Cornelius James Ware, who joined the U.S. Navy right out of high school, stands at Fairfield Veterans Memorial Park. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

In a U.S. Navy career that spanned 23 years, Cornelius James Ware Jr. participated in big events – serving in 1990-1991 in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm and patrolling the Mediterranean Sea in 1986 during tensions with Libya.

Ware, who enlisted in 1976, said he doesn’t think of his own service as historic, though he was proud to be in the U.S. Navy.

“I’m just an average serviceman,” he said. “I joined the service, went where they told me to go, and did what they told me to do.  My service ended and I moved on.”

Still, his memories of his years in service will be preserved for posterity.

Ware, 64, of Gardiner, is part of an oral history project led in Maine by independent U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, who recorded interviews with nine veterans and sent them to the Library of Congress.

“We are literally recording history that can inform our future,” King said in a statement. “One of my favorite sayings from Mark Twain – everybody has one – is history doesn’t always repeat itself, but it usually rhymes. That means we all have something to learn from history.”


Ware told King that he was an “Army brat,” but he chose the Navy. His decision “started quite a stir in the family.” He joined the military straight out of high school.

In a separate interview with the Press Herald, he said that he spent some of his early years in Fayetteville, N.C. But the family moved around a lot because his father, Cornelius James Ware Sr., served in the U.S. Army, a veteran of the Vietnam War.

Ware traveled a lot in his years in the service. Along the way, while in Bath preparing for a naval ship’s maiden voyage, he met and married a woman from Maine.

They eventually bought a place in Maine so she and the children could be close to her family when Ware was nearby. And Ware returned to the state after he left the service, to be near the children even after the couple divorced.

He liked it enough to stay, and now works at the Veterans Administration hospital in Togus, helping veterans process medical claims.

During the Persian Gulf War of the early 1990s, Ware was on the USS Thomas S. Gates, built in Bath, in the Red Sea off the coast of Saudi Arabia. The ship coordinated aircraft, and Ware was the equivalent of an air traffic controller for fighter helicopters. He never saw action.


“To me it was like a typical cruise. We had a mission to do, we did the mission and we came home,” Ware said.

In 1986, Ware was on the USS Yorktown in the Mediterranean when Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi was warning the U.S. not to cross what he called the “Line of Death” in the Mediterranean’s Gulf of Sidra. Tensions were high over a series of terrorist attacks traced to Libya, and the U.S., in various military activities, asserted its right to keep international trade lanes open.

Ware was a communications specialist, and worked to communicate radar pictures between warships.

“One midnight, we were getting off watch and our intel people picked up radar transmissions from a Libyan gunboat,” Ware said. “Our captain launched two harpoon missiles at it. It was undetermined whether they hit.”

Ware retired from the Navy in 1999, after serving on the USS Cole a year before 17 people were killed and 37 injured on the naval ship in a terrorist bombing in Yemen.

He retired with the rank of chief warrant officer 2.

“I did my job to the best of my ability, and thankfully none of my shipmates were hurt or killed during my time in the service,” Ware said.

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