The Haunting of the USS Hornet (CV-12)

The Haunting of the USS Hornet (CV-12)

This story was told to me by HTCM(SW) Daniel Morley, while we were both stationed on board the USS Arthur W. Radford. We were sitting topside with several other of our shipmates while cruising through the straits of Gibraltar, 6 June 1998

Master Chief Morley rubbed his chin and said “Pull up a chair and pay attention, because you won’t hear this story again.  Back when most of you were still in grade school, I worked at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington.  That’s where I first set my eyes and foot on the aircraft carrier, USS Hornet (CV-12).  The Hornet had been decommissioned in 1970 and was now in moth balls.  We were assigned to keep up the many ships there, like the Hornet, in case they were ever needed again.  They all just sit there at anchorage, quiet and unmanned.  The Hornet is now a museum in Alameda California and has been called Alameda’s Haunted Aircraft Carrier for quite some time now.  The stories go back quite a while, and I didn’t much believe any of them until I first stepped aboard that ship.”  The Master Chief paused for a puff on his pipe and looked longingly out over the water.

“I guess I need to tell you a bit about the Hornet before you can understand how it became haunted.  The ship I am talking about is the eighth ship to have the name Hornet.  The one just before it, (CV-8) launched 16 Army B-25s to strike Tokyo in one of the most daring raids in the history of warfare, the “Doolittle Raid”.  Anyway, the eighth USS Hornet, the one currently docked in Alameda, was commissioned in 1943 at the height of the war in the Pacific.  She quickly became one of the most highly decorated ships in the Navy.  She destroyed over 1400 Japanese aircraft and destroyed or damaged over a million tons of enemy shipping.  She supported nearly every Pacific amphibious landing after March 1944 and struck the critical first hits in sinking the Japanese super battleship, Yamato.”  Again, the Chief paused.  By the look on his face, you would have thought that he had been aboard it during the Great War.

“The Hornets impressive record didn’t come without cost.  An aircraft carrier, in times of war or peace, is a dangerous place.  Sailors have walked into aircraft’s spinning props, been sucked into their air intakes, and blown off deck by their exhaust.  Dropped ordnance has exploded, burning and maiming sailors. Snapping flight arrest cables are known to have decapitated at least three men on the USS Hornet.  I have been told that in almost three decades of active service, more than 300 people lost their lives aboard that ship.  The majority claimed during combat, others from these horrendous shipboard accidents, still others from suicide. The USS Hornet has the dubious honor for having the highest suicide rate in the Navy.

“I think it’s the ships history of tragedies and death that make it now called America’s most haunted ship. Doors opening and closing by themselves, tools that vanish only to reappear after a long search, objects that move across floors or fall off shelves without reason, spectral sailors that move through the ship as if carrying out orders from another age, toilets that flush themselves, eerie presences felt, and feelings of being grabbed or pushed when no one is around.

“I remember one weekend when I was attached to the Navy Yard maintenance detail, we were assigned to cycle some of the topside vents because of painting we had done earlier that day.  One of the guys who were working with me, Smitty, asked me if I would ever have the nerve to spend the night aboard the ship.  I just smiled and said ‘sure, how about tonight?’  Taking my dare, we agreed to meet back on board around eight that evening.

“After meeting back on board, we decided to sleep in the pilots briefing room, because there was still some light coming in through the hatch.  I’ll have to admit, I was a bit nervous.  It’s hard to lie there, knowing that you are the only people on that huge ship and not get spooked.  Anyway, we decided to go right to sleep.  About three hours later, around eleven thirty, we were awoken by a loud hammering sound, like someone was trying to free a stuck hatch.  I quickly jumped us and yelled ‘Dammit, Smitty! Stop screwing around.’  Just then Smitty, who had been lying right next to me the whole time, said ‘What did I do?’  Then, as we were looking at each other, the banging started again.  That’s when we decided to leave the ship and go home.”

As I looked around, the group had grown.  Now there were almost twenty sailors sitting there, listening to Master Chief Morley’s story.  One of the new guys, Seaman Watts, asked “Master Chief, is that the only thing that happened to you?”  As the Master Chief sat back and puffed longingly at his pipe, he said “No… that’s not the only thing that happened to me aboard the Hornet.

“A couple weeks later, I was painting topside on the flight deck.  I was all the way over by the elevator, but I had left my tool bag over by the main ladder, about fifty yards away.  As I stood up to fetch it, I saw a sailor reaching into the bag and taking something.  Since I was the only person assigned to work on the Hornet that day, I yelled ‘Hey… wait up.’  The sailor looked at me, and then started walking toward the island (control tower).  Just as he opened the hatch and entered the island, I noticed his rating badge was on his right sleeve.  Now, any of you who know your Navy history knows that the Navy hasn’t allowed rating badges on the right sleeve since 1949.  Once I came to the hatch and looked in, there was nothing there but darkness and silence.  Aye… the USS Hornet was indeed haunted, and I’ll never set foot on her again…”  After that, the Master Chief just closed his eyes and reclined, puffing away on his pipe.

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18 thoughts on “The Haunting of the USS Hornet (CV-12)

  1. Those are definitely some great stories for the old veteran to have told. There’s something about a haunting that is extremely appealing. 

    It makes you want to go out and experience these things for yourself. The problem is, after you do experience something otherworldly, the only feeling that you’ll recall is that deep ball twisting in your stomach, telling you to get out as fast as you can! 

    Things like this that can be romanticized, tend to perk our interests in all the wrong places, and neglect the fact that this man was so shaken by these things, he swore to never return. This is a sailor we’re talking about, not someone who would be easily moved.

    Thought provoking- I enjoyed the read! Thanks for posting!

  2. This was a very interesting story about the USS Hornet being haunted.

    I am a ship Builder and to have one of the ships that I’ve built in the past years to succumb to something of this sort would be unsettling. Why is there always a character in some haunting story named Smitty not saying anything bad. I love the story so keep up the good work and stay away from The Haunting of the USS Hornet.

    Thank you again for this wonderful article

    1. Well Quinn, I think there have been Smitty’s all the way back to the Ark.  I am so glad you enjoyed it.  Drop by again sometime…

      Clay

  3. I loved it!

    You are a great writer and your great use of descriptions really made it easy to paint a picture in my mind of what was happening!

    As I was reading this, I though that it would be super cool if they could take a haunted ship like the USS Hornet or a smaller one and make a crazy haunted ship during halloween time! It would be so much fun!

    One thing I didn’t realize though was that people got sucked into fans and propellers on ships…that would be a terrbile way to die…

    Thanks for bringing some great reading!

    All the Best,

    Chris

  4. I don’t know what to make out of this story…scary? frustrating? But one thing was certain. This story got me hooked until the very end.

    Master Chief must have been a  very courageous man, to accept to return to the hornet alone and work, following the very first experience he had when he decided to spend the night on that haunted ship. Hmmmm This brief story could set the ground work for a series of horror movies about the Hornet. What about, ”She’s A Hero And A Curse”.

    I’m no fan of horror movies, and even though horror movies are mostly fictional, it’s even more scary that this real life story is horrifying for me. 

    But the writing style created room for a lot of suspense that made the reading very enjoyable, and I actually enjoyed the read.

    1. You know, I don’t do the horror movies either.  I just love the sea and the stories that come from it.  Thanks for stopping by today…

      Clay

  5. What a great story Clay!  

    You had me captivated from start to finish!  From all the facts that you have mentioned here about the USS Hornet, and with all the accidental deaths and suicides, no wonder it is still haunted by lost souls! It must have been something else for your Master Chief to live to see all those ghosts!  What I really liked is that the way you wrote the story, I could almost hear him telling it, while smoking his pipe!  

    I am bookmarking your website to read more of those exciting stories!

    Denis

  6. Hi

    Wow I am amazed i thought these things only happened in films.  I am not surprised that most if not all of these deaths are reported differently to how it actually happened.

    This was such an interesting read that I read it twice to make sure i was not mistake.  The right sleeve rating badge thing must have really shaken him. WOW.

    Thank you for sharing this part of the story today.  I know there must be more.

    Jennifer

  7. Nice, narrative writing style. Thumbs up. I’m neither very interested in ships, nor novels, but your little story of the haunted USS Hornet was very exciting, diverting and entertaining to me. I especially liked the fact, that there was a clear central theme and just professional writing. I’m sure many bloggers would benefit from getting some writing tips from you.   

    If you could give just one advice, what would it be? 

    1. Hi Felix… I would say, stay with your passion.  I love ships and history, so stories like this are easy and fun to write.  Thanks for dropping by…

      Clay

  8. Thank you for sharing with us interesting heroic memories. I was excited by the lively form of the story conveyed in this article. The craft was called a Gray Ghost, it was the most formidable in the battles of the Second World War.

    The Ship That Picked Up the Apollo 11 Astronauts.  The US Ship Hornet was on hand 40 years ago to pick up the Apollo 11 astronauts after their Columbia Command Module splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24, 1969. 

    Today, the aircraft carrier is preserved as a museum in  Alameda, California. Great post. Success.

    1. Thank you, Mark, for adding some great history to this story.  I love ships, and I really would have loved to cruise the seven sea’s on this beautiful lady.  I will soon have more stories, so come back and visit again!

      Clay

  9. Wow! It is creepy. It’s an excellent story, I liked it a lot. Great imagination and concatenation of ideas. The truth is I do not know what to say, it’s excellent.

    The language you used is impeccable, without being gimmicky or in disuse, the words are common, those from every day; perfectly understandable by anyone … even an Spanish speaker like me 😉

    About the mysterious people around… where I am living I have been feeling the presence of someone that lived here before. He was a smoker, I smell the cigar, always at the same time he used to smoke: early in the morning or after 5 in the afternoon ☹ but I am not afraid… I think.

    I didn’t know him, but his widow tells me about his smoking habits. After reading your story I am scared 🙁

    1. Hi Maria,  I really enjoyed my time in the Navy, and these sea stories were always a lot of fun.  I am not too sure how true they are, but they are fun!  Thanks for checking out my story page.

      Clay

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