The Voyage of the Big E

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The voyage of the Aircraft Carrier USS Enterprise
January 5, 1988 – July 2, 1989

Lieutenant James Patrick Murphy (that’s me) was one of two Carrier Air Wing Eleven flight surgeons assigned to the USS Enterprise battle group. I was the “attack doc” from Naval Air Station Lemoore California, and my counterpart, Lieutenant Commander Michael Menendez was the “fighter doc” from NAS Miramar California. I was twenty-eight years old, fresh out of training at the Naval Aerospace Medical Institute in Pensacola, and preparing to leave my beautiful wife of two years to deploy with five thousand men for at least six-months.

It’s been 28 years since I made my first journal entry on July 5, 1988.  Incredibly, I managed to write in in it every day… right up until the “Big E” pulled back into homeport Alameda, California on July 2, 1989.

big e journal

Over the next six months, with the help of this recently salvaged musty green three-ring binder, I will recount my journey on board the most powerful nautical vessel mankind has ever known… and by looking back, perhaps chart a course for journeys to come.

Anchors aweigh!

uss enterprise under bridge

January 5, 1988 (0545) It is impossible to describe how I feel right now. I’ve never had to say goodbye and really mean it. It’s a damp dark Alameda morning, which in a way makes is easier… The glad handing and the “How’s it going?”s haven’t begun in earnest yet…only a matter of time.

(2040) Quickly the real world dissipates. It was surreal today. A state of mild shock. No energy on my part. Now is when I really need to understand the “one day at a time” mentality. These people will become my family. There is a sense of “This is really it,” which can be felt in the demeanor of everyone.

I went out on the flight deck and watched the preparations for departure. At 0700 the theme from “Rocky” was played on the 1-MC. We were really leaving. This is one of the few times I’ve really had to suppress my emotions. The best thing I can do, depressed as I am, is just to go to bed early.

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January 6 (1402) The latest key issue revolves around the little refrigerator I mentally beat myself up trying to decide whether or not to buy. It seems the XO (executive officer) has outlawed all stateroom refrigerators. This means that for the first time this cruise I will have to live above the law.

(2134) I was looking our over the sea, watching the flight ops. The ship began a 360-degree turn, slowly, as it does on occasion for no apparent reason (for turning’s sake). The sun was reflecting brilliantly off the ocean and the light, the warm sun, shone in my face and fell across my body. I felt the warmth and at that moment a sense of relief tempered my low-grade depression, and I felt good for the first time since I stepped on the ship. Perhaps it was God’s doing. I’m not sure, but I did feel something at that moment. I felt a sense of relief that this ominous task was finally being done. I’m really doing it. The worry is over. The doing has begun.

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January 7 (1044) We go off Spuds time at 1900 today. “Spuds time” refers to the Pacific time zone. Adele and I each received “Spuds MacKenzie” watches for Christmas. We synchronized them on 4 January, and I have vowed not to change it until I return. So in about eight hours I’ll officially be on “cruise time” from a Spuds standpoint. I’ll take off the watch now, and when I ceremoniously put it back on it will be a happy day.

January 8 (2016) Sometimes I really feel like I’m in a prison. Other times I think I’m lucky to get the chance to have the experience of a lifetime. I ate dinner tonight with three daddies-to-be. When I said I had been thinking about Adele and having a baby, they all laughed and agreed: “Well if she has a baby now it won’t look like you.”

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fod

January 9 (2105) I participated in a FOD (“foreign object debris”) walk down today on the flight deck. I began to feel good about being on the ship (Feeling “good” means merely not feeling “bad”). Then just as quickly I realized how fragile my world really is – how helpless I am to change things back in Hanford (CA) – how impossible it would be for me to come to Adele’s aid.

And just now I’ve realized that I am coming to her aid, and to the aid of millions of others in some way, by being where I am. My job here keeps her free there. It keeps my (unborn) children free – just as my father’s four years in the Navy and his cruises helped keep me free and allowed me to be who I am. Let me not forget. I am always connected. My efforts always count for something.

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January 10 (1144) I was saddened as I pondered the world map that was on the wall of the makeshift chapel (the library, actually). I was saddened because I realized again that I have only been given a tiny slot of time to live in the evolution of time. When I thought about how early explorers (e.g., Christopher Columbus) must have viewed the world, how much it has changed, and how much it will continue to change, it makes me want to be there. Be somewhere. For more of it.

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I was standing on the bow of the ship yesterday. It was cold, damp, and windy. But there was a warm moistness in the air as well. Anyway, I observed how much the Enterprise rocks up and down, side to side, in the water. I must say it is incredulous that anyone even resembling a Viking would have tried to venture out across the sea in, of all things, a wooden boat! And the most amazing thing is that this all happened not too long ago – from a world history sense.

We haven’t even been gone a week yet.

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January 11 (1410) I have just crawled out of my little time machine – a two and one-half hour nap. Fact: the more you sleep, the less time you are on cruise. I had been dreaming when, I guess, another “cat shot” from three feet above my head (i.e., my bunk is situated just below the flight deck) woke me up…but only slightly. I kept on dreaming. In my dream a high school friend, Dale, came to our house, and I heard him tell Adele of a “revelation” he had after reading a book that day. The revelation: “I don’t want to die alone.”

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January 12 (1130) Eat less, sleep more. That’s the slogan for the day. That’s going to be the theme to this cruise. We’re pretty close to Hawaii now. The sky is crystal clear and the sea is deep dark blue – a log flume at Six Flags sort of blue. Shimmering like sapphire.

“Distinguished visitors” are onboard and that means a number of things. That means the food will be better. It means we’ll have a break from all those general quarters drills. It means there may be one or two women on the ship, which means you can’t be a carefree man and run around in your underwear.

Yesterday I got my first letter from Adele, dated January 5th – the day we left port. It made me feel so good. Today, most importantly marks the end of the first week away. Only twenty-five more to go.

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January 13, 1988 (1242) The Beach Doc rides again! I’m taking a helo off to Barbers Point, Hawaii on the island of Oahu, in order to take in a suicidal patient. And bring back as much medical supplies as I can get my grubby little con-man flight surgeon hands on.

sun e

Only fitting that I go to the beach (i.e., any land is considered “beach”) on the very day that the parachute rigger of VA-22 gave me my new nametag sporting the call sign: “Dr. Sun E. Beach.”

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January 14, 1988 (0956) Well, the Beach Doc did NOT ride again. The helicopter did not come out to get us because we were greater than 70 miles off the coast. The “Distinguished Visitors” sure got off with ease though… and the helos that came to pick them up sure didn’t bring any mail.

It’s a belly-aching sort of day. The ship is rocking side to side and I can’t understand why. The sea is as smooth as glass. I went out on the catwalk with my dentist friend, Dick Koo. We marveled at the sea. I’d never seen it so placid, so blue.

The best thing I did yesterday was talk to Seaman _______. The chaplain sent him to me to “evaluate” for depression. I believe he just misses his wife. And, by the way, she laid it on him before he left to the tune of “If you go on that cruise, I won’t be here when you get back.” I managed to talk him into a good mood. I’m not sure how. But I did.

Two days ago I was up on one of my favorite places on the ship – the “Admiral’s bridge.” There’s really not much on the Admiral’s bridge but an exercise bike and a big bay of windows.

adm brige

So I’m up on the Admiral’s bridge where I can usually be alone, but this time there’s this regular looking guy on the exercise bike.  I didn’t recognize him, so I kindly asked him who he was and whether or not he was civilian or military. He kindly told me he was the ADMIRAL (i.e., RADM Glenn). Definitely military. Not a good start for me. But by the time we parted we were the best of friends. I’ve got a way with Admirals.

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Want more? The cruise continues at: http://VoyageoftheBigE.com

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One thought on “The Voyage of the Big E

  1. This is an extremely moving story to me. I have always wondered how our service men and women do it, leave their lives behind and become part of what must be “a completely different world”. Hopefully, through reading your entries as a young flight surgeon, this alien world will open up to me and many others. Thank you so much for sharing this very personal excerpt from your life.

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