Local resident trying to help preserve a ‘supercarrier’
Ryan Summerlin March 6, 2014
About the USS John F. Kennedy
Propulsion: Conventional engines.
Speed: 35 mph (and more).
Length: 1,051 feet.
Area of flight deck: 4.56 acres.
Crew size: 5,000-plus.
To learn more: Go to www.ussjfkri.org
EAGLE — Men who serve on ships can get attached to them. That’s why Kevin Allen is trying to help turn one of the country’s “supercarriers” into a floating museum.
Allen — who you may know as the owner of High Country Computer Services — was a fresh-faced volunteer in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1982. His first posting — the first time he’d been away from home, really — was a two-year stint on the USS John F. Kennedy, part of the country’s aircraft carrier fleet.
There are Marines on most U.S. Navy ships, serving as security and, at times, an honor guard for those who die at sea. Even in peacetime, the flight deck of an aircraft carrier is a dangerous place, and Allen several times put on his dress uniform to pay last respects to a sailor who died in the line of duty.
Class Of One
Allen made some lifelong friends on the Kennedy — that will happen during a two-year tour. He also gained a strong bond to the ship itself, partly because it was his first experience as a Marine, and partly because the Kennedy is literally in a class of one among the nation’s aircraft carriers.
Built between 1964 and 1968, the Kennedy was originally supposed to be nuclear-powered. Instead, the Kennedy ended up with conventional engines and turbines. Bigger than the conventionally-powered “Kitty Hawk” carriers, but with no reactors in her belly, the Kennedy was the only one of her kind, and the last carrier to run without nuclear power.
That makes the Kennedy a prime candidate for restoration, and it is the only carrier of its size that can still be saved. The reason is that nuclear-powered carriers have to be carefully decommissioned. The nuclear reactors, installed as the ships are built, can only be removed by cutting a ship apart, which makes them essentially useless for anything but scrap steel.
The Kennedy — known as “Big John” to those who sailed on her — can be preserved. And, since it is less than a decade out of service, time hasn’t yet had its way with the ship.
Preserving ‘Big John’
Allen said there were plans to turn the Kennedy into a museum almost as soon as it left active duty. A group in Florida tried but failed to raise the necessary money. That’s when the Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame stepped in.
As a Kennedy veteran, Allen said he’d followed the ship’s history through its decommissioning, hoping that someone, somewhere, could preserve the massive carrier.
“When (the Rhode Island group) announced their plans, my hand was already in the air to help,” he said.
Allen said as a nonprofit group with an established history, this group has a good chance to make the plan work. And it’s an ambitious plan that includes a vintage aircraft museum, education and even flight-deck concerts. According to a letter to supporters, the Kennedy could even play a role in disaster relief if needed.
Making all that happen is going to take donations of time and, of course, money. The museum backers have recruited area representatives, people charged with seeking out other veterans who served on the Kennedy to help fulfill this mission. Allen is one of those representatives, and he couldn’t be more enthusiastic about this new call to duty.
“I think it’s a great educational opportunity,” he said. “It’s a very impressive ship — it’s huge.”
And Allen and other museum supporters are all too aware of the do-or-die nature of this mission. Another carrier, the USS Saratoga, is nearly the size of the Kennedy, but time and nature have taken their toll on that ship — it’s beyond saving.
“This is our last shot at this,” Allen said. “If we miss this chance, we’ll never have another one.”