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The Coral Sea Association began very similar to the history of its namesake, namely, the USS Coral Sea, CVB, CVA, CV 43, and like the Coral Sea came into existence very quietly and with little fanfare. At the Association's first reunion in Charleston. South Carolina. we were about 35 ex-crewmen, lost of us had come together after a 20 to 30 year span of having served aboard the "Ageless Warrior''. Our founder, HTC John F. Wilkes, Jr., USN. (Ret.) spent about a year prior to the first meeting putting the "word" out. Due to her forty two years and six months of service, the Coral Sea had seen thousands of sailors report on board for duty. In fact, on de-commissioning day services it was stated by Admiral Carl Trost, Chief of Naval Operations, that over 76,.000 men had served aboard the Coral Sea, the "Ageless Warrior".
The first reunion served to put together a slate of Officers to begin the task of getting the Association "launched''. RADM. A. P. Storrs, USN (Ret.), first Commanding Officer of Coral Sea was made Honorary President and to date, although physically unable to participate in reunion functions etc., still serves in that capacity. Retired Chief Hull Technician John F. Wilkes was nominated and elected the Association's first President. Sal Avellino. ex-cook striker was elected Vice President and Retired Chief Yeoman Ed Murphy was elected Secretary.
1980 saw the then fledgling Association come together in Norfolk, Virginia for its second annual Reunion. Thirteen years later the Association numbers over 700 strong with an average annual reunion participation attendance of over two hundred fifty members. It has become "traditional" for the Association to hold its reunions from one end of this Country to the other, and each year always sees new faces and old friendships reunited.
In late 1981, then President Wilkes, took a hold move and with his staff of Officers then proceeded to have a formal Charter drawn up. The incorporating Officers at that time were President John F. Wilkes, Vice President Richard Jones and Secretary Treasurer Sal Avellino. At the 1982 reunion in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, formal by-laws were submitted to the membership for ratification and from time to time during the ensuing years, few, if any changes to by-laws were made.
Like our namesake, we too, have a record of "firsts". In March of 1984 the Coral Sea Association made a partial payment of $1000 to the USS Yorktown museum located at Patriots Point, outside of Charleston, South Carolina. In that same period of time this Association collaborated with the then Commanding Officer of Coral Sea, Capt. Jeremy "Rear" Taylor, to establish what was called the "Safe and Sound" project. Coral Sea Association donated $500 to that program while many of the local members of` our Association residing in the Tidewater area of Norfolk donated hundreds of hours of time to assist in fund raising for that program. The program consisted of wiring the tunnels between Portsmouth and Norfolk to establish radio frequencies that would broadcast traffic conditions as they would be developing. This proved to be an extremely worthwhile project, particularly since military personnel traverse those roads and at a later date it was determined that the accident ratio had definitely been sharply reduced.
1983 saw this Association take active participation in the Navy’s "Sailor Of The Year" program. From that point on, and for each year up to Coral Sea's de-commissioning in 1990, the Coral Sea Association gave the candidate a $50.00 Savings Bond with a redemption of value of $100.00 at maturity. In addition, a plaque bearing the names of all previous "Sailor Of The Year", located on the forward Quarterdeck of the Coral Sea, had the individual’s name added to it.
In 1985 the Association delivered its second payment of $1000.00 to the USS Yorktown Memorial Foundation. This completed our pledge made a year earlier. Since then, many crewmen have learned of this Association as a result of having had visited the USS Yorktown while either passing through or visiting in Charleston..
In 1988 another major project was undertaken by the Coral Sea Association. Upon advice to then President Robert Mackey by member Joe Costello our Association contributed the sum of $1500.00 to the De Paul Hospital of Norfolk, Virginia to purchase apnea monitors for use in the S.I.D.S. (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) program then being tended to by that hospital. Stories appeared in many local Tidewater area newspapers commending the action taken by ex-Coral Sea crewmen, plus all De Paul hospitals throughout the United States.
Other community relation programs included Coral Sea Association members participating in Pearl Harbor Ceremonies aboard the Intrepid museum in New York harbor on 7 December, 1998. Then Secretary Sat Avellino was able to "muster" 31 members from the Northeastern United States. Some traveled from as far away as 150 miles just to represent Coral Sea. Captain Allen sent Senior CPO Richard Hamilton to represent himself at that ceremony.
During Coral Sea's twilight years (prior to her de-commissioning on 30 April 1990 Coral Sea Association members "fell in" at the sound of the bosun's pipe on 3 separate occasions, 18 July 1986, 18 July 1987, and 8 April 1989. Hundreds of Association members and their families and friends went to sea aboard the Ageless Warrior. The "hands of time" on the clock of life were momentarily stopped and once again we became participating crewmen in the everyday life aboard an underway carrier. We saw catapult launches, arresting gear landings, touch and go takeoffs, phalanx guns firing, bombing runs, etc. Once again we were treated to Navy "chow" as prepared by the crew's chefs.
Perhaps one of the more outstanding "accomplishments" was when Coral Sea came to its namesake Association membership for assistance in obtaining a MARS system for the crew's use. Fortunately our then President Robert Mackey was still on duty in the active reserve. Robert was put on the right track when he "hooked up" with Master Chief Petty Officer Ken Gallagher and Master Chief Larry Sorenson of the Naval Reserves Force. Coral Sea Association purchased and shipped pier side to the Ageless Warrior the most complete state of the art MARS system with a secondary backup, second to none. Lt. Toole, Radio Officer of Coral Sea, installed the equipment and at our annual reunion in Schaumburg, Illinois we received a voice communication from the carrier Coral Sea while she was underway in the Mediterranean and during Flight operations from her Commanding Officer. It was as big a thrill for our membership to hear that voice as it was for the person who, was sending us "greetings" from halfway around the world using the MARS system so willingly donated by the Coral Sea Association.
As all good things must come to an end, so did Coral Sea's service. Today at the Intrepid Air/Sea/Space museum in New York City, when you gaze at the signal flaps, buntings, reconstructed berthing spaces aboard her, you are looking at the equipment that was sent up which was formerly used aboard the Coral Sea. The Intrepid Association came to then Secretary Sal Avellino, who together with President Robert Mackey and LCDR Tom "Bubba" Carlson of Coral Sea, now an Association member, arranged to have that gear placed aboard Intrepid and submarine Growler and another destroyer located in that Naval Museum.
A final tribute was paid to the Coral Sea on 29 April, 1990 at the Omni Virginia Beach Hotel at a banquet that had standing room only. The following day on 30 April 1990 saw over 1600 Association members and families of same see the commissioning pennant flown so proudly for forty two and one half years come down for the last time. An unknown Navy Chaplain attending de-commissioning ceremony is overheard saying after looking at the sea of faces of our "crew" that ''I bet they could walk up the gangway and take her out to sea again".
He was ever so right. Although the Coral Sea has been laid to rest, her heart and soul of its former crewmembers live on through this Association. Her MARS system still guides a new generation of sailors through the trials and tribulations of life, for each time they talk to their loved ones from the other side of the globe aboard USS Abraham Lincoln, a "piece" of Coral Sea will remind them of their Naval heritage and tradition.
The objective of the Coral Sea Association is to keep the history of the USS Coral Sea, AKA "The Ageless Warrior" in perpetuity. Hopefully, in the near future, another carrier will bear the name "Coral Sea" to honor the historic Naval battle that took place in the waters of the Coral Sea .
Bob Mackey, ex-President, USS CORAL SEA CVA 43 Association
Sal Avellino, ex-Secretary, USS CORAL SEA CVA 43 Association