Want to see America’s military might up close? From New York to Hawaii, retired battleships and aircraft carriers give the public a peek into the lives of the men and women who lived, fought and died aboard them.
Check out some of the biggest battleships and aircraft carriers open to the public around the U.S.:
1. USS Hornet, San Francisco Bay area
A registered state and national historic landmark, the USS Hornet opened as a museum in 1998. The aircraft carrier was under heavy attack 59 times during World War II, but it was never hit by a single bomb, torpedo or kamikaze. The Hornet is famous for recovering Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins after their mission to the moon, and it contains the largest collection of Apollo space mission artifacts along the West Coast. It also houses a Flight Simulator movie theater to give visitors the sensation of flight.
2. USS Midway, San Diego
America’s longest-serving aircraft carrier in the 20th century, the USS Midway shot down MiGs in North Vietnam in 1965 and played a key role in the Cold War and Operation Desert Storm. Visitors will find 29 restored aircraft on the ship, as well as a chance to see its sleeping quarters, the jail, the post office and more. You also can ride in one of two flight simulators that let you roll, spin and loop through the skies in the seat of a fighter pilot. Operators recommend setting aside three to four hours to see the whole ship.
3. USS Constitution, Charlestown, Mass.
Boarding this warship is like stepping into history. At more than 200 years old, the USS Constitution – “Old Ironsides – is the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world, and it’s still active with a crew of U.S. Navy sailors. Undefeated in combat, the Constitution fought in the Barbary Wars, the War of 1812 and the Quasi-War with France. In 2009, it was designated America’s Ship of State by President Obama.
The ship’s crewmembers are stationed as interpretive historians, and they bring the ship’s past to life. The Constitution recently underwent a three-year, $15 million restoration, and starting June 8 visitors will be able to access the top deck to watch blacksmiths, woodworkers and others preserve the ship. Nearby is the USS Constitution Museum, which offers exhibits that demonstrate life aboard the ship, its storied history and its restoration.
4. USS North Carolina, Wilmington, N.C.
This battleship serves as the state’s memorial to World War II veterans and the more than 10,000 North Carolinians who served and died in World War II. Commissioned in 1941, she was considered the world’s greatest sea weapon with nine 16-inch guns in three turrets and 20 5-inch, 3-caliber guns in 10 twin mounts.
The ship has been moored in Wilmington for 50 years, ever since North Carolina students contributed 10 cents each to raise $330,000 for the ship’s towing and placement in 1961. Visitors will find displays and artifacts across this two-city-block-long museum – including the engine room, captain’s cabin, coding room, butcher shop and more – to get a glimpse of what life was like aboard the ship in the 1940s.
5. USS Yorktown, Mount Pleasant, S.C.
Parked just across the Cooper River from historic downtown Charleston along an area in Charleston Harbor called Patriots Point, the USS Yorktown is not only an aircraft carrier museum, but also home to 29 aircraft from World War II to the modern era. Visitors can also tour several other ships there, including a submarine.
The Yorktown participated in the Pacific Offensive during World War II and was featured in the documentary “The Fighting Lady” and the film “Tora! Tora! Tora!” It also recovered the Apollo 8 astronauts and capsule in 1968. Patriots Point hosts a magnificent fireworks display and celebration each July 4 that can be viewed from aboard the Yorktown.
6. USS Texas, LaPorte, Texas
The Texas is the last surviving Dreadnought Battleship and the only surviving battleship that fought in World Wars I and II. Docked along the Houston Ship Channel, she was commissioned in 1914 as the most powerful weapon in the world and was the first to mount anti-aircraft guns and to control gunfire with directors and range-keepers.
One hundred years later, visitors can walk the decks via a self-guided tour and go on a hard-hat tour to see areas usually closed to the public. There’s even a youth sleepover on the ship. Nearby is San Jacinto Battleground, where Texas secured its independence from Mexico in 1836.
7. USS Intrepid, New York City
A visit to the USS Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum at Pier 86 in Manhattan offers more than a look at the aircraft carrier. You’ll also see the space shuttle Enterprise, some of the world’s fastest jets and a guided missile submarine. The Intrepid, which is a National Historic Landmark, served in World War II and the Vietnam War, and it survived five kamikaze attacks and a torpedo strike. It also recovered astronauts from the Gemini and Mercury space missions.
The museum has more than a million visitors each year and contains 28 restored aircraft, including the Lockheed A-12 Blackbird, the world’s fastest military jet and spy plane, and the British Airways Concorde, the supersonic commercial jet. There’s also the Space Shuttle Pavilion, with the Enterprise, the world’s first space shuttle. Also on site is the USS Growler, the only American diesel-powered strategic missile submarine open to the public.
8. USS Missouri, Honolulu
Commissioned in 1944 and moored just a short distance from the USS Arizona Memorial, the Battleship Missouri Memorial at Pearl Harbor pays tribute to “Mighty Mo,” the third navy ship to carry the name “Missouri” and the last battleship ever built. In 1945, during World War II, the Missouri was hit by a kamikaze, though it took minimal damage. She also participated in the Korean War and Operation Desert Storm.
Visitors can walk the ship to see how the crew lived, browse artifacts from her deployments and learn about the wars she participated in. Also on board, if you need a break, are the gift shop, Sliders Grill and Wai Momi Shaved Ice.
9. USS Alabama, Mobile, Alabama
Located at Battleship Park in Mobile Bay, the USS Alabama --nicknamed Might A --downed many enemy planes during its 37 months of active duty in World War II -- earning nine Battle Stars. As long as the half the height of the Empire State Building, the ship could fire shells as heavy as a car accurately for more than 20 miles.
Like the North Carolina campaign, school children raised $100,000 together with a corporate fund-raising campaign to bring the Alabama home in 1965 as a tribute to the men and women who had lost their lives serving the armed forces. Since then, more than 13 million people have to come to see her along with the USS Drum World War II submarine and 25 military aircraft, including a complete collection of the "F" series of fighter jets and a P51-Mustang, the airplane of Alabama's Tuskegee Airmen.
10. USS Lexington, Corpus Christi, Texas
While the USS Lexington has many claims to fame, including the first aircraft carrier to have women serve aboard as crew members and the first to deploy air-to-surface missiles, it may be most recognized as starring in the film "Pearl Harbor" with Ben Affleck. The Blue Ghost, as it is nicknamed, set more records than any other Essex Class carrier in the history of naval aviation and destroyed many enemies during World War II. The Lexington's planes downed more than 370 enemy aircraft and another 475 on the ground. She sank or destroyed more than 300,000 tons of enemy cargo, and her guns shot down 15 planes. She sunk more than four times, but returned to fight again and again. On board the ship, visitors can see aircraft, guns, an exhibit on Pearl Harbor, officer's quarters, the dental clinic and more. On the Hangar Deck, test your bravery in a dog fight at the Virtual Battle Stations or head to the 3D Mega Theater to catch the latest movie.