The aircraft carrier known as the U.S.S. Hornet has a storied history. The version you see in these photos began its journey in 1943, and was named in honor of a previous Hornet that was sunk in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands during the Guadalcanal campaign of World War II. This ship took the previous Hornet’s place in the Pacific theater, eventually launching the first carrier strikes on Japan. After Japan’s formal surrender, the Hornet ferried veterans of the Pacific War home to California.

In the late 1960s the warship landed a glamorous assignment when it used in the recovery operations for astronauts who had returned from the Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 missions and needed to be pulled from the ocean. It was in 1969, during its astronaut-rescue period and in its final year of service, that LIFE photographer Lynn Pelham traveled on the Hornet and documented how the crew spent its leisure time.

The crew seemed to be having a ball, at least some of the time. Splash pools, volleyball games, drum kits, basking in the sun, general horseplay. With activities like these, who needs shore leave?

Well, probably they all did, and desperately. In those days, aircraft carriers didn’t even have their own Starbucks and gyms and other amenities found aboard their modern counterparts.

The Hornet was decommissioned in 1970 and now serves as a museum in Alameda, California.

The crew of the USS Hornet enjoying some down time, 1969.

Lynn Pelham/LIfe Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Crew members of the U.S.S. Hornet aircraft carrier, 1969.

Lynn Pelham/LIfe Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Crew members of the U.S.S. Hornet aircraft carrier, 1969.

Lynn Pelham/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Life aboard the U.S.S. Hornet aircraft carrier, 1969.

Lynn Pelham/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Crewmen of the U.S.S. Hornet, 1969.

Lynn Pelham/LIfe Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Life aboard the U.S.S. Hornet aircraft carrier, 1969.

Lynn Pelham/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Crew members play volleyball aboard the U.S.S. Hornet aircraft carrier, 1969.

Lynn Pelham/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Volleyball aboard the U.S.S. Hornet, 1969.

Lynn Pelham/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

The crew of the U.S.S. Hornet aircraft carrier, 1969.

Lynn Pelham/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Crew members sunbathing on the U.S.S. Hornet, 1969.

Lynn Pelham/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Life aboard the U.S.S. Hornet aircraft carrier, 1969.

Lynn Pelham/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Life aboard the U.S.S. Hornet aircraft carrier, 1969.

Lynn Pelham/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Front view of U.S.S. Hornet, 1969.

Lynn Pelham/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

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