When American warships deploy into harm’s way, media coverage of dockside farewells can be riveting and wrenching. Whenever I watch an aircraft carrier depart from North Island, I’m sent back in time to over 50 years ago, when on Dec. 28, 1967, three days after Christmas, we saw Dad off on his way to the Tonkin Gulf, leaving from NASNI aboard the aging, World War II vintage, Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14), carrying Dad on the first of his two combat deployments to Vietnam.
After we’d said our goodbyes, Dad turned away, clambered up the gangplank, and boarded the boat. We stayed to watch the ship pull away from the quay wall as she steamed off into the unknown: to war. We were watching freedom in motion. I was only 10, but 1967 seems like yesterday.
The “Tico” was of a smaller vintage than today’s behemoth, nuclear-powered flat-tops, but the timeless, big emotions of family separation stay the same, whatever the era.
As a Nado Navy brat, er, Navy Junior, I busied myself between schoolwork and the pursuit of my first true love, baseball. Coronado Little League provided a most welcome diversion from the oft-distressing headlines of 1968, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank my parents, coaches, and community for supporting such a pastime. Coronado was a great place to grow up, and remains so today, despite certain current events. But I digress.
During Vietnam, I came to know friends, schoolmates, or teammates whose dads didn’t return. Duty and God called them Home, just not here. My dad deployed twice and returned twice. We remain forever in his debt for his over 20 years of faithful service to our country as a Naval aviator.
Fast-forward 50 years to the modern age, when television coverage of a warship weighing anchor for a long deployment invariably includes footage that speaks volumes, as the news camera catches sight of a young Navy wife holding a baby in her arms, with the baby gripping a miniature American flag, mother and child each bidding farewell to their hero.
Oh, dear. The more things change, the more they stay the same: young mother holding a little baby, little baby holding a little flag, two strong souls letting go of Daddy.
You can sense the mother’s sadness and uncertainty, but you also sense her pride, both for her beloved and for her country. You can see it in her eyes. Sure, there may be tears, but there’ll be no whining. You see, as ever in America, sadness and fear are no match for love and faith.
Talk amongst yourselves