The keel for the third KITTY HAWK-class attack aircraft carrier was laid on 9 January 1961 at Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, Newport News, Va. She was named "America", the third Navy ship so honored, on 10 January 1962. Christened by Mrs. Catherine T. McDonald, wife of the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral David L. McDonald, the ship was launched on 1 February 1964. Eleven months later, on 23 January 1965, she was commissioned as the nation's 16th active attack carrier, Captain Lawrence Heyworth, Jr., in command.
Following fitting out, USS AMERICA was underway on 25 March from her home port of Norfolk, Va. for local operations off the Virginia Capes. She conducted her first catapult launch and arrested landing on 5 April when her executive officer, Commander Kenneth B. Austin, piloted an A-4C Skyhawk of Attack Squadron 76. A two-month shakedown cruise to the Caribbean with her assigned carrier attack air wing (CVW-6) followed. After post-shakedown availability and further training cruises off the Virginia Capes and to Bermuda, AMERICA departed for an uneventful seven-month maiden Mediterranean Sea deployment with the Sixth Fleet at the end of November 1965.
November 1966 found AMERICA conducting initial carrier qualification trials off the Virginia Capes for the new A-7A Corsair II. After conducting final training exercises and her crew enjoying the holidays at home, AMERICA set sail for the Mediterranean in January 1967. Added for the first time aboard a CVA was an Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) capability when a detachment from Helicopter ASW Squadron 9 was assigned.
What appeared to be a routine deployment changed in April when a military coup ended parliamentary rule in Greece, and as flagship of a special operations task force, AMERICA steamed to standby for possible evacuation of American citizens caught up the turmoil. Fortunately violence never materialized, and the task force was not called upon to act. Later, in late May, when evidence indicated that a crisis was brewing in the Middle East, America, along with SARATOGA (CV 60), headed once again for the Sea of Crete.
On the morning of 5 June while AMERICA was refueling with the fleet oiler TRUCKEE (AO 147), word came that the Arabs and Israelis were at war. That afternoon, the crew conducted a general quarters drill and at its conclusion, remained on condition three alert, an advanced state of defensive readiness. Three days later, shortly after 1400 hours (2:00P.M.) local time, a brief message was received from the technical research ship LIBERTY (AGTR 5) that she was under attack. Not being aware of who had attacked LIBERTY, or her exact location, the task force in short order readied an armed response, and both carriers launched aircraft. When word was received via Tel Aviv that the attackers had been Israelis, and the attack had been made in error, the aircraft outbound toward LIBERTY’s now known location in international waters were recalled.
The attack on LIBERTY claimed the lives of 34 men, with 75 wounded. One of AMERICA’s medical officers and two corpsmen were dispatched to help treat the wounded, and at 1030 hours on 9 June two ship's helicopters began transferring the seriously wounded to the carrier. An hour later, about 350 miles southeast of Souda Bay, Crete, AMERICA rendezvoused with the badly damaged LIBERTY. The following day, a memorial service was conducted on the flight deck to pay honor to the LIBERTY crew.
Following additional training exercises and visits to ports in Turkey, Greece and Italy, AMERICA concluded her eight and one-half month second deployment on 20 September. A shipyard availability period which lasted until the first of 1968 included the modifications necessary to operate the A-7A Corsair II, A-6A Intruder and F-4J model Phantom II aircraft.
Three months of refresher training periods ended in April when AMERICA stood-out of Hampton Roads, eastward bound for Yankee Station and her first tour of duty with the Seventh Fleet off Vietnam. On 30 May she arrived on station via the Cape of Good Hope and at 0630 hours the following day, the first aircraft launched in anger against an enemy left her decks. During 112 days on station AMERICA’s aircraft pounded roads, bridges and other strategic targets, attempting to impede the flow of men and war materials south. The F-4J Phantom II air crew of pilot Lieutenant Roy Cash, Jr. and radar intercept officer (RIO) Lieutenant (jg) Joseph E. Kain, Jr. from Fighter Squadron (VF) 33 would shoot down a MiG-21 on 10 July to highlight the second line period for the ship's first MiG kill of the war. Heading home eastward via Cape Horn, AMERICA’s crew reflected on the high cost of her first combat cruise, as CVW-6 lost ten men to enemy action, five killed-in-action (KIA) and five prisoners-of-war (POW), with two never to return. AMERICA and embarked CVW-6 would be awarded the Navy Unit Commendation (NUC) for their efforts. Her around the world cruise ended at Norfolk in December.
1969 was spent in overhaul and preparing for her next deployment. Highlights were carrier suitability tests of the U.S. Air Force U-2R conducted between 21-23 November and future CNO Captain Thomas B. Hayward assuming command on 20 December as AMERICA’s fifth skipper. Training continued until April 1970, when once again AMERICA headed eastward for another combat deployment off Vietnam. For this trip west coast-based CVW-9 was aboard, and would introduce the A-7E model Corsair II into combat. Despite prevailing immoderate weather during 100 days of combat operations on Yankee Station, there were no combat aircraft losses or fatalities. Repeating her course from 1968, AMERICA completed her second consecutive world cruise after eight and one-half months when she returned to Norfolk in December.
An uneventful third Mediterranean deployment with her third air wing, CVW-8, was the highlight for 1971. Reflecting the toll being placed on Naval Aviation by the Vietnam War, AMERICA had aboard a borrowed U.S. Marine Corps F-4J Phantom II squadron (VMFA-333) in addition to a detachment put together from the east coast F-4 Phantom II fleet readiness squadron, VF-101.
Scheduled for another Mediterranean cruise in July 1972, AMERICA instead found herself deploying one month early to Southeast Asia for a third time as a result of the Easter offensive by North Vietnam. CVW-8 would have aboard the new electronic counter-measure (ECM) EA-6B Prowler aircraft belonging to Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 132 for its first combat deployment. On 2 June, three days before sailing, CNO Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt came aboard AMERICA and addressed the crew, explaining the reason for the change in orders. Combat operations commenced on 14 July in support of Republic of Vietnam troops in Military Regions One and Two. However a ruptured main feed pump on 24 July prompted AMERICA to return early to Subic Bay, Philippines for repairs. Combat operations resumed on 10 August in support of Operation Linebacker.
Until the cease-fire ending U.S. combat operations in Vietnam took effect on 28 January 1973, AMERICA and the other carriers ranged off the coast of Vietnam, conducting strike operations in support of troops and targeting strategic targets throughout North Vietnam. Highlights for AMERICA was the destruction of a MiG-21 by the VMFA-333 crew of pilot Major Lee T. Lasseter and RIO Captain John D. Cummings on 11 September 1972. Plus the destruction on 6 October of the Thanh Hoa Bridge, a major objective since the bombing of the North had begun years before, by VA-82's commanding officer, Commander Donald M. Sumner, and Lieutenant (jg) James N. Brister with four 2,000-pounders.
Finally, one month following the cease-fire, AMERICA ceased aerial operations and pointed her brow westward, toward home. There again had been a cost in lives, as CVW-8 lost four KIAs and two POWs; with one to die in captivity. The long grueling, 292-day deployment finally ended on 24 March at pier 12, Norfolk. This would be her longest cruise. AMERICA spent the remainder of 1973 preparing for her next deployment, and was highlighted by a most significant milestone in the life of a carrier; her 100,000th arrested landing being recorded on 29 August by her carrier-on-board (COD) aircraft. The aircrew was Lieutenant Commanders Lewis R. Newby and Ronnie B. Baker.
AMERICA was off to the Mediterranean for her seventh deployment in January 1974 and it would be uneventful until near the end of the cruise, in mid-July. She was held in Rota, Spain, awaiting the arrival of INDEPENDENCE (CV 62), her relief, due to clashes on Cyprus by Greek and Turkish forces. Finally on 28 July, AMERICA commenced her homeward voyage, reaching Norfolk on 3 August. The following month she sailed for the North Sea, to participate in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) exercise Northern Merger. The makeup of CVW-8 was most unusual for this five-week cruise, as it contained squadrons temporarily on loan from three other air wings. This would require Carrier Air Early Warning Squadron 126 of CVW-17 to cross deck from FORRESTAL (CV 59) in early September and VF-103 of CVW-3 to cross deck to SARATOGA at the end of September to rejoin her air wing. Joining for the complete cruise was CVW-11's VF-213 from the west coast.
AMERICA underwent a major overhaul from November 1974 to September 1975, during which she was configured to operate the new fighter
The assassination of the U.S. ambassador, Francis E. Meloy, and Economic Counsellor Robert O. Waring on 13 June prompted the start of evacuations a week later. The carrier supported Fluid Drive until 2 August. Multiple port visits and training exercises were the norm for the remaining portion of her stay in the Mediterranean. Norfolk was reached on 25 October.
Seemingly always the on-duty carrier, AMERICA was back in the Mediterranean in support of national policy from September 1977 to April 1978 and March to September 1979. Both deployments were uneventful, and for the second time AMERICA had aboard for a west coast-based air wing, CVW-11, in 1979. Before entering the Norfolk Naval Shipyard on 6 November for her most extensive overhaul since commissioning, she conducted initial carrier suitability trails for the new strike fighter
Ready once again by April 1981, AMERICA and CVW-11, again pointed her brow eastward for the Mediterranean. On 6 May she became the first U.S. Navy carrier to transit the Suez Canal since INTREPID (CVS-11) had done so in June 1967, shortly before the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War. Operations in the Indian Ocean as part of the Seventh Fleet were conducted until 21 October, at which time she commenced northward transit of the Suez Canal. This transit proved more tense however due to the 6 October assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. AMERICA departed the Mediterranean on 2 November and was home ten days later.
AMERICA welcomed her final air wing, CVW-1, aboard during 1982 and in August departed for an eleven-week cruise which ranged from the North Atlantic and Mediterranean for NATO exercises, and finally the Caribbean for her operational readiness evaluation. Departing Norfolk in December, AMERICA set sail again for the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean on her thirteenth extended deployment. Reflecting a shortage of ECM assets, she sailed without an assigned VAQ squadron. For the first month of her cruise AMERICA operated in the eastern end of the Mediterranean in support of the Multinational Peace-keeping Force in strife-torn Lebanon. For her February to May 1983 period in the Indian Ocean AMERICA borrowed VAQ-136 from CVW-5 off MIDWAY (CV 41). Norfolk was reached in early June to complete the deployment.
Following the usual routine of restricted availability and workups, AMERICA departed Norfolk on 24 April 1984 and swung southward to participate in exercise Ocean Venture and a port visit to Caracas, Venezuela. Departing on 9 May she headed for duty with the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean and Seventh Fleet in the Indian Ocean. AMERICA was home to Norfolk on 14 November.
Highlights for 1985 was the participation in a seven-week NATO exercise named Ocean Safari commencing in August. On 4 September she began the transit of the North Atlantic toward Vestfjord, Norway, where she became the first U.S. carrier to conduct flight operations inside a Norwegian fjord. Meanwhile, events were unfolding within the Mediterranean area which would call upon the services of American carriers to implement national policy. On 7 January 1986 President Reagan ordered all American citizens out of Libya and broke off all remaining ties between the two nations. He also directed the dispatch of a second carrier battle group (CVBG) to the Mediterranean. The Joint Chiefs of Staff were instructed to begin looking into possible military actions against Libya, highly suspected of terrorist activity.
AMERICA departed Norfolk in March, one month earlier than planned, and arrived on station to join CORAL SEA (CV 43) and SARATOGA in time to participate in the third phase of Operation Attain Document, a serious of freedom of navigation (FON) exercises in the Gulf of Sidra. These were international waters, but were claimed by Libya. Periodically since 1973 the Sixth Fleet had conducted FON exercises in the Gulf without incident. This time it would be different.
On 24 March Libya launched two surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) toward
After successful attacks against targets in Banghazi and Tripoli, all carrier-based aircraft returned safely. The remainder of the deployment was more routine, and AMERICA, without having operated in the Indian Ocean for the first time in five years, was home to Norfolk in September. A NUC was awarded AMERICA and CVW-1 for achievements off Libya.
AMERICA commenced a fifteen-month comprehensive overhaul in November. It would be her longest overhaul during her career and modifications would allow her to operate the
On 2 August 1990, the day AMERICA departed the Norfolk Naval Shipyard following a four-month Selected Restricted Availability, Iraq invaded Kuwait. As the international community geared toward possible military action against Iraq, AMERICA and CVW-1 rushed toward a much accelerated deployment schedule. On 28 December, just over four months after her SRA and having jammed a five-month training cycle into two, AMERICA deployed to Southwest Asia in support of Operation Desert Shield. On 9 January 1991 she transited the Straits of Gibraltar and sailed into the Mediterranean. Less than a week later, on 15 January, she passed through the Suez Canal and into the Red Sea on the U.N.-imposed deadline for Iraq's unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait. At 0200 hours on 17 January Operation Desert Shield became Operation Desert Storm.
As part of Battle Force Red Sea, which also included carriers SARATOGA and JOHN F. KENNEDY (CV 67), AMERICA’s CVW-1 initially provided combat air patrol coverage over the battle force. Two days later AMERICA launched its first air strike of the war, targeting and destroying an ammunition depot north of Baghdad. In the next day's darkness, CVW-1 flew its first night strike of the war. The receiving end was an oil production facility. Strikes of up to five hours into Iraq against bridges, mobile Scud sites, oil production facilities and Republican Guard units continued for three weeks, when the focus of the air war changed.
On 14 February AMERICA entered the Persian Gulf to become the fourth carrier of Battle Force Zulu. Joining MIDWAY, RANGER (CV 61) and THEODORE ROOSEVELT (CVN 71) strikes were flown into the Kuwait Theater of Operations (KTO), with attacks on Iraqi military forces in Kuwait proper, as well as targets in eastern Iraq. This would make AMERICA the only carrier to operate on both sides of the Arabian Peninsula during Desert Storm. History was made of 20 February when the embarked Maulers of ASW squadron VS-32 in their
AMERICA departed the Persian Gulf on 4 March, with CVW-1 having conducted 3,008 combat sorties, dropped over 2,000 tons of ordnance and suffered no aircraft losses during the war. The Red Sea coastal town of Hurghada, Egypt would be AMERICA's only port visit from 16-22 March, following 78 consecutive days at sea. After passing through the Suez Canal and exiting the Mediterranean, AMERICA reached Norfolk on 18 April. She and CVW-1 earned a NUC, a third for AMERICA, for service during Desert Storm. After a short stay home, and participating in New York City's Operation Welcome Home festivities, AMERICA and CVW-1 once again headed for the Northern Atlantic to participate in NATO Exercise North Star. Departing Norfolk in August for eight weeks, she became the first carrier to pass into Havesfjord, Norway. Less then two months later AMERICA departed on 2 December for her second deployment of the year. This uneventful six-month cruise would see AMERICA return to the Persian Gulf, and thus become the first carrier to redeploy to the region following the Gulf War. Exercises would also place her in the Indian Ocean and Red Sea, as well as the Mediterranean, before returning to Norfolk in June 1992.
After a well deserved leave period, AMERICA underwent repairs from July to December at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. After sea trials, January thru July 1993 were spent with training exercises in preparation for her upcoming third deployment within three years. She was underway in August for the Mediterranean.
Reflecting the changing role being tested by the Navy following the end of the Cold War, AMERICA sailed with some 235 Marines and their four
AMERICA arrived on station 26 August to begin operations in the Adriatic Sea in support of NATO/UN Operations Deny Flight (no-fly zone over Bosnia), as well as Provide Promise (food drops) and Sharp Guard (maritime blockade). On 27 October, while still in the Adriatic Sea, AMERICA was ordered to transit the Suez Canal and proceed to the coast of Somalia as the situation in that country continued to deteriorate. Arriving on 4 November, she supported U.S.-backed UN forces engaged in Operation Continue Hope until departing 30 days later. As she passed northward through the Red Sea toward the Suez Canal, the ship and CVW-1 provided support for the no-fly zone over southern Iraq, Operation Southern Watch. Following the holidays, AMERICA spent one week on station again in the Adriatic before departing on 14 January 1994. She was home to Norfolk in early February. Reflecting the continuing down-sizing of the Navy following the Cold War, the return in February 1994 would be the last deployment for two CVW-1 squadrons, VA-85 and VAQ-137. Also, as mandated by Congress, a drawdown to twelve carriers would mean well-worn 29-year old AMERICA would make one more deployment, then be decommissioned. A final five-month restricted availability commenced in April, and following sea trials and carrier qualifications off the Virginia coast, AMERICA docked at Norfolk on 2 September.
On 13 September, less than two weeks after leaving the shipyard, AMERICA was in the Atlantic heading for Haiti in support of Operation Uphold Democracy. As the world focused on the situation in Haiti, AMERICA carried not her normal air wing, but elements of the Joint Special Operations Command and helicopters of the 160th Army Special Aviation Regiment. Arriving at VooDoo Station on 17 September, word was received the next day to execute the planned invasion of Haiti that evening. However 45 minutes after being issued, the order was cancelled by President Clinton.
For the next 30 days, AMERICA experienced possibly the most unique situation in its history. More than 2,000 Army, Air force and Marine Corps special forces troops, and helicopters, melded together. During the ensuing month, 400 sorties were launched with a 96% completion rate. Released on 18 October, AMERICA was back in familiar Norfolk four days later. Following the all too familiar series of workup and training exercises, and a three-day delay due to having put to sea in order to evade Hurricane Felix on 15 August, AMERICA departed for the Mediterranean on 28 August 1995 for her final, eventful deployment. No longer carrying Marines or their helicopters, CVW-1 had been joined by two fixed-wing Marine Corps squadrons.
Rushing to the Adriatic due to the deteriorating situation in Bosnia, AMERICA joined THEODORE ROOSEVELT on 9 September. Both carriers continued air strikes against selected Bosnian Serb positions as part of NATO's Operation Deliberate Force. ROOSEVELT was relieved on 12 September as CVW-1 continued selective strike missions with laser-guided bombs for two more days, at which time NATO declared a moratorium on air strikes.
After dropping over 30 tons of ordnance, no further need of air strikes were called for, and AMERICA continued to patrol the Adriatic in between port visits. Additional responsibilities however required her presence in the Persian Gulf from 25 November to 3 December for duty in support of Southern Watch. Back off Bosnia on 12 December, AMERICA operated in support of NATO's Implementation Force (IFOR) as part of Operations Decisive Endeavor and Decisive Edge for the remainder of her deployment.
Three days out from Norfolk, on 21 February 1996, VS-32's Commander Robert A. Buehn piloted a
On Friday, 9 August 1996, a decommissioning ceremony was held for AMERICA, and her last deck log entry will occur on 30 September 1996 to officially end her active service. AMERICA received eight battle stars for service during the Vietnam and Persian Gulf Wars.