CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Ask anyone what it means to tour the majestic USS Lexington Museum, and you’ll likely get many highly energetic thumbs up approvals.
“It represents that history of veterans and their service, and I think people really do get that feeling when they get on board,” said Steve Banta, executive director of the USS Lexington Museum.
November 14, 2022, marks the 30th anniversary of the aircraft carriers permanent landing in Corpus Christi.
Yet, before she officially arrived here decades ago, there were some bouts with rough waters.
“There were people at the time he thought this is going to be an eyesore. It’s just going to rust. It’s just gonna sit there. It’s gonna sit there and we don’t want it,” recalled Banta.
There she was - an aircraft carrier whose namesake played an important role in just about every American-involved war, including Vietnam. At that time, she trained naval aviators in Pensacola. Terry Leber served about the Lex in Air Operations.
“I remember that time fondly,” said Leber, who has been a volunteer at the USS Lexington Museum for years.
When the end of duty arrived for the USS Lexington in 1991, she would be part of one more fight. Where would she locate to become a museum?
Four cities initially showed interest:
Quincy, Massachusetts, where she was built.
Pensacola, Florida, where she was stationed last.
And Corpus Christi, Texas.
The Coastal Bend was a regular stop for the USS Lexington during active duty, especially since the Navy’s Chief of Air Training was located at NAS-Corpus Christi.
Pensacola eventually dropped out of the running, and some here thought Corpus Christi should too. They believe a museum on the bay could not remain financially afloat.
“There is no way this bucket of rust will pay its own way, a local resident told Corpus Christi council members during open discussion in 1991.
However, a task force was formed to help seal the deal with the Pentagon.
The group asked the city of Corpus Christi to grant $3 million dollars in bonds. The Convention and Visitors Bureau would repay it.
The task force also kicked off a community drive to raise $1.5 million dollars in pledges. The money was collateral for a $1 million dollar loan from 10 area banks. This was a way to secure community support for the effort, by allowing the public to put some “skin in the game.”
In January of 1992, the call came in.
The Navy chose Corpus Christi to birth the Lexington.
This time, the USS Lexington would make her last sea voyage. Tow boats moved the Lex from Pensacola to Ingleside first. And then five months later, she was towed, stern first, to her final resting place on North Beach in Corpus Christi.
Navy veteran Bob Noonan was one of her first volunteers. He’s been a volunteer ever since.
“The shop was in kind of sorry state,” recalled Noonan. “The staff of now and the last 30 years have really brought her up.”
“(The USS Lexington Museum) represents the history of what we went through but also this city and what this state and entire nation can do when called upon and people need to know that,” said Banta. “And yeah, you know, it’s an aircraft carrier.”