After many missions, ship to become an artificial reef

KEY WEST, Fla. -- Long before a Key West dive boat captain embarked on a quest to turn the mothballed USS Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg into an artificial reef, a typhoon that ravaged Guam in the mid-1970s almost did the job.

For 48 hours, the fearful crew and civilian workers rode out 25-foot waves by tying themselves to desks and chairs, hoping tons of concrete placed at the ship's bottom would offset the top-heavy load: missile-tracking equipment for spying on the Russians during the Cold War.

The 523-foot ship survived the typhoon as it has all storms, wars and -- in one case -- alien invaders in the 66 years since it was built. At various times it has been a World War II troop ship, a humanitarian vessel carrying war refugees and Holocaust survivors and a mothball in the Navy's Ghost Fleet of decommissioned ships. It even had a moment of movie fame in the sci-fi thriller Virus.

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