The Mystery of the 1:6 Scale USS Oriskany (CV-34)
Toy dealer and GIjOE fan, Ricky Smith, wrote in to The Joe Report recently to tell us about something exciting he had discovered in Pensacola, FL—a 1:6 scale Aircraft Carrier! No, we’re not talking about the 1980’s U.S.S. Flagg playset by Hasbro, we’re talking about a MASSIVE, 60-foot behemoth, currently “dry-docked” on an equally lengthy semi trailer. To better illustrate the ship’s size, Smith placed one of his Sailor GIjOEs onto its deck and took the following photo (see below):
Holy Hull Size, Batman! Ricky was right. This ship is huge! The mystery of its origins quickly deepened. Who built it and why? Why was it sitting out in a field in Pensacola? Perhaps it had been built by some enterprising Florida GIjOE club members to pose with their GIjOEs? Or as a display in a museum? Or…? Smith didn’t know, but he offered to help learn more, telling us…
“When I first saw it, I freaked out! I’d love to place a blue Panther Jet up on its Carrier deck and take a picture of that. When I have the time, I’ll try to find out more and send you another picture with a person standing next to it so you can get a better idea just how MASSIVE this thing really is!”
By now, our curiosity had been seriously peaked. Though clearly not an accurate “museum-quality” 1:6 scale replica, the ship exudes a serious amount of “play value” and its incredible size was almost too big to be believed. Who would build such a colossus? To construct something this large required serious dedication and extensive construction experience. We set out to discover the ship’s secrets, and what we would find is amazing.
The Truth Revealed
Closer examination of Smith’s photos, coupled with our own research, ultimately solved the mystery. It turns out that this massive construction was originally built to be a parade float for the 1955 Armed Forces Day Parade in Philadelphia, PA. Sponsors of the float (and their families) were able to sit in, on, and around the float as it was towed down Main Street in the parade. According to Ted Sherman, author of a 2007 article recounting its origins:
“It was several months before Armed Forces Day 1955 in Philadelphia, and our Naval Reserve Air Group was asked to create and ride a float in the parade. Most of us had returned two years before from active duty deployment in the Korean War. We decided to make our float a replica of the USS Oriskany (CV34), the aircraft carrier many of us had served aboard in combat off the North Korean coast.
The Oriskany had also gained quite a bit of notoriety after returning to the States the previous year and starring as the fictional carrier in the movie, “The Bridges at Toko-Ri,” based on a novel written by James Michener and starring William Holden, Mickey Rooney and Grace Kelly.”
Construction of a Colossus
Mr. Sherman’s account of the ship’s construction revealed just how large an undertaking it would become, requiring a small army of helpers and specialists to make it a reality. Here is the excerpt:
“As for our float-building task, we started with a big flat-bed truck. With the help of many reservist volunteers, carpenters and painters, we built a flight deck and painted in all the usual carrier markings. We also made a fake bow with USS Oriskany CV34 painted in large letters. Carpenters built the superstructure, complete with all the compartments, weather decks, gun tubs and other realistic items. One clever worker took a child’s large motorized backyard spinner toy and strung on it several models of our aircraft at the time, F6F fighters and TBF torpedo bombers.”
Great advice for Future Float Builders
In case you’re getting any ideas of your own for building giant 1:6 parade floats, especially floats supporting our military or honoring our veterans, Mr. Sherman concludes his article saying:
“When it was all completed, along with masts, lines and signal flags, the slowly spinning aircraft made our float look almost like the real thing in miniature. If there can be any tips we can pass on, it is that if you get an assignment to build a float for an Armed Forces Day parade, make it as realistic and respectful as you can. In planning and building it, you should always keep in mind that you’re not celebrating Disney characters nor Rose Bowl flowers, but honoring those who served in America’s wars.”
Bottom Line: Our sincerest thanks to Ricky Smith for bringing this amazing story to our attention and to Ted Sherman for his detailed history of the ship. Its continued maintenance is an ongoing testament to the love and support Americans share for the men and women of our beloved United States Navy. If you’d like to learn more about the “Big O” (the USS Oriskany), click HERE. For a great clip of the opening scenes of The Bridges at Toko-Ri, featuring REAL Korean War-era USN Panther Jets taking off from the deck of the USS Oriskany, click on the link below. And…GO NAVY!