Before Hawk entered the gates of the Newport News shipyard on Aug. 1, 1961, his father turned to him and offered only four words: "Don't let me down."
Hawk was about to begin what has become a 50-year-and-counting career at Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co., joining the profession that fed his father and his six uncles for decades.
Hawk's first assignment was in the pipe department, delivering tools and materials to the veteran shipbuilders in the final stages of assembling a breakthrough vessel for the U.S. Navy.
On Friday, that 1,123-foot ship — then the longest, tallest and most-advanced ever built — turned 50.
The USS Enterprise, the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, was commissioned on Nov. 25, 1961, in Newport News. The "Big E," as it's known to both sailors and shipbuilders, remains active today, the second-oldest ship in the Navy and the longest serving aircraft carrier in Navy history.
Built between 1958 and 1961 at a cost of about $450 million (roughly $3.3 billion in today's dollars,) the one-of-a-kind supercarrier was outfitted with eight nuclear reactors that gave it horsepower of more than 280,000. It was revolutionary. Enterprise was so large and so different from any other ship ever built that it was hailed as a marvel of modern engineering.
It was the ship that forever changed the Navy, which now had a vessel with virtually unlimited range. And it was the Enterprise that positioned its builder as the premier shipyard in the United States, with a highly skilled workforce, top-of-the-line facilities and the know-how to assemble the most-complex steel structure ever constructed.
Since the Enterprise, all 12 of the Navy's aircraft carriers have been built in Newport News, bringing billions of dollars of contracts and decades of work for tens of thousands in Hampton Roads.
The Newport News shipyard remains the nation's lone builder of aircraft carriers, a monopoly that's provided the yard with a steady and lucrative stream of business, a line of work that will likely continue for decades to come.
Money in the bank
The Enterprise can be summed up in one word for third-generation shipbuilder Greg Howell: Livelihood.
"You think about all the people (for whom) it's put money in the bank, food in their stomachs and clothes on their back and you're just amazed," said Howell, a 32-year shipyard veteran whose father, Courtney "Mol" Howell, worked on the Enterprise from start to finish.
"Enterprise was feeding me before I realized what it was," Greg Howell said. "And it's still doing the same thing today."
Over the past five decades, about 250,000 sailors have served aboard the Enterprise. Untold thousands more from the Newport News shipyard have played a part in building it, refueling it and keeping it fit for service.
The Enterprise, in part because of its one-of-a-kind status and in part because of its longevity, has required more maintenance, more equipment, more workers and more time in the shipyard than any other vessel in history.
That fact spawned what's now a maxim in Newport News: "There are two kinds of people who work here, those who have worked on the Enterprise and those who will." The ship is alternately known in shipyard circles as the "Cash Cow" and "The Floating ATM."
In its last major maintenance project in Newport News, for example, the Big E racked up more than $662 million worth of work, 46 percent more than its initial $453.3 million price tag.