The Polite Haunting of the USS Lexington
The decommissioned USS Lexington aircraft carrier, permanently harbored in Corpus Christi as a floating museum, offers more than a casual stroll through a wartime relic. Tour guides offer technical and historical data guaranteed to amaze visitors to her lower decks - especially when the tour guide turns out to be a real ghost.
She stands tall and proud on the shoreline of Corpus Christi's North Beach, now a floating museum, but once a battle-seasoned war machine, proud of her memorable service to the United States Naval Fleet. And like most battle-hardened ships, she has many stories to tell.
But this World War II relic comes with a twist - a white-uniformed, blue-eyed young seaman who has been known to tell the tales of the ship to museum visitors who have come to tour her. Only this tour guide is a ghost.
Staff of the floating museum call him "Charly". Visitors have often called him helpful. But whatever you call him, the neatly-dressed sailor in white is not part of the museum staff, but reportedly a former crew member that simply failed to depart the ship after giving up his life after a Japanese Kamakazi attack on Halloween (Oct. 31) 1944 off the coast of the Philippines.
On a Corpus Christi Caller-Times web site, as many as 200 visitors to the museum have reported encounters with Charly. Without exception, the reports indicate the ghostly seaman is a "polite young man" that seems to share a great deal of information about the Lexington's engine room far below deck.
A few years ago Lexington tour guide David Deal, who served on the Lex in 1959-1960, said Charly seemed to know a lot about the ship.
"This apparition told things about the engine that I don't even know," said Deal, who made the rank of airman on the Lexington and retired in 1976 as a catapult chief.
"It's fascinating because I'm one of these hard nuts to crack on something like this," said Deal, who added there has been more than just a few accounts of Charly's presence in the engine rooms. So common, in fact, have been the appearances of the eerie spectral tour guide that a "ghost cam" has been installed in the engine room where you can watch for the ghostly guide 24 hours a day.
There have been other unexplained occurrences. M. Charles Reustle, Director of Operations and Exhibits at the museum, has personally experienced strange phenomenon. On separate occasions, Reustle, walking out of his office, heard the rustle of clothes and footsteps behind him. He turned around, but there was no one there.
Other strange occurrences involved a painting and restoration crew on board have been reported .Apparently the work crew had taken a break, but when they returned, the work project had mysteriously been finished for them. In other instances, visitors and staff have reported incidents of ship lights going on and ff by themselves.
Charly is apparently not the only ghost to be seen on the ship.
One married couple reported seeing a dark-haired man wearing dungarees and a denim work shirt jump to the deck below. There was no one there, when the couple ran down to see if the man was injured. This was not Charly who has light hair. Two museum staffers reported walking out of their offices and seeing a man in a Japanese pilots uniform and a US sailor in the hallway. The two disappeared as the staffers moved closer.
A few years back, the Museum's communications director, Donna Strong, says she doesn't like to talk about ghosts on the ships out of respect for those who served on the aircraft carrier and their families. She refers to the most recent occurrences as "sightings."
"I like to think the ship really isn't inanimate; there's a lot of history here, and I like to think the ship has kept its personality and energy. There's something more here than just a pile of steel."
It may be simple coincidence, but the Lexington's nickname has long been "the Blue Ghost," so named because the Japanese Navy reported sinking the aircraft carrier on four different occasions during World War II. While American sailors jokingly referred to her by the nickname, Japanese sailors, on the other hand, believed she was the ship that continued to return from the grave.
USS LEXINGTON HISTORY
The fifth Lexington (CV-16) was laid down as Cabot 15 July 1941 by Bethlehem Steel Co., Quincy, Mass.; renamed Lexington 16 June 1942; launched 26 September 1942; sponsored by Mrs. Theodore D. Robinson; and commissioned 17 February 1943 Capt. Felix B. Stump in command.
After Caribbean shakedown and yard work at Boston, Lexington sailed for Pacific action via the Panama Canal, arriving Pearl Harbor 9 August 1943. She raided Tarawa in late September and Wake in October, then returned to Pearl Harbor to prepare for the Gilbert Islands operation. From 19 to 24 November she made searches and flew sorties in the Marshalls, covering the landings in the Gilberts. Her aviators downed 29 enemy aircraft on 23 and 24 November.
Lexington sailed to raid Kwajalein 4 December. Her morning strike destroyed a cargo ship, damaged two cruisers, and accounted for 40 enemy aircraft. Her gunners splashed two of the enemy torpedo planes that attacked at midday, and opened fire again at 1925 that night when a major air attack began. At 2322 parachute flares silhouetted the carrier, and 10 minutes later she was hit by a torpedo to starboard, knocking our her steeing gear. Settling 5 feet by the stern, the carrier began circling to port amidst dense clouds of smoke pouring from ruptured tanks aft. An emergency hand-operated steering unit was quickly devised, and Lexington made Pearl Harbor for emergency repairs, arriving 9 December. She reached Bremerton, Wash., 22 December for full repairs completed 20 February 1944. In the meantime, the Japanese claimed to have sunk the carrier.
Lexington sailed via Alameda, Calif., and Pearl Harbor for Majuro, where Rear Adm. Marc Mitscher commanding TF 58 broke his flag in her 8 March. After a warm up strike against Mille, TF 58 operated against the major centers of resistance in Japan's outer empire, supporting the Army landing at Hollandia 13 April, and hitting supposedly invulnerable Truk 28 April. Heavy counterattack left Lexington untouched, her planes splashing 17 enemy fighters; but, for the second time, Japanese propaganda announced her sunk.