We met an American Hero in San Diego

The next stop on our California road trip was the beautiful city of San Diego. We had just one day to explore. We chose to see the Midway and Old Town San Diego.

I picked the USS Midway Museum because I thought Jackson would like it. We had recently seen Maverick, the new Top Gun sequel and he really enjoyed it. I thought touring a real aircraft carrier would be a fun experience for him. But, all of us had a great time here.

There are dozens of aircraft to view on the flight deck and the hangar deck. The kitchen, officer rooms, infirmary, boiler room, and all other parts of this massive ship are also open for tours every day. There are over 60 exhibits. It was interesting to learn about the astronomical amounts of food that needed to be prepared every day (14,000 meals a day!) and the logistics of having so many people in what seems like a floating city. It was interesting to see that they had a dentist’s office complete with x-ray equipment and a full dental lab, a surgical suite, hospital ward, and chapel that catered to many different faiths.

The hangar deck had flight simulators. My kids were really excited to try them. Each simulator has a camera installed inside the “cockpit” so that the ride operator can keep an eye on the passengers. Jason and I had a blast watching the kid’s facial expressions while they tried to navigate the simulation. The simulators pitch and roll. So, when the unit would flip upside down, while they were trying to find the enemy target, it was really fun to watch.

This deck also tells the story of the missions the Midway was involved in. Operation Frequent Wind was a humanitarian effort to save refugees in Saigon. Many exhibits are interactive and thought-provoking. Recorded interviews with people who were there make the stories come to life. One woman who was rescued actually works as a docent on the USS Midway all these years later. She tells guests about how the crew saved her life.

The best part of the USS Midway is by far the staff. Most of the docents on the ship are veterans who served on the Midway. There are talks scheduled on different decks throughout the day. When we were there, there was a former Navy chef answering guests’ questions in the kitchen, a former pilot giving a talk on the flight deck, and a fighter pilot sitting next to his old aircraft on the hangar deck.

One pilot showed a short video taken from a pilot’s point of view during a landing. He explained how he managed to land planes on the floating runway in the dark. He showed how the ground crew would use cables to catch the plane and what he would do in different situations where the equipment would fail. He pointed out different planes on the deck that he flew personally. He was a great speaker and was wonderful at answering questions.

The highlight of our day was meeting a retired fighter pilot named Don Hubbard.

This guy is one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met.

Mr. Hubbard enlisted in the Naval Aviation Candidate Program at 17 years old. He became a pilot in 1947.

Between 1947 and 1950, he flew 21 highly classified missions over the Baltic and Adriatic seas searching for Communists radar. In 1950, one of the planes in his squadron was shot down by the Soviet Union. All ten crewman onboard were killed. These were the first casualties of the Cold War.

The second squadron he was assigned to had only one mission- to drop nuclear bombs if the enemy used them in Korea. The bomb he carried was identical to the one used against Nagasaki. The squadron flew in specialized planes that could climb to 45,000 feet. He told us that he was trained to assemble the bomb in the air because it was too risky to fly with it fully assembled. He also told us that he knew if he had to drop the bomb on the enemy, it was unlikely that he would be able to outrun the destruction it would cause and he would more than likely be killed.

His third squadron was tasked with taking photographs of the beaches of Cuba. These became maps for the later Bay of Pigs invasion. He took photos of the invasion itself as well. Mr. Hubbard personally flew the film canisters and report of the Bay of Pigs invasion to Washington DC for President Kennedy’s briefing the morning after the attack. Also, in 1961 Hubbard received orders to report to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to be the air officer of all surveillance missions around Eastern Cuba. This was before and after the Cuban Missile Crisis. When President Kennedy declared the Cuban Missile Quarantine, Mr. Hubbard’s wife and two children were sent with 6 hours notice to evacuate to warships along with other military dependents to be transported to Norfolk, VA.

In 1966, Commander Hubbard volunteered to serve in Vietnam. He received an Air Medal for delivering passengers and supplies to short jungle runways.

Mr. Hubbard retired in 1967 after serving in four conflicts and flying for 24 years. But, he didn’t prop up his feet in retirement. Oh no! He went on to write five books! One book is a step-by-step guide to making ships in bottles. He wrote a book about inflatable boats and one about kayaking in San Diego County California and Mexico. He took up sea kayaking and scuba diving and logged an incredible amount of hours underwater. He went on to establish a large scuba diving school in San Diego called Ocean Ventures where he certified over a thousand students in basic and advanced underwater activities. He opened a retail store specializing in inflatable and paddling watercraft. Then, he sold these successful businesses to spend more time on his hobbies of watercolor and gyotaku art. I am proud to own a signed copy of his book, Neptune’s Table Cooking the Seafood Exotics. The book is a collection of his seafood recipes and his gyotaku art (Gyotaku is a Japanese art form that involves inking fish for printmaking. Before the invention of cameras, Japanese fishermen would make prints of trophy fish to keep a record of their catches.) Now, Mr. Hubbard still works as a volunteer on the USS Midway at the age of 96. He seems strong and vibrant. It was an honor to meet him.

After we left the Midway, we visited Old Town San Diego where we got fantastic Mexican food at Rockin’ Baja Lobster. They are a Mexican restaurant that specializes in seafood. We had a Baja Bucket. The portions here are big, the service is excellent, and we enjoyed everything we ordered. It ranks as one of the best restaurants on our trip so far.

After dinner, we did some shopping in Old Town. There are booths and stores, most sell items made in Mexico. I bought a beautiful leather purse. This area had a lot of nice leather items and pottery. It’s a great place to find colorful blankets, hats, and dresses. I enjoyed the live music and the historic buildings.

We only spent one day in San Diego. But, you could easily spend a week’s vacation and have lots of things to do. It’s a clean lovely city. The parking situation was much easier than in most cities we’ve visited. I felt safe in the neighborhoods we spent time in as well. We found it to be very family-friendly. Overall, everyone had a blast and I’d enjoy returning some day to explore it more.

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