26. Gorging on Ice Cream Aboard a Sinking Ship
The USS Lexington (CV-2), or “Lady Lex”, was an early US Navy aircraft carrier that was commissioned in 1927, then joined the Pacific Fleet, with which she spent her entire career. Along with her sister ship, the USS Saratoga, the Lexington was used to develop and refine the Navy’s carrier doctrine and tactics before World War II. Luckily for the Lexington, she and the other Pacific Fleet carriers were at sea when the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, and so escaped damage.
Lady Lex’s luck ran out on May 7th, 1942, when she was crippled by Japanese carrier planes during the Battle of the Coral Sea, then caught fire. In the ship’s dying moments, a warrant officer broke the lock on a freezer, and started handing out ice cream. As an eyewitness recalled: “He didn’t think anything of it because we were abandoning ship. We just figured we might as well do it“. Sailors in the vicinity gorged on vanilla ice cream, polishing off entire containers, before heeding the order to abandon ship and lowering themselves into the water.