Veterans Column: Midway Museum in San Diego, a Floating Ship Museum with a Storied History

By Don Irelan, Son of a WWII Navy Veteran, Brother of a Retired Navy Captain, and GCVF Volunteer

Denny Irelan is a retired Naval captain and current docent at the Midway Museum in San Diego. Photo courtesy of Don Irelan.

USS Midway Museum, berthed in San Diego Bay, is an aircraft carrier museum. Midway was named for the Battle of Midway June 1942 of World War II that turned the tide of war between the United States and the Empire of Japan.

I prepared this Midway column as a volunteer on behalf of Gold Coast Veterans Foundation, although my effort was facilitated with great interest and substantial help by my brother, retired Navy Capt. Dennis W. Irelan, whose career spanned 29 years in the U.S. Navy.

Denny was deployed as a Navy pilot on board Midway from 1981 to 1984, during which he logged 360 catapult launches or takeoffs and return carrier-arrested landings. He presently volunteers to share information with visitors as a docent aboard Midway.

Commissioned in September 1945, just days after WWII, Midway was the largest ship in the world for 10 years. She served the U.S. Navy in the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea until its transfer to the Pacific Ocean in the early 1950s.

In 1973, after duty during the Vietnam War, she was assigned a new homeport at Yokosuka, Japan, to become the forward deployed naval force aircraft carrier for the United States.

In recognition of Midway’s service and historical significance, many San Diego community leaders, with support by members of the nonprofit Midway Foundation, the team members waged a 12-year-long campaign to raise charitable donations necessary to return Midway to San Diego.

In 1991, Midway served as the flag ship in the Persian Gulf, and after Desert Storm, she returned to the United States with orders by the Navy to be decommissioned in 1992 at San Diego — after 47 years of service. Once retired, Midway was towed to the U.S. Navy’s Inactive Ships Maintenance Facility at Bremerton, Washington.

After the California Coastal Commission approved the positioning of Midway in San Diego Bay, she reopened as a museum on June 7, 2004. Presently, Midway is one of the most renowned, economically viable and visited floating ship museums in the United States, averaging about 1.3 million visitors a year.

Features of Midway Museum include self-guided audio tours and volunteers assigned to carry out various narrations at many locations around the ship, such as flight deck and hangar bay stops and to identify and discuss the operations of the more than 30 museum aircraft on board Midway.

Docent-led tours are also offered, ranging from below-deck engine rooms, squadron ready rooms, the air boss primary flight control, the navigation office space and the captain’s navigation bridge.

More than 500 docent volunteers are available to help tell the story of Midway’s history, operations, crew responsibilities and safety requirements. Augmenting the story-telling docents are videos and animatronic human-like figures that instruct museum guests, especially civilian visitors who are not familiar with Navy vessels.

Some of the more interesting Midway docent presentations describe the onboard flight operations — specifically, catapult launches and carrier-arrested landing systems and procedures for fixed-wing aircraft.

When Midway was commissioned as an operational aircraft carrier, she normally embarked with about 69 aircraft, conducted about 80 flights per day during daytime and nighttime flight operations, with a crew of about 4,500 officers and crew.

Like all U.S. Navy aircraft carriers, she represented the United States wherever she was assigned for duty by the National Command Authority and Naval Commanders. Remaining in international waters, except during foreign port visits, a normal deployment from homeport lasted six months.

During at-sea deployments, Midway maintained readiness to conduct offensive and defensive missions that were aligned with U.S. national interests, such as power projection, close-air support to ground troops, freedom of navigation by ships and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations and peace-time presence.

All U.S. Navy aircraft carriers are normally accompanied during deployments by other naval force ships — cruisers, destroyers, combat logistic force ships (food, fuel oil and ammunition resupply ships) — to form a carrier strike force.

Historically, the USS Langley, in service from March 1922 until February 1942 was the first U.S. Navy aircraft carrier and the USS Gerald R. Ford is the newest aircraft carrier. Today’s U.S. Navy aircraft carrier force consists of 11 aircraft carriers.

USS Midway served actively from Sept. 10, 1945, until April 11, 1992, and became the San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum to preserve its historical legacy and to showcase enduring American freedom, strength and resolve.

For information about Midway Museum, visit

Source: VC Star article from July 4, 2021