"Big John" finds new home in Naval Yard

March 22, 2008 4:42:07 PM PDT
The aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy has a new home tonight - the Philadelphia Navy Yard. "Big John", as it was called, was quite a spectacle as it was pushed by tugboats under the Commodore Barry Bridge and up the Delaware River today. The JFK was decommissioned last year and left its homeport of Norfolk, Virginia last Monday. This could well be the carrier's last trip.

Ever so slowly, the massive aircraft carrier, the John F. Kennedy, made its way up the Delaware River. The floating airport passed right by Philadelphia International. On the banks, for miles, people came to watch the giant ship pass by.

"It's really quite stunning," said Katie Gowa of the Fairmount section. "The fact that it moves at all really is amazing to me."

The ship measures over 1050 feet long, and once carried a crew of more than 4600 personnel. Construction on the vessel began in 1964. In 1967, 9-year-old Caroline Kennedy christened the ship named for her father. A veteran of 18 deployments to the Mediterranean and Middle East, the ship recorded 260,000 aircraft landings involving virtually every aircraft in the Navy's arsenal.

Rich Johnston served onboard from 1982 to 1986. "It's a lot of good memories. A lot of hard work, but a lot of fun too."

James Cordiano of Robbinsville, New Jersey served as a radar man on the Kennedy's very first crew in 1967. "I think a month didn't go by that the ship wasn't hosting VIP's of some kind: Political, military, religious, whenever we stopped for liberty call somebody would board," Cordiano said.

Today, the ship is a shell. Everything of historical or military significance has been removed. Still, "Big John" was a sight to see as she pulled into the Naval Yard's pier four.

This is not the first time this carrier has come to Philadelphia. The Kennedy docked here back in the mid 1990's to undergo a $600-million revitalization. It was the Naval Yard's last project.