USS KITTY HAWK, At Sea (NNS) -- USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63), currently the Navy's only permanently forward-deployed aircraft carrier, turned 43 years old April 29, with an under way cake-cutting ceremony to celebrate the beginning of another year in the life of America's oldest active Navy ship.
"Kitty Hawk has now served under nine presidents," said Capt. Thomas Parker, Kitty Hawk's commanding officer, as he cut the ship's birthday cake in the aft mess decks. "Construction started on it when Eisenhower was president and concluded when Kennedy was president."
Parker also pointed out that Kitty Hawk has had 32 commanding officers, including himself, and had conducted 373,157 successful aircraft traps at the time of the ceremony.
"The ship is like a fine wine; it doesn't get older, it gets better," he said.
Standing alongside Parker as he cut the cake were 10 Kitty Hawk Sailors who shared the same birthday as the ship, April 29, some of whom said they felt great pride at being honored guests at the ceremony.
"I also first arrived in Japan on this day, so it's pretty cool," said Operations Specialist 3rd Class James Maley, of operations department.
"It fills me with pride to have the same birthday as Kitty Hawk," said Aviation Support Equipment Technician 3rd Class Cristino Doctolero, of aircraft intermediate maintenance department (AIMD).
Kitty Hawk was commissioned at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard April 29, 1961. It is the second U.S. Navy ship named after the town near which Orville and Wilbur Wright flew the first-ever successful, controlled, powered aircraft Dec. 17, 1903. Kitty Hawk's original homeport was San Diego.
Since then, Kitty Hawk has participated in operations around international hotspots, such as Vietnam, Korea, the Persian Gulf, the Balkans, Afghanistan and most recently, the war in Iraq.
Kitty Hawk took over the mantle of being America's only permanently forward-deployed aircraft carrier in 1998 from USS Independence (CV 62), which was decommissioned that year. Also in 1998, Kitty Hawk joined with Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5 and arrived at its new operating location of Yokosuka, Japan.
After returning May 6 from service in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Kitty Hawk entered an extensive maintenance and dry-dock period that concluded Oct. 17. The ship soon resumed its role cruising the western Pacific Ocean and is currently conducting operations during its Spring 2004 under way period.
Some Kitty Hawk and CVW-5 leaders said that despite its age, the ship is still in the prime of its life.
"The ship's a year younger than me, but it's still looking pretty good," said Senior Chief Photographer's Mate (AW) Jerry McLain, Kitty Hawk mess caterer for the chief petty officer's mess.
Kitty Hawk can continue to play a vital role as long as it has to, said McLain.
"It all depends on the time and resources put in to maintain it, but we already have proven that this crew provides great manpower," he said.
Kitty Hawk's performance supporting the global war on terrorism confirms that it's still a powerhouse, said CVW-5 Command Master Chief (SW/AW) Kenneth Green.
"Kitty Hawk has been in some of the hottest spots in the world recently, and it has performed fine," said Green. "It's still a great ship going strong."
Rear Adm. Jamie Kelly, commander of the Kitty Hawk Strike Group, said Kitty Hawk's crew should continue to take good care of their ship, providing it with tender loving care.
"The greatest crew in the fleet is giving it that care," he said.
For more information on USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63), visit the Battle Cat's Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cv63.