When visitors to the USS Yorktown come aboard to walk back into American history, they may notice a group of young adults with mops or spray bottles in hand going about the aircraft carrier with a purpose.
They are missionaries with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) who volunteer to help clean the massive warship each week as a way of giving service in the community.
The USS Yorktown has seen some of the proudest moments in American history, beginning with serving in the Pacific from 1943 until the end of World War II in 1945 to recovering the Apollo 8 astronauts, the first to orbit the Moon, in 1968. The aircraft carrier was decommissioned and brought to Mount Pleasant in 1975 where she lies anchored in Charleston Harbor and is the jewel of Patriots Point.
Diane Russell and her husband Dee, who are both serving a full-time military relations mission for the LDS Church in Charleston, were instrumental in organizing the weekly cleaning of the aircraft carrier.
“The missionaries are helping but they’re also getting a sense of history and an understanding of the sacrifice that others have made to our country,” Diane said. “They don’t take the place of a janitor. They do the things the janitors don’t have time to do.”
Missionaries doing community service
The LDS missionaries are young adults, mostly under the age of 25. They work with a companion of the same gender during their mission, which, for single men, is two years. Single women serve 18-month missions. While on their mission, male missionaries are addressed with the title “Elder” and women are addressed with the title “Sister.”
On a recent chilly Wednesday morning, more than a dozen full-time LDS missionaries went aboard the USS Yorktown to clean, scrub and shine the old warship.
Sisters Cassidy Laudie and Shiloh Matheson were busy cleaning glass display cases in the WWII carrier room, while on the Flight Deck in the Captains Bridge, Sisters Mikala Keith and Bailey Lyman shined the windows and instruments.
In The Fighting Lady Café just below the main floor, Elders Carson Monfredi and Collin Fisher swept and mopped the stairs and floors along with Elders Brian Wilkins and Braeden Erbe.
As the missionaries go about cleaning and walking around the ship, they have the opportunity to talk with workers and visitors alike.
“It’s a special opportunity to come to the USS Yorktown,” said Elder David Hjorth. “We help care for the ship and get to talk with a lot of people and show we truly care.”
His companion, Elder Hunter Sandberg said, “People see us helping in other ways other than knocking on doors. It gives us an opportunity to give Christ-like service.”
Sis. Keith said she enjoys talking with veterans onboard and hearing their “great stories,” which she can relate to as her father served in the Army.
Filling a gap
The work the missionaries are doing bridges a gap with the USS Yorktown custodial crew. Diane Brown, a custodial supervisor, said she has a crew of seven janitors to care for the entire ship. In comparison, while the aircraft carrier was commissioned, its crew of about 2,500 sailors worked to keep it clean.
Brown, who’s worked on the aircraft carrier for 37 years, said she appreciates the missionaries helping out with the things her crew can’t get to or chores that don’t get done. Without the missionaries’ help, the cleaning work would slow down and she’d have to “go outside the boss” to bring in paid help, she said.
Along with the custodial department, the museum’s full-time staff includes ship fitters and welders, public safety personnel, a marketing team, museum store workers, and a small army of more than 100 unpaid volunteers, many of whom are retired military who have flown aircraft on display at the museum or served on other ships.
Raynerd Green, a USS Yorktown custodian, said he looks forward to having the missionaries help with tasks on the giant aircraft carrier, which has more than 1 million square feet of space.
“I love those guys,” Green said. “You get a bond with them each week. It helps out having them here. We don’t have time to do it all.”
Replicating another program
The effort to have the missionaries clean the USS Yorktown was spearheaded by Don Hagan, a church member in Charleston, Dee said. In Hawaii, Hagan saw how LDS church members and missionaries voluntarily cleaned the USS Missouri in Pearl Harbor each week for many years. Hagan wanted to replicate the program on the USS Yorktown and last summer contacted the Russells, who got in touch with Larry Murray, executive director of Patriots Point Development Authority.
“The Russells shared the success of the USS Missouri and impact the missionaries had on the ship. It was a perfect fit to duplicate that success here on the USS Yorktown,” Murray said.
The program started in the fall. A short time later, Hagan died.
After seeing the missionaries in action for the last several months, Murray said, “Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum is blessed to have The Church of Latter-day Saints on board.”
Others have taken notice as well.
“The efforts by the missionaries have been recognized by our guests and staff,” Murray added. “And since they began volunteering, other organizations have reached out to offer their help and support too.”
Karen McDonough volunteers as the Director of Public Affairs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Charleston.