NORFOLK, Va. -- The world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier was retired from active service on Saturday, temporarily reducing the number of carriers in the U.S. fleet to 10 until 2015.
The USS Enterprise ended its notable 51-year career during a ceremony at its home port at Naval Station Norfolk, where thousands of former crew members, shipbuilders and their families lined a pier to bid farewell to one of the most decorated ships in the Navy.
"It'll be a special memory. I've missed the Enterprise since every day I walked off of it," said Kirk McDonnell, a former interior communications electrician aboard the ship from 1983 to 1987 who now lives in Highmore, S.D.
The Enterprise was the largest ship in the world at the time it was built, inheriting the nickname "Big E" from a famed World War II aircraft carrier. It didn't have to carry conventional fuel tanks for propulsion, allowing it to carry twice as much aircraft fuel and ordnance as conventional carriers at the time.
Every other aircraft carrier in the U.S. fleet is now nuclear-powered, though they have two nuclear reactors each compared with the Enterprise's eight. The Enterprise was the only carrier of its class ever built.
It was designed to last only 25 years but underwent a series of upgrades to extend its life, making it the oldest active combat vessel in the fleet.
The ship served in every major conflict since participating in a blockade during the Cuban Missile Crisis, helping earn its motto of "We are Legend."