With 59 warships ported along its shores, San Diego has a rich naval history that draws visitors from across the United States and beyond. In pride of place is the USS Midway, the biggest and longest-serving 20th century aircraft carrier, which became a military museum in 1992.
The USS Midway attracts more than 1 million visitors each year.
More than 100 United States naval ships have been converted into museums. Notably, the USS Midway is the first to draw over a million visitors annually. The museum collaborates with organizations such as the Armed Services YMCA, American Red Cross, and Girl Scouts to ensure strong attendance.
The USS Midway regularly receives national visibility as a filming location for several primetime television programs, including American Idol and Monday Night Football. Its flight deck staged the televised San Diego State and Syracuse college basketball game.
The USS Midway is named after the Battle of Midway.
The US Navy commissioned the ship following the historic victory in the Battle of Midway. This decisive naval battle was preceded by the Japanese attack in Pearl Harbor some months earlier. Thanks to Allied advancements in code-breaking, the United States pre-empted Japan’s attempted ambush in the Battle of Midway.
This enabled the United States to counteract and effectively obliterate the Japanese Navy. The Battle of Midway was a decisive victory in the Pacific campaign. It marked a turning point in World War II, placing America and the Allies in an offensive position.
The USS Midway took 17 months to build. Commissioned on September 10, 1945, the aircraft carrier missed World War II service by one week.
The USS Midway held the record of world’s biggest ship until 1955.
The USS Midway was almost a third bigger than the largest of its contemporaries. It dwarfed its opponents in terms of size, armament, firepower and personnel. The ship also housed an unprecedented flight wing, featuring more than 100 aircraft and populated by more than 4,500 crew.
The USS Midway played an integral part in the evolution of naval warfare.
The ship was sent to the sub-Arctic in 1946, the first of its kind to visit the region in midwinter. Returning the following year, the USS Midway became the only ship to launch a V-2 rocket captured from the Germans.
The mission’s success marked the dawn of a new era in warfare with the advent of the naval missile. Two years later, the US Navy launched a large patrol plane capable of deploying atomic bombs in a demonstration of US military power. This marked a turning point in the Cold War.
The USS Midway was deployed in the Vietnam War.
The ship staged aerial attacks against North Vietnam in 1965. Aircraft deployed from the USS Midway shot down three MiGs, culminating in the first air kill of the conflict, though a total of 17 Midway aircraft were subsequently lost to enemy fire.
During the fall of Saigon in 1975, the Midway played a pivotal role in Operation Frequent Wind. The ship served as a floating base for squadrons of large US Air Force helicopters that evacuated more than 3,000 refugees from the fallen city.
The USS Midway was deployed to the Persian Gulf during the Gulf War, following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The USS Midway served as the US flagship in Operation Desert Storm, launching over 3,000 combat missions but acquiring no losses.
The US Navy decommissioned the USS Midway on April 11, 1992.
It holds the record as the longest-serving 20th century aircraft carrier. The ship remained in storage in Washington until 2003, when the Midway was donated to San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum, a non-profit organization. The USS Midway Museum opened its doors to the public in 2004.
Today, visitors flock to the USS Midway Museum.
The USS Midway is docked beside San Diego’s North Harbor Drive, with ample parking nearby. The museum opens to the public from 10am to 5pm every day, closing only on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
Visitors can venture below the decks of this city at sea, gaining an authentic taste of life onboard. They can climb into the ship’s narrow bunks, visit the floating hospital ward, or receive a guided tour around the USS Midway’s massive engine room. Thus, they can experience the sights, sounds, and smells aboard this symbol of American freedom.
The Hanger Deck is home to the Combat Information Center and Battle of Midway Theater. Here, visitors can use interactive displays recounting the Battle of Midway, including a carefully restored SBD Dauntless dive bomber aircraft and F4F Wildcat fighter.
Flight Deck exhibits include the Midway Airwing, featuring 26 aircraft, including helicopters, attack aircraft, and jet fighters. Visitors can enter the ship’s bridge, where the superstructure is steered and the Captain oversees flight operations.
The facility offers concessions for students, seniors, and retired military personnel. It also offers free entry to children aged 5 years and younger. The attraction features almost 10 acres of displays and exhibits, including more than 30 restored aircraft, taking visitors on an unforgettable journey through military history.