Family History in San Francisco

Have you ever been on an aircraft carrier??

I had a chance to visit one this past week during a recent trip to San Francisco.  I was in the city for academic reasons (attending the American Medical Informatics Association annual conference), but since I’d found out in May that the USS Hornet was now a naval museum in Alameda, CA, it was high on my priority list to visit.

One of my maternal grandmother’s brothers, Lorenza McNair, served on the USS Hornet for 13 months.  As a “ship’s company” member on the carrier from the day it was commissioned in November 1943 until early December 1944,  Lorenza experienced many battles during the Pacific campaigns in World War II.

In May, I blogged about my visit to Pearl Harbor, where Lorenza missed being present during the attack by only a few days. The ship he was stationed on at that time, the USS Portland, had left the base enroute to Midway.  After that visit, when looking at the ships he’d served on during his entire time in the Navy, I learned that the USS Hornet was outside San Fran.

Lorenza joined the ship the day it was commissioned, November 29, 1943. I found this picture in an online photo archive of the ship right about this time, in December 1943.

During his 13 months on the ship, the USS Hornet  participated in close to 30 air strikes in the Marshall Islands, Marianas Islands, Caroline Islands, the Phillipines and all throughout the Pacific Ocean battles.  Every time I review the historical record, I’m amazed at the ship’s extensive battle history and that my great-uncle experienced it all.

The TOUR

My friend went with me to visit the ship and we spent about 4 hours on board touring the various parts of the ship.

Never having seen an aircraft carrier before, I’d not realized how large the ship would be!  We started our time on the ship with a tour of the engine area of the ship.  The docent who did the tour was very knowledgeable and it was interesting to learn about how the engines operated.  Here is one of the steam engines in the ship.

They would convert the saltwater to steam in order to power the ship. Now, the ships have jet engines, but the steam engine rooms would get incredibly hot – up to 120-130 degrees or so depending on how high the ambient air temperature was outside.

Lorenza was a cook in the Navy – here is the main mess deck of the ship where he would have spent a majority of his time.  Of course, during active battles, men would be pulled from all parts of the ship to help out, so I imagine he helped during these times as well.

I have more pictures of the ship in my photo album, but I was so glad I was able to tour the ship.   So that I can contiue to learn more about what his life would have been like, I purchased a couple of books on the history of the ship from the gift shop onboard.  I also plan to contact the curator to find out what information they have on crew members from the first year of the ship in hopes of possibly finding something relevant to Lorenza.

As I’ve blogged before, Lorenza never talked about his military service, but I feel as if I’ve been able to have another glimpse into it this week.


Lorenza McNair (1921-2005) during the 1940s.

2 thoughts on “Family History in San Francisco

  1. Wow! Lorenza participated in important history. I can see why you are attempting to learn more about him and his experiences. One might say that he was just a guy doing his job and life caught him and included him in important events. Can we say that he was lucky?, or unlucky? In any event, he was there!

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