Key point: It served in nearly every theater throughout the Cold War.
The USS Enterprise, hull number CVN-65, was officially decommissioned back in 2017, which means it is no longer officially on the Navy’s register (the ship was actually transferred to inactive status in 2012, when preparations began to dispose of its nuclear reactor).
The Enterprise, or “Big E,” was commissioned on November 25, 1961. The ship’s subsequent twenty-five deployments read like a history of the Cold War and modern U.S. foreign policy: the Big E participated in the blockade of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis, deployed six times to Vietnam, sailed to the Bay of Bengal during the 1971 India-Pakistan War, flew missions in Bosnia and supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Where there was trouble, the Enterprise was there.
But what was really remarkable about the Enterprise was that it marked the debut of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, which are the backbone of U.S. naval power. Any warship is only as capable as the logistics that sustain it. Sail-powered vessels relied on the wind, which was a renewable resource but wasn’t always available when you needed to get moving. The switch to coal propulsion by World War I offered more reliable power, but coal was bulky and required large crews to shovel it into the engines, as well as nearby bases for replenishment. By World War II, ships ran on oil, but this still meant returning to port to refuel, or performing cumbersome refueling at sea from vulnerable tankers.