USS Constellation (CV-64)

USS Constellation (CV-64)

USS "Constellation" (CV-64), a "Kitty Hawk"-class supercarrier, was the third ship of the United States Navy to be named in honor of the "new constellation of stars" on the flag of the United States.

The contract to build "Constellation" was awarded to the New York Naval Shipyard, Brooklyn, New York, on 1 July 1956, and her keel was laid down 14 September, 1957 at the New York Navy Yard. She was launched 8 October 1960, sponsored by Mary Herter (wife of Secretary of State Christian Herter.) "Constellation" was heavily damaged by fire while under construction on 19 December 1960,United States Navy. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. [ Constellation III] .] when a forklift moving through the hangar bay pierced a fuel tank.Fact|date=December 2007 Fuel was spilled on welders below decks, igniting a fire which claimed 50 lives and injured 323 shipyard workers. The extensive damage cost 75 million dollars to repair, and delayed the commissioning date by seven months.

"Constellation" was delivered to the Navy 1 October 1961, and commissioned 27 October 1961, with Captain T. J. Walker in command. At that time, she had cost about US$400 million.Fact|date=December 2007 "Constellation" was the last U.S. aircraft carrier (as of 2006) to be built at a yard other than Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Company.



Following fitting out and acceptance trials, "Constellation" departed her home port of Norfolk, Virginia, on 7 February 1962 for initial air operations off the Virginia Capes. She conducted her first catapult launch and arrested landing the same day with Commander George C. Watkins, air group (CVG) 13 commander, at the controls of an A4D-2 Skyhawk of Attack Squadron 34. After a month of operating locally, "Connie" (as the carrier became known) conducted a two-month shakedown cruise in the Caribbean.

In summer 1962, "Constellation" was transferred to the Pacific Fleet and CVG-13 was disestablished. For the two-month trip around Cape Horn to her new home port of San Diego, Calif., Connie embarked elements of CVG-5 and departed Mayport, Fla., on 25 July. In November "Constellation", with CVG-14 on board, commenced workup exercises for her upcoming maiden deployment to the western Pacific as a component of the U.S. Seventh Fleet. The uneventful cruise took place from February to September 1963.

"Constellation"'s second deployment began on 5 May 1964. She relieved "Kitty Hawk" (CVA-63) on station in the Gulf of Tonkin off Vietnam on 8 June, embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 14 (air groups had been redesignated air wings on 20 December 1963) and flew armed photo reconnaissance missions over Laos until 13 July. Following an upkeep period at Subic Bay, R.P., "Constellation" reached Hong Kong for a port visit on 27 July, but within a few days was called back into action.

As a result of orders received during the first day of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident (August 2, 1965), the "Constellation" got underway and headed toward the Gulf of Tonkin. On August 4, the Constellation launched F-4B Phantom IIs to join aircraft from "Ticonderoga" (CVA-14) in providing air cover over the destroyers which were falsely claimed by the Johnson administration to have been attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats. On 5 August both carriers launched air strikes on a North Vietnamese oil facility and naval vessels. CVW-14 lost two aviators, one killed in action (KIA) and the other taken as a prisoner of war (POW). Operations returned to a more normal cycle for the remainder of the deployment, and "Constellation" returned to San Diego, California on 1 February 1965, ending a nearly nine-month cruise. "Connie" and CVW-14 were awarded a Navy Unit Commendation (NUC) for the early August operations.

"Constellation"'s first shipyard period followed, lasting eight months; then workups commenced for her first full-blown war cruise. The carrier, with CVW-15 on board, was underway for operations off Vietnam in May 1966. During 111 days on station, "Constellation"s aircraft pounded roads, bridges and other targets, attempting to impede the flow of men and war materials south. The F-4B aircrew of pilot Lieutenant William M. McGunigan and radar intercept officer Lieutenant (jg) Robert M. Fowler from Fighter Squadron (VF) 161 shot down a MiG-17 fighter jet on 13 July, marking the ship’s first MiG kill of the war. "Connie" returned to San Diego in December after her seven-month combat cruise, having lost 16 aircrewmen and 15 aircraft. Subsequently, both "Constellation" and CVW-15 were awarded a NUC for this deployment.

After a short workup cycle, "Constellation"'s third combat deployment commenced in April 1967. With CVW-14 embarked, the carrier operated first on Dixie Station (a patrol area about 60 miles (100 km) off South Vietnam) with strikes in the Iron Triangle region, and then moved north to Yankee Station (a patrol area about 50 miles (80 km) off North Vietnam) for a total of 121 days on the line. Reflecting the intensive nature of air operations, F-4Bs of VFs 142 and 143 accounted for four MiG kills. The eight-month deployment ended in December, having totaled losses of 16 aircraft and 20 personnel, including 7 KIAs and 8 POWs. Both the carrier and CVW-14 received a NUC.

Returning to Vietnam in May 1968 after six months stateside, the "Constellation"/CVW-14 team was restricted to strikes below the 20th parallel of North Vietnam as a result of a March presidential order. This was followed by a complete halt to strikes over the north on 1 November. "Connie" spent 128 days on the line, flying more than 11,000 combat and support missions and dropping almost 20,000 tons of ordnance. Fifteen aircraft were destroyed, nine due to enemy action. Six aircrew members perished, five were listed as KIAs and three were taken as POWs. The eight-month deployment ended in January 1969.

By August, it was time for "Connie" to return to Vietnam for a fifth combat deployment, again with CVW-14. Following an initial 20-day period of supporting strikes in South Vietnam as well as Laos, "Constellation" sailed to Defender Station in the Sea of Japan, which had been created as a result of increased tensions on the Korean Peninsula. A return to Yankee Station on 1 November also produced a major milestone in the carrier's life when the F-4J aircrew of air wing skipper Cdr. R. K. Billings and Lt. jg. Jeff Taylor of VF-143 conducted "Connie"'s 100,000th arrested landing. During a mission on 28 March 1970, the VF-142 F-4 crew of Lts. Jerome E. Beaulier and Steven J. Barkley downed a North Vietnamese MiG-21 jet fighter. Following a total of 128 days on the line, "Connie"'s nine-month deployment ended in May, with CVW-14 suffering the loss of seven total aircraft, five to enemy action. One aircrewman was taken as a POW, but there were no fatalities.


Upon her return "Constellation" began a nine-month major shipyard overhaul, her second since commissioning. In spring 1971 she welcomed aboard a new air wing, CVW-9, and departed San Diego on 1 October for what would become a historic combat deployment. Air operations commenced with strikes against mainly logistic targets in Laos as well as reconnaissance missions over North Vietnam into 1972. On 19 January, the VF-96 F-4 Phantom crew of Lt. Randall H. "Duke" Cunningham and Ltjg. William P. Driscoll scored a kill against a MiG-21, the first for a Navy aircraft since "Connie"'s VF-142 kill on 28 March 1970. The carrier was nearing the end of her scheduled deployment when her tour was extended to meet the threat posed by the North Vietnamese Easter Offensive of 30 March 1972.

Initial air strikes in support of ground troops were followed by a new, more intensive series of air strikes against major targets in North Vietnam. On 8 May, the same VF-96 aircrew team of Cunningham and Driscoll scored against a MiG-17. Then on 10 May, Cunningham and Driscoll downed three MiG-17s, becoming the first aces of the Vietnam war. Three more MiG-17s were downed by two other VF-96 crews, two by Lts. Michael J. Connelly and Thomas J. Blonski and one by Lt. Steven C. Shoemaker and Ltjg. Keith V. Crenshaw. Adding to the score, VF-92 aircrew Lt. Curt Dose and Lieutenant Commander James McDevitt shot down a MiG-21. All told, "Constellation" fliers shot down seven MiGs on 10 May. The nine-month deployment ended on 1 July, the carrier having spent 154 days off Vietnam. Seven aircraft were lost, two aircrewmen were reported KIA and two became POWs. The "Constellation"/CVW-9 team received the Presidential Unit Citation for their outstanding efforts.

"Constellation" was the focus of unwelcome attention when black members of her crew protested what they saw as disparate treatment by the Navy, leading to what some saw as an abortive mutiny in late 1972. "Constellation" returned to the United States on 1 July and prepared to return to the western Pacific in early 1973. Replacement personnel reported aboard while "Constellation" was in the United States until the ship had 250 more men than the ship's berthing could accommodate. "Constellation"s commanding officer ordered administrative (less than honorable) discharges for five black sailors he considered troublemakers. He planned to give early discharges to another 250 men whose enlistments would expire while "Constellation" was overseas. While "Constellation" was conducting exercises off the California coast, a rumor started that the captain was going to give 250 less than honorable discharges to black sailors. On 1 November, black sailors waylaid a white mess cook in a passageway and broke his jaw. The captain scheduled an open meeting for 2100 3 November to clarify the 250 planned discharges. At noon 3 November a group of 50 black sailors began a sit-in on a portion of the mess deck. On the night of 3-4 November 60 black sailors took control of the scheduled meeting, refused to leave the mess deck, and threatened to "tear up the ship." "Constellation" returned to San Diego on 4 November to offload 130 men, including 12 white sailors, before returning to sea. "Constellation" returned to San Diego on 7 November and the offloaded sailors were transported back to the dock on 9 November, but only 8 boarded their ship. The remaining sailors sat down on the dock to be filmed by television crews and were ultimately transferred to shore stations for mast. Twelve received general discharges, 35 were honorably discharged but not recommended for re-enlistment, and 73 received punishments ranging from loss of pay and reduction in rate to warnings prior to being reassigned to sea duty.Ryan, Paul B., CAPT USN "USS Constellation Flare-up: Was it Mutiny?" "United States Naval Institute Proceedings" January 1976 pp.46-52]

In January 1973, "Constellation" headed back to Southeast Asia. The Paris Peace Accords took effect on 28 January, but CVW-9 aircraft continued to strike targets in Laos until a cease-fire in that country was called on 21 February. Thus "Connie", which had been on station at the beginning of combat operations in Vietnam in 1964, was on station at the end, nine years later. The remainder of the nine-month deployment consisted largely of flights in support of mine-clearing operations in North Vietnam.

Upon her return in October 1973, "Constellation" enjoyed a nine-month workup cycle, and departed in June 1974 for her first peacetime deployment in 10 years. On 23 November, she became the first carrier to enter the Persian Gulf since 1949. The six-month cruise ended on 23 December 1975.

A 14-month major overhaul and upgrade at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Wash., commenced in February 1974, during which "Constellation" was modified to reflect the Navy's new multipurpose air, surface and antisubmarine warfare role for carriers. She was redesignated a CV on 30 June 1975. With the overhaul completed in April 1976, "Connie" could now operate both the new S-3A Viking and F-14A Tomcat. However, the workups uncovered problems, and a 26-day drydocking in late 1976 at Long Beach Naval Shipyard, Calif., was required. The highlight for the remaining workup cycle was participation in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) multinational exercises held in and around the Hawaiian Islands. An uneventful April to November 1977 deployment, "Connie"'s tenth, to the Far East followed.

"Constellation"'s next deployment, from September 1978 to May 1979, was originally scheduled to end in March but was extended due to her sortie into the Indian Ocean in reaction to a political crisis in Yemen. Following a relatively short eight-month turnaround cycle, she was underway again in February 1980. After participating in RIMPAC exercises, "Constellation" steamed westward to the Arabian Sea, where Gonzo Station had been established following the November 1979 takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran, Iran. "Connie" had reached the eastern Indian Ocean when the unsuccessful 24 April 1980 raid to free American hostages took place, and she relieved "Coral Sea" (CV-43) on Gonzo Station on 1 May. This at-sea period would last a record-setting 110 days. The deployment ended in mid-October.


During the 1981 workup cycle President Ronald Reagan visited "Constellation" on 20 August 1981 and proclaimed the carrier "America's Flagship" while presenting the crew a presidential flag and announcing to the crew: "Let friend and foe alike know that America has the muscle to back up its words, and ships like this and men like you are that muscle." [The Public Papers of President Ronald W. Reagan. Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. [ August 20, 1981 - Remarks on Board the U.S.S. Constellation off the Coast of California] .] An uneventful deployment to the western Pacific and Indian Ocean from October 1981 to May 1982 followed. In January 1983, "Constellation" entered the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for a 13-month complex overhaul, during which the ships Terrier missile system was replaced with NATO Sea Sparrow, the Phalanx Close-In Weapon System was added and modifications were made to allow the carrier to operate the new F/A-18A Hornet strike aircraft. "Connie" deployed from February to August 1985 with CVW-14 embarked, marking the first deployment for the F/A-18.

As preparations for a 1987 deployment proceeded, it was announced that "Constellation" had earned the coveted Pacific Fleet Battle Efficiency Award (Battle Efficiency E) for the 18-month period ending on 30 June 1986. During an April to October 1987 deployment, "Connie" conducted air operations in support of Operation Earnest Will, the escorting of re-flagged Kuwaiti tankers in the Persian Gulf as a result of Iranian attacks against international shipping. As a result, the crew of "Constellation" was awarded the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for their service.Fact|date=December 2007

On the morning of 2 August 1988 "Connie" quietly slipped her moorings for a routine two week carrier qualification off the coast of southern California. Things quickly turned out to be anything but routine. The ship had barely cleared the harbor when a JP-5 fuel leak in the uptakes rained down on the One Main Machinery Room and erupted into a full blown conflagration that tore through the uptakes and spread throughout the ship. Explosions rocked the ship and the crew went into General Quarters. Amid explosions and extreme heat, volunteers from the crew entered enclosed spaces to extinguish the fires and preserve the ship. Through the selfless service of her crew, Connie's main fires were extinguished around 21:00 hours at which time Marines from the Marine Detachment served hot dogs to the exhausted crew in the hanger bay.Fact|date=July 2008 To the crew's horror, the fires reflashed and the crew went back into action.Fact|date=July 2008 Into the next day, the crew battled the blaze that had reflashed and continued to threaten the entire ship.Fact|date=July 2008 "Connie" pulled back into North Island on 3 August.

Round-the-clock repairs by the crew assisted by civilian contractors got the ship ready for deployment, on schedule. The "Constellation"/CVW-14 team deployed on 1 December 1988 for the Indian Ocean. Four days out to sea, a Prowler and its four crew members were lost at sea. [] This West-Pac deployment ended six months later at San Diego on 1 June 1989.


With CVW-9 embarked, "Connie" departed San Diego on 12 February 1990 for the East Coast. Following exercises with the air forces of several South American countries while en route and preparations at Norfolk, Va., "Constellation" entered Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, Pa., in July to begin a $800-million, three-year Service Life Extension Program (SLEP). Completed in March 1993, the SLEP was a cross between new construction and a comprehensive overhaul, designed to add 15 years to the carrier's operational life. Among other things, her main, largest steam turbines were replaced, an operation that had never been designed into a ship of this size. The "Constellation" conducted her post-SLEP shakedown with a number of CVW-17 squadrons, and then moored at Mayport, Fla., on 8 April. With CVW-2 assigned, "Connie" departed Mayport on 29 May and conducted exercises with various South American air forces while en route to San Diego, where she arrived on 22 July 1993.

During May–June 1994 "Connie" and CVW-2 participated in RIMPAC exercises, and on 10 November departed San Diego for an extended deployment for the first time in six years. Exercises off Okinawa were followed by a number of exercises off Korea region that had once again become the focus of world attention with the news that North Korea was attempting to develop nuclear weapons. On 11 January 1995, the "Constellation" battle group entered the Persian Gulf to take up station in support of Operation Southern Watch (OSW), enforcing the no-fly zone over southern Iraq. The six-month deployment concluded with her return to San Diego on 10 May. The "Constellation"'s next deployment, from 1 April to 1 October 1997, included a return to the Persian Gulf for OSW activities, now under operational control of the Fifth Fleet. In over 10 weeks of operating in the Gulf, CVW-2 flew more than 4,400 sorties, with well over 1,000 sorties in direct support of OSW.

As "Connie" prepared for her 1999 deployment, tensions were once again rising on the Korean Peninsula following an exchange of gunfire between North and South Korean vessels. The "Constellation" departed San Diego on 18 June 1999 for the Korean Peninsula to monitor the situation. On 28 August, she entered the Persian Gulf and in 10 weeks conducted more than 5,000 sorties and 1,256 OSW sorties. This period was highlighted by air strikes against two Iraqi radar stations and an attempt by VF-2 to engage an Iraqi jet with the long-range Phoenix air-to-air missile on 14 September. CVW-2 aircraft engaged in nine specific ordnance-dropping air strikes while in the Persian Gulf. The battle group departed the Persian Gulf on 5 November, and she arrived home for the holidays on 17 December. At the year's end, "Constellation" was awarded her second Battle Efficiency E as the Pacific Fleet's best carrier for the 12-month reporting period.


"Constellation"'s 20th deployment began on 16 March 2001. She entered the Persian Gulf on 30 April and immediately commenced operations in support of OSW. On 13 May Capt. John W. Miller assumed command as "Connie's" 30th skipper, and her last. She ceased OSW operations on 4 August, having conducted multiple air strikes in response to Iraqi violations of the no-fly zone. "Connie" departed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on 9 September with dependents on board for the traditional Tiger Cruise on the final leg to San Diego. On 11 September "Constellation" was nearly halfway between Pearl Harbor and San Diego when word was received of the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon. Despite discussions about turning the battle group around, the carrier was allowed to complete her regularly scheduled deployment. "Connie" arrived in San Diego on Friday 14 September and celebrated her 40th birthday the next month.

Following an abbreviated turnaround cycle, "Constellation" prepared for her final deployment and the opportunity to fight in the global war on terrorism. She departed on 2 November 2002 and was soon supporting Operation Enduring Freedom; on 17 December she entered the Persian Gulf to begin OSW missions. On 19 March 2003, with two carriers in the eastern Mediterranean and three in the gulf, Operation Iraqi Freedom commenced. "Connie" was designated a night carrier and remained on station throughout the major ground combat phase. She launched more than 1,500 sorties and CVW-2 aircraft delivered over 1.7 million pounds (770,000 kg) of ordnance. While one aircraft was lost in an operational mishap, there were no fatalities.

"Connie" departed the gulf on 17 April and steamed for San Diego for the last time. On 1 June a Sea Control Squadron 38 S-3B Viking crewed by Lt. Hartley Postlethwaite, Ltjg. Arthur Gutting and CO Capt. John W. Miller recorded "Constellation"s 395,710th and final arrested landing. Her 21st and final deployment ended the next day.

After 41 years of commissioned service, the USS "Constellation" was decommissioned at the Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego on 7 August 2003. The ship was towed, beginning 12 September 2003, to the ghost fleet at the Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility, Bremerton, Washington. On 2 December 2003, the ship was stricken (formally removed from the Naval Vessel Register) when Admiral Vern Clark decided against expenditure of maintenance costs. "Constellation" is currently in Reserve Category X, meaning it receives no maintenance or preservation, and only security against fire, flooding, and pilferage is provided. Reserve Category X applies to ships that have been stricken and are awaiting disposal by scrap, sale to foreign countries, as a designated target in a live fire exercise, memorial, or donation, as applicable. [] As of February 2008, "Constellation" is scheduled to be disposed of by dismantling in the next five years, along with USS|Independence|CV-62|6.cite news| url=| last = Peterson| first = Zachary M.| title = Navy sink list includes Forrestal, destroyers| publisher = NavyTimes| date = 2008-02-26| accessdate = 2008-09-07]

"Constellation" was replaced by USS|Ronald Reagan|CVN-76.

See also

* List of aircraft carriers
* List of aircraft carriers of the United States Navy


* Leonard F. Guttridge, "Mutiny: A History of Naval Insurrection," United States Naval Institute Press, 1992, ISBN 0-87021-281-8

External links

* [ An official US Navy USS "Constellation" page]
* [ Official current status of "Constellation"] - NAVSHIPSO (NAVSEA Shipbuilding Support Office)
* [ An unofficial USS "Constellation" webpage]
* [ Maritimequest USS "Constellation" CV-64 Photo Gallery]
* [,-122.652408&spn=0.003389,0.010729&t=k&om=1 Overhead view of the "Constellation" in 'mothballs'] - google maps
* [ USS "Constellation" Association history page]
* [ USS Constellation history at U.S. Carriers]

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