Original plank owner of the USS Enterprise gets to relive memories on last sail

Posted at 7:21 PM, Nov 05, 2012
and last updated 2012-11-05 19:47:38-05

“I went aboard the Enterprise in 1961,” said retired Chief Petty Officer Bill Falls.

He was a member of the original crew of the Big “E”, one of the men who took it straight from the Newport News shipyard on its maiden voyage.

“We put the first nuclear powered ship into commission,” said Falls. “It’s kind of making me realize that time flies.”

His service on the Enterprise put him at the center of some of the world's most historic naval events.

“All of a sudden we were loading stores. We didn’t know what was going on, and then found out we were going to blockade Cuba,” said Falls. “We were ready for war.”

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51 years later, Falls took yet another trip on the Enterprise, during its last sail into Naval Station Norfolk Sunday.

“I would never have dreamed in a thousand years that I would be riding this thing home,” said Falls.

Over time, many things changed.

“There are lots of TV's on ships today,” said Falls. “We also didn’t have women aboard the ship in 1961.”

Still many things stayed the same, like the mess hall and the food.

Falls was only one of two "Plank Owners" or original crew members aboard the Big “E's” last leg from Naval Station Mayport back to Hampton Roads.

“It’s a privilege to say ‘Hey, I put that ship in commission,’ and more of a privilege when you go and say, ‘I’m going to put it out,’” said Falls.

With the ship set to be scrapped, Falls wanted to take a little something to remember her by.

“When a plank owner leaves a ship, in the old days, they gave them a plank,” said Falls.

With no wood aboard the steel ship, Falls took a coffee cup instead, from the Chief Petty Officer’s quarters.

“I don’t think the chief would mind,” said Falls.

The official Inactivation ceremony is set for December 1st, where Falls hopes to see more of his original crew members.

It’s the last time the public will see the Big “E” in all her glory.

“It’s a little sad they are going to cut it up and do away with it,” said Falls. “But we got ships coming behind it that’s going to take her place. It’s just the way things are. You get old, and got to move aside and let the new come in…trust me, I know.”