Keri Williams recently got to witness history as her two sons rode on the last voyage of the Enterprise, America's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
One son, U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Nicholas Williams, has served two deployments aboard the ship. His younger brother Luc, got to ride up on the vessel's final leg of its journey home from Florida to Norfolk, Va.
After traveling from Chattanooga, Keri Williams awaited the ship's arrival at the port with thousands of others, watching as it broke the horizon and slowly came into view. Sailors manned the rails when the massive machine turned to the dock.
"You're standing there watching the ship arrive, you've got thousands of men and women there," she said. "It's just given me a new respect for the armed services."
Nicholas' job is air traffic control. The 21-year-old Ooltewah High School graduate spent time in Greece, Dubai, Bahrain and Italy during his final deployment.
"That whole entire ship is about legacy and tradition," the sailor said in a recent phone interview. "It's nice to think about the stories you can tell in the future. I've seen all these different places, been on the oldest ship in the Navy. It's one of a kind."
Retired because of its age, the ship pulled into its final port in Virginia on Nov. 4 and is scheduled to begin its decommissioning process on Dec. 1.
Before then, Nicholas will be assigned to a different unit for a period of "shore duty." He said he plans to re-enlist when his current contract is up.
Called "The Big E" by some of its sailors, the ship went into service 51 years ago and participated in every conflict since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. It was the first ship to head to the Persian Gulf after the Sept. 11, 2011, terrorist attacks.
During its final deployment, the Enterprise's jet planes flew more than 2,200 combat missions in Afghanistan.
Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...