NORFOLK - The nation's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier will leave the service Saturday as proudly as she entered the fleet more than 50 years ago.
USS Enterprise will go inactive in a ceremony at Naval Station Norfolk that will be attended by many of the sailors who walked her decks.
The carrier, called the Big E, has played a role in every major conflict since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. She was the first carrier to respond following the Sept. 11 attacks, changing course overnight to head to the Arabian Sea.
The ship and crew returned from her 25th and final deployment earlier this month. Her crew conducted maritime security operations and supported Operation Enduring Freedom in Europe and the Middle East.
Aboard the ship Friday morning were former crewmembers who attended a memorial ceremony honoring 27 shipmates who died in a fire in January 1969.
The Navy said an MK-32 Zuni rocket loaded on a parked F-4 Phantom exploded after being overheated by an aircraft start unit mounted to a tow tractor. The explosion set off fires and other blastsacross the flight deck. 314 men were injured.
It will take several more years for it to be decommissioned as its reactors are taken out. It will eventually be scrapped in Washington state, the Navy said.
The aircraft carrier is the eighth U.S. ship to bear the name Enterprise, with the first one being confiscated from the British by Benedict Arnold in 1775. Current sailors and alumni have been lobbying to have a future carrier be named Enterprise. The crew says it's created a time capsule to be passed along to each Navy secretary until a new ship carries the name.
The ship's motto is "We Are Legend."