Honours and awards:American Defense Service Medal
("Fleet" clasp) / Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal (2 stars) / World War
II Victory Medal
After fitting out and shakedown, Lexington joined the
Battle Fleet at San Pedro, California, 7 April 1928. Based there, she
operated on the west coast with Aircraft Squadrons, Battle Fleet, in
flight training, tactical exercises, and battle problems. Each year she
participated in fleet maneuvers in Hawaii, in the Caribbean, off the
Panama Canal Zone, and in the eastern Pacific. On trials, Lexington
achieved an average speed of 30.7 knots, and maintained a speed of 34.5
knots for one hour.
The Captain of the vessel in 1930 and 1931 was Ernest King, who was
later to serve as the Chief of Naval Operations during the Second World
In 1931, Robert A. Heinlein, later science fiction writer, worked on
radio communications, then in its nascent phase, with the aircraft
carrier's planes.  Lexington was one of fourteen ships to receive
the early RCA CXAM-1 RADAR.
In the fall of 1941 she sailed with the battle force to the Hawaiians for tactical exercises.
On 7 December 1941 Lexington was at sea with Task Force 12 carrying
marine aircraft from Pearl Harbor to reinforce Midway when word of the
Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was received. She immediately launched
search planes to hunt for the Japanese fleet, and at midmorning headed
south to rendezvous with Indianapolis and Enterprise task forces to
conduct a search southwest of Oahu until returning to Pearl Harbor on
Lexington sailed next day to raid Japanese forces on Jaluit to relieve
pressure on Wake Island; these orders were canceled 20 December, and
she was directed to cover the Saratoga force in reinforcing Wake. When
the island fell on 23 December, the two carrier forces were recalled to
Pearl Harbor, arriving 27 December.
Lexington patrolled to block enemy raids in the Oahu–Johnston–Palmyra
triangle until 11 January 1942, when she sailed from Pearl Harbor as
flagship for Vice Admiral Wilson Brown commanding Task Force 11. On 16
February, the force headed for an attack on Rabaul, New Britain,
scheduled for 21 February; while approaching the day previous,
Lexington was attacked by two waves of enemy aircraft, nine planes to a
wave. The carrier's own combat air patrol and antiaircraft fire shot
down 17 of the attackers. During a single sortie, Lieutenant Edward
O'Hare won the Medal of Honor by downing five planes.
Her offensive patrols in the Coral Sea continued until 6 March, when
she rendezvoused with Yorktown's Task Force 17 for a thoroughly
successful surprise attack flown over the Owen Stanley Mountains of New
Guinea to inflict heavy damage on shipping and installations at
Salamaua and Lae on 10 March. She then returned to Pearl Harbor,
arriving 26 March.
Lexington's task force sortied from Pearl Harbor on 15 April. She went
through a short overhaul, during which her 8" turrets were removed and
replaced by quadruple 1.1 inch anti-aircraft guns. She rejoinined TF 17
on 1 May. As Japanese fleet concentrations threatening the Coral Sea
were observed, Lexington and Yorktown moved into the sea to search for
the enemy's force covering a projected troop movement; the Japanese had
to be blocked in their southward expansion or sea communication with
Australia and New Zealand would be cut, and the dominions threatened
with invasion. The Battle of the Coral Sea was the result.
Battle of the Coral Sea
Main article: Battle of the Coral Sea
On 7 May, search planes reported contact with an enemy carrier task
force. Lexington's air group sank the light carrier Shōhō. Later that
day, 12 bombers and 15 torpedo planes from still-unlocated heavy
carriers Shōkaku and Zuikaku were intercepted by fighter groups from
Lexington and Yorktown, which shot down nine enemy aircraft.
On the morning of the 8th, a Lexington plane located the Shōkaku group;
a strike was immediately launched from the American carriers, and the
Japanese carrier was heavily damaged. However, enemy planes penetrated
the American defenses at 11:00, and 20 minutes later Lexington was
struck by a torpedo to port. Seconds later, a second torpedo hit her
portside directly abeam the bridge. At the same time, she took three
bomb hits from enemy dive bombers, producing a 7 degree list to port
and several raging fires. By 13:00, skilled damage control had brought
the fires under control and restored her to an even keel; making 25
knots (29 mph/46 km/h), she was ready to recover her air group. Then
suddenly Lexington was shaken by a tremendous explosion, caused by the
ignition of gasoline vapors below, and again fire raged out of control.
At 15:58, Captain Frederick Carl Sherman, fearing for the safety of men
working below, secured salvage operations, and ordered all hands to the
flight deck. At 17:01, he ordered "abandon ship" and the orderly
disembarkation began. Men going over the side into the warm water were
almost immediately picked up by nearby cruisers and destroyers. Admiral
Aubrey Wray Fitch and his staff transferred to the cruiser Minneapolis;
Captain Sherman and his executive officer, Commander Morton T. Seligman
ensured all their men were safe, then were the last to leave.