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.