Monday, October 6, 2008

Sibling Vapidity

Last Thursday, USS Intrepid, one of the United States Navy’s most decorated aircraft carriers, returned to the Manhattan pier she has called home for a quarter-century, after a two-year, $120 million renovation in nearby Staten Island. Intrepid—seen here steaming toward something exciting—saw action in six major battles of the Pacific war, as well as in Korea and Vietnam. She also twice served as a recovery ship for NASA astronauts. Since 1982, she has served as the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, one of New York City's most popular tourist attractions.

Yet, whereas Intrepid has one of the most distinguished careers of all aircraft carriers, little remembered is her sister ship, USS Insipid, owner of a stultifyingly boring and pointless history.

According to Jane’s Bickering Ships:

USS Insipid (CV-0) is surely the United States Navy’s most banal warship. Her keel laid down in autumn 1941 by wholly disinterested shipbuilders, she sailed from one end of the Pacific to the other without once encountering the enemy. Sighs of boredom from her exasperated crew could be heard aboard screening vessels more than a thousand yards away, and she soon came to be known throughout the fleet as "Dull Hull." By March 1945, even the Japanese Imperial Navy deemed her too jejune to seek out and directed their kamikaze pilots to target more interesting vessels. At war’s conclusion, she docked in San Francisco Harbor to scattered yawns.

Boatswain's Mate J.W. Chouinard and Betsy with
nothing to do in the Tasman Sea, 1944.

The third ship in the US Navy's history to bear the name Insipid, she inherited a pallid legacy. The original Insipid, a frigate that fruitlessly patrolled the Mid-Atlantic coast during the War of 1812, was taken out of service when her jaded crew contracted narcolepsy. Her successor, a Union gunboat, ran aground in 1864 due to "dreadful ennui."

Insipid's colorless career continued until 1962, when the Chief of Naval Operations recalled that she was still part of the fleet and, deciding that the ensuing paperwork would be more stimulating than giving Insipid another assignment, ordered her decommissioned. Capt. Theodore Purvis, tears of monotony streaming down his face, gushed, "Thank god that's over with..." Her 20-year ship's log, now displayed behind some empty boxes in a closet of the United States Navy Museum, contained no entries.

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