the British in the Revolutionary war. The second Hornet commissioned in 1805 gained fame in America's battle against the Barbary Pirates and landed Marines on the shores of Tripoli. The seventh Hornet (CV-8) launched 16 Army B-25s to strike the Japanese home islands in one of the most daring raids in the history of warfare, the "Doolittle Raid". She went on to fight at the Battle of Midway and was lost to an overwhelming air attack at the Battle of Santa Cruz.
The eighth USS Hornet, the one currently docked in Alameda, was commissioned in 1943 at the height of the war in the Pacific. She quickly became one of the most highly decorated ships in the Navy. She destroyed 1,410 Japanese aircraft and destroyed or damaged 1,269,710 tons of enemy shipping. Ten Hornet pilots attained "Ace in a Day" status. She supported nearly every Pacific amphibious landing after March 1944 and struck the critical first hits in sinking the super battleship Yamato. Her pilots are also credited with the first strikes against Tokyo since the 1942 Doolittle Raid. During the cold war the Hornet had the honor of recovering astronauts from both the Apollo 11 and 12 missions.
Her impressive record did not come without cost. An aircraft carrier, in times of war or peace, is a dangerous place. Sailors have walked into aircraft's spinning props, been sucked into their air intakes, and blown off deck by their exhaust. Dropped ordnance has exploded, burning and maiming sailors. Snapping flight arrest cables are known to have decapitated at least three men on the USS Hornet. All told, in her 27 years of active service, more than 300 people lost their lives aboard ship. The majority claimed during combat, others from these horrendous shipboard accidents, still others from suicide. The USS Hornet has the dubious honor for having the highest suicide rate in the Navy.
It is, perhaps, the Hornet's tragedy soaked history that has caused it to become America's most haunted ship. Crew and visitor alike have reported an amazing number of strange incidents, sightings, and sounds. Doors opening and closing by themselves, tools that vanish only to reappear after a long search, objects that move across floors or fall off shelves without reason, spectral sailors that move through the ship as if carrying out orders from another age, toilets that flush themselves, eerie presences felt, and feelings of being grabbed or pushed when no one is around.
For the December 2000 issue of Naval History Magazine, Lily MacKenzie interviewed several people associated with the ship. One of them was an electrician named Derek Lyon-McKeil. Lyon-McKeil, originally skeptical of ghosts and the paranormal, described an incident that occurred during fleet week in 1995 when "five or six" volunteers were staying aboard the ship:
"We'd all just bunked down, and we had a rule. No exploring. All of a sudden, I heard this banging noise like someone was opening the hatches who shouldn't have been. Peter Clayton, our supervisor, came charging around, saying, "Okay, who's sneaking around opening hatches?" We realized that everyone in the group was there. As we were all standing there staring at each other, we heard it again. At that point, we were pretty secure. It couldn't have been anyone who'd gotten aboard."
Another member of that same group, Keith LaDue, had another encounter several years later while painting atop a scissor lift.
"I was like at 28 feet, stretched to the maximum. I was up there until about 8:30 at night, and I was by myself on the ship.
I wanted to finish the section I was working on before I left. When I had still about two to three gallons of paint left in my machine, I started hearing voices, aircraft crews talking shop talk, dropping tools, and working on airplanes, talking about the airplanes they were working on, and parts, and home.
I thought, 'Wait a minute, come on guys, I'm almost done for the night. Can you let me finish? Let me get down from here. This is really starting to spook me.' And it stopped."
The experiences of Lyon-McKeil and LaDue are not isolated incidents. A San Jose Mercury News article by Dana Hull describes a gathering of more than 200 that turned out on the ship to hear from a local psychic, Aann Golemac of Alameda. Nearly 40 people, many self-proclaimed skeptics, described similar experiences. One of them, Alan McKean, said:
"I'm not a true believer in all of that stuff. But I saw what I saw. One day I saw an officer in khakis descending the ladder to the next deck. I followed him and he was gone. I have no explanation for it."
Golemac describes the spirits of the Hornet as cohesive and positive, and they are making themselves known because they want the restoration work to continue and they want their stories to be told.
Our visit to the USS Hornet was largely uneventful but there were several parts of the ship below decks where we did get a very uneasy feeling. We ventured into one section of crew quarters that was lit only indirectly by a red light at the end of a corridor. This generally would mean that you weren't supposed to be there but I took a few steps in just to get a feeling for the place.
The Hauntmistress, being the consummate chicken that she is, would not go in. The room was cold. Not necessarily abnormally cold as the ship is made of steel and it was a cool day but enough that you would notice it was cooler than other parts of the ship we had come through. It was also quiet. Again, not something you would generally notice but with a ship full of visitors walking about it stood out in my mind.
While I stood there in the near darkness soaking up the atmosphere and trying to see what was in this room I got the strong feeling that I wasn't alone. That same type of feeling you get when somebody gets inside your personal space. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up and I got goose pimples on my forearms. I got the strong impression that somebody, something was moving toward me or perhaps circling around me. I backed up toward the hatch I came through and stepped out. The Hauntmistress grabbed me and pulled me away as she started to get nervous.
Like I said, it was uneventful, nothing actually happened but a very odd experience in that one part of the ship. Imagination? Probably, but that's what makes it fun.
Whether you believe in ghosts or not the USS Hornet is a proud reminder of our nation's heritage and worth a visit for this alone. Who knows, maybe you'll be counted among the lucky ranks of those that the ghosts of the Grey Lady reveal themselves to.
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