When a vessel has completed her service with the United States Navy, there are a few different fates that she may face. Some ships are broken down completely and sold to scrap yards around the country. These materials are often used in the construction of new ships, among other uses.
Other decommissioned ships, like the USS Oriskany (CV-34), are intentionally sunk to create artificial reefs.
Luckier ships meet a less final fate and are kept in one piece to be opened to the public as museum ships.
Today, they stand not just to commemorate those who served on them, but also as reminders of difficult situations the nation has faced throughout its history. The following decommissioned ships are open to visitors and tell stories that might otherwise be lost to time.
USS Missouri (BB-63)
The United States Naval base at Pearl Harbor is home to the Battleship Missouri. Though she wasn’t yet in service at the time of the December 7, 1941 attack, she serves as a symbol of how the US responded to that deadly and tragic day.
The “Mighty Mo” served a long and storied career on the seas, including being honored as the site where Japan signed the surrender treaty.
Today she is probably the best-known of the museum ships. One of the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites, the USS Missouri invites curious visitors to come aboard for a look inside a World War II-era battleship and a chance to stand on the same deck where the war ended.
USS Yorktown (CV-10)
Considered the most active Essex-class aircraft carrier, the Yorktown took part in multiple Pacific Theater campaigns, earning 11 battle stars and a Presidential Unit Citation along the way. Before being decommissioned, the Yorktown also served in Vietnam, earning her an additional five battle stars. In peacetime, she also took part in the Apollo 8 module recovery and was used in the movie Tora! Tora! Tora!
Another of the famous museum ships, the Yorktown, which was later dedicated as a National Historical Landmark, is now moored at Patriot’s Point in Mount Pleasant, SC.
USS North Carolina (BB-55)
The North Carolina, affectionately known as the “Showboat,” was the first newly-constructed battleship to be commissioned during World War II. Hers is a name that is known throughout the Pacific, having taken part in every major naval offensive in the Pacific Theater. At the close of war, she had earned 15 battle stars, making her the most decorated ship of World War II. Today, the North Carolina is a museum ship, berthed in Wilmington, NC.
USS Massachusetts (BB-59)
During World War II, the Massachusetts was given the nickname “Big Mamie” by her crew, who sailed her throughout the Atlantic and Pacific. By the end of the war, the Massachusetts had earned 11 battle stars after taking part in the Solomon Island and Philippines campaigns. At the end of the war, she was slated to be scrapped but her crew convinced the Navy to donate her. Today, she can be found in Battleship Cove in Fall River, Massachusetts.
USS Alabama (BB-60)
The Alabama served throughout World War II, taking part in campaigns in both the Pacific and Atlantic Theaters. Despite her active service in battle, the Alabama is known for having lost no sailors due to enemy action. Two years after the war, the Alabama was decommissioned and moved to Mobile Bay in Alabama, where she remains today as a National Historical Landmark and museum.
USS Midway (CV-41)
Named for the island atoll that saw the tide of World War II in the Pacific Theater shift, the USS Midway actually missed out on the war by a week. After her commission, she became the largest ship in the US Navy, and remained so until 1955. The Midway served for 47 years, seeing action in Vietnam and Operation Desert Storm before being decommissioned and sent to San Diego, where she’s open to the public for guided tours.