ALAMEDA -- During World War II, flying ace Ted Crosby screamed off the USS Hornet in his Grumman F6F Hellcat in search of enemy aircraft.

On Saturday, the former commander and his fellow veterans were reunited with the Hornet to celebrate the aircraft carrier's 70th anniversary and a new exhibit, "Hornet: Reflections in Time."

The veterans saved their boasts for the vessel, which they said served in some of the country's most critical sea battles.

As the veterans shared their stories, background images from those years flickered on a screen. The photographed men seemed like small black chess pieces compared to the bright gray of the Hornet, built as long as the Titanic and weighing 41,000 tons fully loaded.

Former USS Hornet crew member and Korea War veteran Dale Berven, of Castro Valley, a Navy pilot, shares his memories of serving on board the aircraft
Former USS Hornet crew member and Korea War veteran Dale Berven, of Castro Valley, a Navy pilot, shares his memories of serving on board the aircraft carrier during a panel discussion in Alameda on Nov. 16, 2013. (Anda Chu/Staff)

Docked at Alameda Point's Pier 3, and a museum of 15 years, it continues to make an impression.

The first thing Kelly Norton thought when she saw the vessel for the first time four years ago as a sea cadet in a youth program: "Wow, I'm going to have to take bigger steps."

The carrier is the eighth Navy ship to bear the name, the first a merchant sloop that set to sea in 1775 during the Revolutionary War.

There may be bigger and newer and fancier carriers than the Hornet, but few vessels have the history and longevity to match.

Originally slated to be named the USS Kearsarge as it was being built, the carrier was named in honor of the USS Hornet (CV-8) after it was lost in October 1942 during the Battle of the Solomon Islands in World War II.

The Hornet continued its service as a goodwill messenger in the 1950s, then the Vietnam War.

Then, like a nautical Zelig who appears amid important moments in history, the carrier helped recover Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins after they splashed down in the Pacific Ocean following the first lunar landing in July 1969.

It was also the carrier sent to recover Richard Gordon and fellow astronauts Alan Bean and Charles "Pete" Conrad after the second Moon landing in November 1969.

The vessel's final cruise was in 1970 after the government had the USS Hornet decommissioned. It barely survived a San Francisco scrapyard, retired Capt. Gerald Lutz said.

However, it took suing the Navy to spare it.

"But it was really a mess," said Eldon Brodie, a World War II veteran from San Leandro, about the state of the Hornet before restoration began.

The National Park Service designated ¿the ship as a national historic landmark in 1991, which paved the way to becoming a public museum seven years later.

"Every day," said Joe Holt, a former Marine who was on board during the July 1969 Apollo 11 recovery, "I can't believe how much work has been done on this ship."