Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

THERE AT THE START; 40 Years Ago, B.J. Cannon Left His Mark on the Kennedy - Literally

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

THERE AT THE START; 40 Years Ago, B.J. Cannon Left His Mark on the Kennedy - Literally

Article excerpt



The Times-Union asked readers to share their experiences with the Mayport-based aircraft carrier, the USS John F. Kennedy, which will be decommissioned Friday after 39 years of service. These are some of their stories.

B.J. Cannon was there at the start of the service life of Big John and he plans to be there at the end.

The Macclenny resident has fond memories of becoming a plank owner of the USS John F. Kennedy 40 years ago when the aviation support equipment technician was assigned to the aircraft carrier as it was being completed at the Newport News (Va.) Shipbuilding Co. Cannon, who'd joined the Navy in his native Bryan, Texas, as a teenager in 1957, was assigned to the carrier before its first sea trials.

He even signed his name with a grease pencil on the giant ship's bottom when it was still in dry dock.

"It probably washed off or was painted over years ago," Cannon said, as he sat at the dining table of his home looking through dog-eared programs of the ship's commissioning ceremony on Sept. 7, 1968. He also has a seating chart showing where former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy sat with her two children, John Jr., and Caroline, who got to christen the ship.

The Kennedy wasn't the first ship on which Cannon was a plank owner - a member of the crew of a ship when it was placed into commission. In 1960, he was a plank owner of the USS Kitty Hawk. The Kitty Hawk is the only other fossil-fueled aircraft carrier in the active fleet and is stationed at Yokosuka, Japan.

Cannon has many tales about the early life of Big John but one of the most humorous involved a little petty larceny, or "cumshaw" in Navy lingo.

"We were getting ready for a shakedown cruise to Gitmo [Guantanamo Bay, Cuba] but the budget was tight and we didn't have some of the hardware supplies we needed, particularly some hoses for the deck air-start system," Cannon said, explaining that was used to start the jet engines of the aircraft.

What they did have was an abundance of spools of nylon line that was five-eighths of an inch in diameter and ideal for use in pleasure boating, a popular diversion on the waters of the James River and nearby Chesapeake Bay. Each spool contained 750 feet of the nylon line.

So they went to the department commander, who happened to own a Volkswagen van, and borrowed the vehicle, along with about seven spools of the line. One spool at a time, they concealed the line in the van and drove off base to a merchant, where they bartered the nylon line for needed hardware supplies and hoses.

"We had the nicest welding tables, but no welding goggles, gloves or torches until we traded the spools of line," Cannon said. "We wound up with everything we needed and we still had two spools of the line stashed away."

According to Cannon, every ship has its own personality. …

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