By Marie Gilmore
Valrico Troop 61 Boy Scouts spent Veteran’s Day camping aboard the USS Yorktown, WWII Aircraft Carrier while participating in a unique campout adventure available to youth.
This is not the troop’s first time traveling from Valrico to Charleston, South Carolina where the Yorktown has been a significant part of the Patriot’s Point complex for 30 years, but this year, the trip happened to be on Veteran’s Day which gave the boys a unique opportunity to be onboard for the special day.
Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, JROTC, churches, schools, and other youth groups have the opportunity to sleep in the berths that sailors once occupied and immerse themselves into the lives of heroes. With packages that include lodging, meals and an educational activity, groups are offered a unique opportunity to stay aboard.
The scouts had the opportunity to meet WWII Navy Veteran Bill Wilkerson, 95, who was a pilot and flew Hellcats while serving aboard the Yorktown in 1944. He completed 70 landings and still has stories to tell.
“It was hot on board,” said Bill, who volunteers several hours a day talking to visitors at the museum. “We were doing our job and serving on board the ship but there was no air conditioning at that time.”
In addition to sleeping and enjoying meals aboard the ship, Scouts have access to the entire Patriot’s Point complex including the Vietnam Experience Exhibit, WWII destroyer, the USS Laffey, a Cold War submarine , the USS Clamagore and at least 20 historical aircraft.
Once the scouts arrived on Friday night, movies were shown on board and the scouts were able to explore all decks except the flight deck, which is closed after dark.
For the two-night stay, campers sleep in typical WWII style barracks. On Saturday morning, scouts were fed breakfast in the galley and then took a ride across Charleston Harbor to Fort Sumter National Monument. This was an add-on educational experience for the scouts. Back onboard, scouts were offered a bag lunch and free time to explore the complex until dinner time when another hot meal was offered. After 6:30 p.m., the complex closes to the public and the scouts have the ship to themselves.
Exhibits, historical artifacts and five self-guided tours which include boiler room, laundry, dentist, shoe cobbler, munitions storage and more are available until 11 p.m. each evening for the scouts to explore.
The USS Yorktown is one of 24 Essex-class aircraft carriers built during World War II and was commissioned in April 1943. It participated in several campaigns in the Pacific Theater of Operations, earning 11 battle stars and the Presidential Unit Citation.
Late in her career, she served as a recovery ship for the Apollo 8 space mission, and was used in the movie Tora! Tora! Tora!, which recreated the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor; and in the science fiction film The Philadelphia Experiment.
Yorktown was decommissioned in 1970 and in 1975 became a museum ship at Patriots Point, Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. She is a National Historic Landmark. For information, visit www.patriotspoint.org.