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USS Midway Museum cruises into its 15th anniversary in record style

The USS Midway Museum is seen in San Diego in June 2011. A welder's spark caused a three-alarm fire on the carrier museum on Wednesday, July 15, 2015.

U.S. NAVY

By PETER ROWE | The San Diego Union Tribune | Published: May 10, 2019

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — For a retired vessel that hasn’t set sail in years, the USS Midway sure gets around.

Preparing to celebrate its 15th anniversary, the waterfront attraction has already logged more than 15 million visitors, including 1.4 million in 2018. What’s the secret to its success?

“In many respects, it is the support of San Diego that has enabled the Midway to be so successful,” said Scott McGaugh, the museum’s marketing director. “It’s a perfect representative of San Diego’s Navy connections.”

Named for the pivotal 1942 duel between U.S. and Japanese aircraft carriers, the Midway was commissioned a month after Japan surrendered, bringing World War II to a close. During its 47 years of active duty, the 1,001-foot-long, 64,000 ton warship completed numerous combat missions in the Vietnam War and 1990’s Operation Desert Storm.

The Midway performed several high-profile evacuations. In 1975, for instance, it rescued thousands of Vietnamese and Americans fleeing Saigon as that city fell to advancing North Vietnamese troops. On that occasion, aircraft were shoved off the flight deck and into the sea to make room for refugees.

In 1991, the Midway became a haven for thousands of U.S. military personnel who had hastily departed Clark Air Base in the Philippines after the Mount Pinatubo volcano erupted.

Decommissioned in 1992, the Midway made its final voyage to San Diego Bay, where it opened as a museum in 2004.

The ship is now the nation’s fifth most popular museum, as measured by the Tripadvisor web site. It also claims to be the world’s most-visited ship museum, boasting members in all 50 states and 24 countries.

Every year, 50,000 students come aboard for science, technology, engineering and math classes. More than 800 volunteers annually log more than 175,000 hours of free labor.

“The vast majority are ex-military, and the vast majority of those people are ex-Navy,” McGaugh said. “But we also have civilians who want to be docents.”

Moored near the south end of Harbor Drive, the retired warship stays active as a venue for private events. Averaging 275 annual rentals, it’s now booked three years in advance.

Tickets, $9 to $22, can be bought at the ship or online at http://www.midway.org. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; no visitors are admitted after 4 p.m.

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