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The Two-Way
9:32 am
Mon March 12, 2012

Aging U.S. Carrier Enterprise Heads For Final Deployment

USS Enterprise, the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, is beginning the last deployment in her storied 50-year career on the frontlines of American sea power.

Known as the "Big E", she was among the vessels dispatched to the waters off Cuba during the October 1962 missile crisis with orders from President Kennedy to enforce an air and sea blockade of the island nation.

Subsequently, Enterprise served in support of the war in Vietnam and played a key role in the evacuation of Saigon in 1975. She was also made famous by the 1986 film Top Gun starring Tom Cruise.

But, five decades of steaming to the world's hotspots has taken its toll on Enterprise, which suffers from such mundane malfunctions as stuck valves and decaying electrical equipment, Capt. William Hamilton, the ship's commander, told Stars and Stripes:

"Something that was working a month ago and you turn it on – you have no idea that something is going to be wrong," he said.

The Enterprise name, by the way, has been associated with several famous vessels through American history, including two during the Revolutionary War and a 12-gun schooner that fought in the Quasi-War with France and later in the First Barbary War.

Another carrier Enterprise, which was at the Battle of Midway in June 1942 and many of the major fights in the Pacific campaign, was the most decorated U.S. ship of World War II. At one point, she was the only functioning U.S. carrier in the Pacific after the Japanese navy had either damaged or destroyed all the others in the early fighting.

And, of course, the name Enterprise resonates with fans of the science fiction franchise Star Trek.

USS Enterprise, CVN-65, will be officially deactivated on Dec. 1.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.