Jerry Enos of Port Charlotte, Fla. loved his time in the U.S. Navy. He signed up at 17 in 1955 when he was still in high school and spent almost 20 years on the decks of some of the Navy’s biggest and fastest ships as an aviation structural mechanic.
The 77-year-old Navy man is proud of a small plaque on the wall of his lanai that reads: “USS Enterprise (CVAN-65) — Plank Owner: USS Enterprise, 25 Mar. ’61, Gerald V. Enos.”
It signifies as a 25-year-old sailor he went aboard the nuclear powered aircraft carrier when she was commissioned in 1961 at Newport News, Va. Enos was also there when the “Big-E,” as she was dubbed, was decommissioned half a century lager in 2011.
The Enterprise was the first and only U.S. nuclear aircraft carrier powered by eight nuclear reactors. She had a flight deck 1,123-feet long, was the largest U.S. Naval ship ever built, weighed 94,871 tons, had a crew of 6,500 and could sail at classified speeds faster than a destroyer, according to Enos. Her actual top speed is still classified even though the carrier was sent to the scrap heap several years ago.
After boot camp at Bainbridge, M.D. it was on to Aviation Preparation School for Enos. Eventually he ended up in a Navy air transportation squadron based in Norfolk, Va.
“After 3 1/2 years in the air transport squadron I left there in 1960 and went aboard my first aircraft carrier, the USS Essex out of Quonset Point, R.I. A few days after I went to sea the plane I had been flying in crashed killing all 28 people on board,” the 77-year-old salt said. “My folks didn’t know I was no longer part of the airplane’s crew, but had been transferred to the Carrier Essex.
“Right after I went aboard the Essex we had a collision at sea and had to return to port for repairs. We didn’t have any serious casualties, but we tore the ship up pretty good. My mother and father didn’t realize I wasn’t in the plane crash, but was aboard the carrier that had run into another ship in the Atlantic. They were relieved to find out I had gone to sea.
“I was at the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961 aboard the Essex. We had just returned from a Mediterranean cruise on the carrier and were told upon arriving back in home port in Quonset Point, R.I. we were headed back out to sea immediately.”
“All we knew was we were headed south into warmer waters. I remember being told to go below and get some paint that would match the eight jet planes we had just taken aboard our ship. We painted out all the markings and the American insignias on the jets. I though that was a little peculiar.
“The next morning the captain got on the ship’s intercom and started telling us, ’You’re no more scared now than when I went into my first battle in World War II.’ All of us aboard ship wondered what in hell was going on. We knew nothing about the Bay of Pigs Invasion run by our CIA in Cuba.
“The next couple of days we launched the eight jets that had no markings and that was that. Then we packed up and headed back to port in Rhode Island. On the return trip the captain told us to button up our lips about what was going on down in Cuba. That was pretty easy for me because I didn’t have a clue.
“When I got back home I read in the newspaper what we had been up to down there. What I learned while I was in port was the Bay of Pigs thing was a disaster for the USA.”
“Aboard the Essex I was a 3rd Class Metalsmith and worked the ship’s flight deck supplying aircraft with electric power to get them started,” Enos explained. “I stayed on the Essex until late 1961 then I was reassigned to the pre-comissioning detail in Norfolk, Va. for the nuclear carrier USS Enterprise. I helped commission the ship.
“He was up on the flight deck during sea trials when the Enterprise first came out of the shipyard. He never found out officially how fast she ran at top speed, but Enos knows for sure she was the fastest big ship in the U.S. Navy.
“The Enterprise was quite a ship,” he observed.
Enos’ second trip into Cuban waters was aboard the Enterprise during the “Cuban Missile Crisis” in October 1962. The Soviets snuck nuclear missiles into Cuba aimed at U.S. cities. They were discovered by American U-2 spy planes on photo reconnaissance missions over the Communist country.
“We were definitely in the driver’s seat this time, not like during the Bay of Pigs debacle,” he said. “Once we sent the fleet down there we had enough fire power to sink Cuba. We had three or four aircraft carriers, several heavy cruisers, lots of destroyers and many more nuclear submarines with their own offensive missiles.”
For 13 days the U.S. and the Soviets were on the brink of nuclear war.
The U.S. blockaded the island. After that, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev withdrew the Russian missiles. When he blinked and took the offensive missiles out of Cuba the U.S. withdrew its blockade of the island nation and the entire incident was defused.
“We went down there to Cuba aboard the Enterprise and 58 days later we were back in port at Quonset Point with the carrier,” Enos explained. “Right after we returned I was reassigned to a heavy attack squadron at the Naval Air Station in Sanford that no longer exists. Shore duty didn’t agree with me and I asked for a transfer.”
Enos was reassigned to a helicopter squadron that was trying to perfect an anti-submarine warfare system to protect the carrier they were flying off of. He and his crew worked for years on the system, but finally gave up in 1967 while serving aboard the carrier USS America.
It was during his time onboard the carrier America he was involved in the “USS Liberty incident.” The Liberty was an American spy ship, attacked by the Israeli Air Force in June 1967 off the coast of Israel during the Six Day War in the Middle East. The Israelis said it was an accident, but many in the U.S. thought otherwise. Some 34 sailors and CIA operatives were killed in the attack and 171 additional crewmen were wounded.
“We transported the wounded aboard the USS Liberty in our Sea King helicopters. We flew them to the carrier for medical treatment.”
By the end of 1968 Enos had shore duty once more. This time he tried something different. He decided to become a Navy recruiter and took a job as a spokesman for the Navy in Cheyenne, Wyo. for the next five years.
“It was great there. I loved being a recruiter and had a ball. When I finished my five years as a recruiter I had one more year left and I went to sea again aboard the carrier USS Kitty Hawk. I was part of Attack Squadron VA-192, “The Golden Dragons” that flew A-7, Corsair jet fighters.”
Enos was 36 when he retired from the Navy. He immediately went back to Cheyenne and went to work as a deputy sheriff and jailer. He also bought a small ranch he ran. After eight years out west he relocated to Fort Myers. He got new job working as a jailer for the Lee County Sheriff’s Department in Fort Myers.
In 1990 he was asked by the sheriff of Monroe County to move to Key West and help him build a new jail down there. He took the position and built a “mega-jail” in the Keys. Seven years later he retired as a colonel in the Monroe County Sheriff Department and was going to call it quits when the lieutenant governor of the Virgin Islands called. He wanted Enos to move to St. Croix and help him run the prison system for the three islands. He spent the next 15 years doing that.
Finally in 2012 he and his second wife, Sue, moved to Port Charlotte where he retired for good. He has three grown daughters from a first marriage: Cheryl, Deborah and Deanna.
“When I was a little kid I wanted to be a sailor, a cowboy or a cop,” Enos recalled. “I went to sea in the Navy, bought a ranch in Cheyenne and spent 30 years working for various law enforcement agencies. It’s been a pretty good life so far.”
Name: Gerald Vincent Enos
D.O.B: 16 Nov. 1938
Hometown: Mansvield, Mass.
Currently: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service: 1955
Discharged: 13 Nov. 1972
Commendations: Good Conduct 2 awards
Battles/Campaigns: Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on April. 18, 2016 and is republished with permission.
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