Monterey- Alameda, California-May 7, 2016
Early on Saturday morning Muna and I left Monterey for Alameda,. We had breakfast with Jerry and his wife Sonya. We ate at the Black Bear Restaurant, a down-home chain serving American comfort food all-day long.
Seeing him was great. It had been a long time. We came the awkward good-bye. “Goodbyes are not forever and they aren’t the end. Not good-bye, they simply mean until I see you again.” he said as he shook my hand.
We planned on taking Highway 101 from Monterey to Alameda. We drove through the ups and down of the mountains. We past old Fort Ord on our right, now a university and golf course. On the left, the ocean lay flat, a hundred meters from the road.
The day started out sunny in Monterey but a curtain of gray descended as drove. The blue skies gave away to overcast and fog. A light rain spat on our car.
We ended our two-hour journey in Alameda.
The U.S.S. Hornet
Docked in Alameda is the U.S.S Hornet. The ship was commissioned in 1943 at the height of World War II. The U.S.S Hornet was one of the most decorated ships in the Navy.
The Hornet took part in some of the most important campaigns of the war in the Pacific-the Battle of Midway, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. She was the home to over 3,000 crewmen and aviators.
She served in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. During the Cold War the Hornet supported the recovery of the Apollo 11, the mission when the first humans walked on the moon. The Hornet was decommissioned in 1970.
That’s a lot of history for just one ship. It was one of only 24 Essex-class carriers. The Hornet is huge- it’s 894 long, 192 feet wide and 18 stories tall. In 1998 the aircraft carrier became a museum
We took tours of the Navigation Bridge and Engine Room. The docents giving the tours were wonderful. They touched every bit of history on the ship.
In the Engine Room tour was a real workout! We walked stairs and climbed steep ladders like an obstacle course. We learned an aircraft carrier in times of war or peace, is a dangerous place. We heard stories of sailors walking into the spinning props of planes, being sucked into air intakes and blown off the deck by exhaust.
It was a hands-on tour. The docents loved questions as the tourists interact and learn.
We got a couple of sandwiches from the small café inside Hanger Bay 2.. We ate lunch on the fantail on the flight deck with a sweeping view of San Francisco.
On the Navigation Bridge Tour we got a veteran who served as a Navy Fighter Pilot on the Hornet’s last cruise in Vietnam. He talked about the complexities of naval navigation without using a GPS, something we take for granted today.
The best part were his “sea stories” of night carrier landings – known as traps. He talked about the very special training and talent it takes to do this risky job. There is significant risk to life.
There is almost nothing harder in aviation than the precision of landing on an aircraft carrier. He said he was more scared of making a trap during a sea storm than any of the combat he saw over Vietnam.
He said it was physically and mentally draining. “I remember my first time, looking down at a small boat (the U.S.S. Hornet), a speck in the middle of seemingly boundless blue ocean, leaving a pure white wake behind its 30-knot speed, and thinking what am I doing here!” he said.
He said, “Back in the 1960’s and 70’s crashes were fairly common. Aircraft carriers were smaller, instrument landing systems were not yet devised, and many aircraft were underpowered.”
The docent really brought life aboard the U.S.S. Hornet alive for us. Looking at the cramped living quarters and grim work places of the hardworking crew members tells you this was a tough life.
I didn’t know much about the navy before this trip. After the Hornet, I have nothing but respect for sailors. There is a real love and authenticity about the tour. We saw the steel trays the sailors ate from in the lunchroom and the wool blankets in the sick bay.
As we ate lunch in the background we heard big band classics from the 1940’s being played on the ship’s loud speakers to make you feel like you are in the middle of World War II.
You feel like you step back in time to when this was an active ship. it was a wonderful glimpse into a storied past of a great ship.
Jack London Square
Back in the day Alameda bay had ramshackle wooden wharves worked by lawless men. Now Jack London Square has trim, little yachts, sailboats and ferries. The lights shine on the water, San Francisco looks close enough to swim too.
When we got to the square on late Saturday afternoon, it was celebrating the writer’s legacy. This square is a central point in the life of Jack London, 2016 is the 140th anniversary of London’s birth and the 100th anniversary of his death.
In 1886, ten-year old London moved to Oakland with his family. He led a rough-and-ready life. As a young man he worked menial jobs. He escaped into the world of books that captured his imagination and opened his mind to new ideas and learning.
He heard colorful yarns from hard-drinking sailors and risk-taking pirates at Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon. He spent a year in the frozen Yukon that provided more inspirations for some of his best known work like “Call of the Wild.”
London produced over fifty volumes of essays, short stories and newspaper reports. In 1916, he died at the age of 40.
The historic waterfront has been reinvented. It has a public market, restaurants and a lively atmosphere. After dinner at an Italian restaurant, Muna and I headed to our hotel exhausted by a fun day.
We flew home to Indiana at 6am the next morning.