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NEW YORK — About 300 former crew members of the carrier-turned-museum the USS Intrepid returned to it on Friday to mark the 70th anniversary of its commissioning during the height of World War II.
The Navy veterans served on the aircraft carrier between 1943 and 1974, when it was decommissioned.
The 27,100-ton vessel has been a tourist attraction since it opened as the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum on the West Side of Manhattan in 1982.
World War II veteran Joseph Barry, of Cary, N.C., remembered his first sight of the Intrepid a few weeks before its Aug. 16, 1943, commissioning in Newport News, Va.
“I couldn’t believe anything that big could possibly float,” said Barry, 88.
But he said his commanding officer told him “it would not only float, but she was about to go to sea and win the war.”
The Intrepid took part in several campaigns in the Pacific Ocean Theater and was damaged five times by kamikaze aircraft, museum president Susan Marenoff-Zausner said.
Barry, then a radioman first class, remembered the sound of gunfire from Japanese planes getting closer, first “boom, boom, boom,” then “bang, bang, bang” and finally a rapid “bat-bat-bat-bat-bat.”
“There was no place to hide,” he said. “Just grit your teeth and keep copying transmissions.”
The Intrepid was modernized after the war and became an anti-submarine carrier. It participated in the Vietnam War and was the recovery ship for two space missions.
William Bradler, of Ashtabula, Ohio, joined the Navy in 1959 and served as an aviation machinist on the Intrepid during a European cruise in 1960-61.
Friday was his third time returning to the ship since it became a museum.
“I can relive my youth when I’m up here,” said Bradler, 73. “If I’d just smell that jet fuel and hear those engines I’d be back in 1959 or ‘60.”
The era included some good times when the Intrepid was docked in New York in the early ‘60s. Bradler and his buddies were waved past the line at the city’s hottest nightclub, the Peppermint Lounge.
“We were in our uniforms so they let us go in, and we actually did the twist in the Peppermint Lounge,” he said. “So that was quite a thing.”
Some of the oldest veterans attended the ceremony in wheelchairs, assisted by children and grandchildren.
Daniel Kaszubski, of North Tonawanda, accompanied his 89-year-old father, John Kaszubski, and said he was overcome by emotion at the sight of the Intrepid and the thought of his father’s service.
“It brings tears to my eyes,” he said.