On autumn nights off the Philippines in 1944, the late Admiral Marc A. Mitscher used to talk about a postwar supercarrier that could be a mobile base for long-range bombers. From those talks grew a dream that would have top priority in Navy plans for a decade.

The first supercarrier was approved by Congress in 1948, named the United States. Funds for it were appropriated by the House on April 13, 1949. But ten days later, economy-minded Defense Secretary Louis Johnson canceled the order for the supercarrier, touching off the famed "revolt of the admirals" and the public brawl between...

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