SAN DIEGO (AP) – The menu in one of the USS Midway’s galleys still offers macaroni and cheese, biscuits and gravy and apple cobbler in bright orange letters. It’s a menu left from the Desert Storm era, when the aircraft carrier was decommissioned.

The ship debuted Monday as the San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum, the fifth such museum in the nation. The first major attraction to open in San Diego in decades, it’s expected to draw about 400,000 visitors annually.

“Many of the exhibits focus around the theme of Midway being a ‘City at Sea,”‘ said museum spokesman Scott McGaugh. “With a crew of 4,500, anything you find in a small town was aboard the Midway: surgeons, dentists, radio station, TV station, a jail, judge, law enforcement, daily newspaper, and a waterworks that produced a quarter of a million gallons of fresh water every day.”

Getting the Midway cleaned and readied for its debut as a museum cost $8 million. It took 12 years of planning and a small army of volunteers and workmen to get the carrier out of mothballs in Washington state.

The Midway, launched in 1945, was showing signs of neglect after tours of duty in Vietnam and in Desert Storm.

“It needed a paint job in the worst way. It had bird droppings on the flight deck and patches of moss growing on the front of the flight deck,” said Alan Uke, whose vision it was to bring the ship to San Diego.

Crews have been working seven days a week since the carrier was towed to its new home at Navy Pier in January. Additional access routes were added to the carrier’s labyrinth of ladders and more than a decade’s worth of dust and grime was scrubbed away.

Eight aircraft that flew off aircraft carriers, including an F-14 Tomcat and an F4 Phantom, were brought on board.

Visitors will be able to walk on the four-acre flight deck, sit in the captain’s chair in the bridge, peer into the surprisingly spartan captain’s at-sea cabin and imagine themselves sleeping in one of the ship’s cramped berths. Also open are one of the ship’s galleys, a machine shop, and an on-board post office.

“Most people have never been on a warship. It is totally different from a commercial vessel. It is totally utilitarian and a really difficult environment,” Uke said.

San Diego is the home port of the carriers USS Nimitz and USS John C. Stennis, but the public has not had access to active duty ships.

A recorded audio guide, included with admission, tells visitors about 30 different spots on the ship and has interviews with sailors who lived and worked aboard the ship. At certain stations volunteers, many of whom served on the ship, will be available to answer questions and tell their own stories.

Organizers hope to open more of the ship’s 2,000 compartments to the public, including the jail and hospital. Eventually, they hope to bring 15 to 20 additional aircraft aboard and to exhibits Midway artifacts like the ship’s newspaper, log books and manuals. In the fall, a sleep-aboard program will be started for children.

Even before the opening, the ship has proved popular. Since January, 350 event planners have inquired about renting the carrier, which will be available for private functions. That doesn’t surprise Reint Reinders, head of the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“The hangar bay – the big bay when you walk into the ship, where aircraft would be stored – it’s the biggest ballroom we have in San Diego,” he said.


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