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Oregon city may lasso USS Ranger from Bremerton

The USS Ranger has been docked at the Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility in Bremerton since 1993. It may be towed to Fairview, Ore., to convert it to a floating museum.  - Jim Kight/courtesy photo
The USS Ranger has been docked at the Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility in Bremerton since 1993. It may be towed to Fairview, Ore., to convert it to a floating museum.
— image credit: Jim Kight/courtesy photo

When John Slaughter served in the Navy on the USS Ranger from 1968 to 1970, he saw two of his fellow sailors die. He learned the value of teamwork. He trusted his life to those who worked around him and, in turn, worked to protect the lives of other sailors.

That’s why the resident of Spirit Lake, Idaho, promoted to petty officer 3rd class while on the USS Ranger, doesn’t want to see the ship rust away. His hope is the Ranger, decommissioned in 1993 and presently sitting in Sinclair Inlet, will be preserved as a museum.

“It’s not a memorial as a warship,” Slaughter said. “It’s a memorial to all the men who served on it.”

Because of the efforts to save the Ranger, its time in Bremerton is limited. The USS Ranger Foundation, a group of Ranger veterans based in Portland, Ore. is seeking to bring the carrier to Fairview, Ore., on the Willamette River. The Fairview City Council passed a resolution to bring the ship to the city in May. Now the Foundation is waiting for Metro, the regional government that oversees the Portland metropolitan area, to approve the use of the Chinook Landing site on the river for the carrier.

If the Ranger is saved, it will be the largest floating museum ship in the world, said Peter Ogle, president of the USS Ranger Foundation and a former Navy commander on the Ranger from 1975 to 1976. Foundation members hope the arrival of the Ranger museum will contribute new jobs and tourist dollars to the Fairview economy.

The Ranger is a relic of the post-World War II super carrier era. Though today’s carriers follow the same basic design, the Ranger is one of the last diesel-powered carriers in existence — modern vessels run on nuclear power. The carrier was commissioned in 1957 and retired in 1993, when it was docked at the Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility in Bremerton. It cruised throughout the west Pacific Ocean and earned 13 battle stars during the Vietnam War.

Larry Schmul, program manager for the USS Ranger Foundation and a petty officer 2nd class on the Ranger from 1971 to 1974, said the carrier is still in excellent condition. In addition to its function as a museum, it could also be used as an emergency preparedness command and control center in the event of a natural disaster. Much of the old equipment is still aboard and its good condition would allow future tourists to get a taste of what life was like on the Ranger and super carriers of that era.

“We want people to be able to go aboard and see how they work,” Schmul said.

The Ranger has also had its moment in the spotlight. The interior was featured in the movie “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” as the fictional USS Enterprise as well as the Tom Cruise film “Top Gun.”

Once Metro approves the use of Chinook Landing as the Ranger’s new home, the USS Ranger Foundation can push its fundraising efforts into full swing. It has collected $200,000 in small donations so far, but it will cost $7 million to modify the carrier into a museum and $2 million to tow it to Oregon. The Navy will still own the vessel, but private donations will pay for the modifications and transport.

Though plans will depend on how much money is collected, the Foundation hopes the Ranger museum will open in 2013, Schmul said.

“It’s not a done deal, but we’ve made a lot of progress,” he said.

Ken Estes, a Montesano resident who served as a Navy photographer aboard the Ranger, was an 18-year-old farm boy when he began touring the west Pacific in 1959. He took photos of Japanese and Filipino royalty and saw five of his comrades die. As the secretary of the USS Ranger Foundation, he wants the carrier to act as a remembrance of those he served with on the high seas.

“It’s dangerous,” Estes said of his service. “These guys, we wanted to make a memorial to all those who lost their lives.”

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