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Brown County vet recalls life on carrier Enterprise

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EDINBURGH — Laid out on the kitchen table were the artifacts that chronicled Arthur Brown’s experiences during World War II: photographs, clippings from newspapers, orders of the day and other memorabilia from his time aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise CV-6.

Brown, of Brown County, served aboard the aircraft carrier from July 1942 until the end of the war as a petty officer second class in the ship’s damage control section.

The Enterprise, or the Big E as Brown referred to it, was a Yorktown-class aircraft carrier commissioned May 12, 1938, and the seventh ship to bear that name. During the course of the war, the Enterprise received 20 of 21 battle stars, commendations issued to U.S. Navy warships for meritorious participation in a battle, while seeing action in every major engagement in the Pacific with the exception of the Battle of Coral Sea.

It was the sole survivor of the three Yorktown-class carriers. After the aircraft carrier USS Hornet was sunk during the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands and the USS Saratoga underwent repairs, the Enterprise was the only aircraft carrier operating in the Pacific. This prompted the crew to post a sign reading “Enterprise vs. Japan” on the flight deck.

The Enterprise was the most decorated ship to emerge from World War II, the first aircraft carrier to receive a Presidential Unit Citation and recipient of a Navy Unit Commendation and a British Admiralty Pennant from the Royal Navy.

“I was on the ship for 28 months, from Guadalcanal to Japan, and got back alive,” Brown said. “That was my home for all that time. When I got to Pearl Harbor and saw the transports, I thought those were the biggest ships. Then I saw the Enterprise; it was huge.”

Brown said it required a lot of work to keep the Enterprise in operational condition. The task was made more difficult with the Japanese navy trying to sink it.

“The ship is just like a city,” he said. “You always had something to do. I worked in fresh-water systems for several months, then I worked in watertight integrity; every compartment we had to make them airtight.

“When you were in battle, all the air and blowers were turned off until it was over. If you got hit, and things weren’t watertight, you would sink. And every time we went out of port, there were only two things we went out for: either to kill them or let them kill us.”

Brown said working in damage control was a difficult undertaking.

“When we got blown up, I had the worst job; cleaning up the bodies, pumping the water out, putting out the fires, getting guys out from below decks. Damage control was a dirty job,” Brown said.

“When you got bombed, everything went dark, like in a mine. When you went into those sections, you didn’t know what you would find.”

The Enterprise received severe damage during the Guadalcanal campaigns, the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands and supporting the Okinawa campaigns. The final damage Enterprise sustained was May 14, 1945, from a kamikaze pilot.

“I felt honored to be on that ship,” Brown said.

“Our ship was the flagship for the first part of the war until they brought the new carriers out. The Japanese claimed to have sunk us six times.”

Brown attended the decommissioning of the modern-day Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Enterprise CVN-65, the world’s first nuclear powered aircraft carrier, on Dec. 1, 2012. Brown said attending the event brought with it a measure of celebrity.

“I was the only veteran of CV-6 there,” Brown said. “I felt like a dignitary; they treated me like royalty. I couldn’t walk anywhere on the dock without someone stopping us and talking about World War II. They saw that CV-6 on my hat, and I would be talking to this guy and that guy and couldn’t get back to the car for nothing.”

According to his son, Carl Brown, also of Brown County, his father never sought out any recognition for his service aboard the Enterprise.

“All he does is wear that CV-6 hat, and it comes to him,” the younger Brown said. “It’s good to see him get the recognition now. The respect they gave him was over the top.”

The younger Brown said they took a tour of the ship and had an opportunity to meet the captain of the modern Enterprise, Capt. William C. Hamilton.

“We were escorted to the captain’s quarters and had a one-on-one meeting with him for an hour-and-a-half. At the end, he presented Dad with one of the commemorative 51st year coins.”

Staff Sgt. David Bruce is with Camp Atterbury-Muscatatuck Public Affairs department.

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