My oldest son is an officer in the Navy. The destroyer he is on recently came off deployment to the middle east coming through Pearl Harbor. The Navy has this great program in which, at the end of a deployment, family and friends are allowed on board for a final leg of the cruise into their home port. This is called a Tiger Cruise with the family and friends being called the “tigers.” I had the privilege of doing so with my son from Pearl Harbor to San Diego, a six day cruise. I flew to San Diego to spend the evening and night with his lovely wife and their three children. The next morning they took me to the San Diego airport where I departed for Honolulu.
I had never been to Hawaii before this. My youngest son’s wife is a Hawaiian Princess, at least that’s what she is to me. We are looking forward to visiting there as a family to see her father’s home, school, etc. Anyway, flying into this paradise was a dream come true for me. Doesn’t everyone want to visit Hawaii? The ship’s van picked me (and other Tigers) up at the airport in Honolulu about 1 pm. I was thrilled to see and get my arms around my son who had been in harm’s way for eight months.
We stopped at the NEX for lunch and talked at least an hour before heading back to the ship. This patriotic man counts it a privilege just to be around military people because I think they exemplify the best of the American spirit. They may not feel like it, but I think they are all heroes. Yes, there are those few who don’t measure up, but the military has a way of weeding them out. Rank is not an issue with me; I respect character, courage and conviction. That can be true of the E-1 or the O-10.
Going onto the ship was exciting. All the sailors must salute the flag as the cross the bridge and ask permission to come aboard. After checking in my son showed me my berth. It was on the bottom of a stack of four bunks. I had about 18 inches from my mattress to the bottom of the next bunk up. After banging my head and shoulders numerous time, I developed the technique of “drop and roll.” I would drop down to my knees then roll into my bunk. Not once during the remaining five days did I bang my head. The space was tight, but who cares once you are asleep?
When 5pm, oops, 1700hrs came around, we went to the officer’s ward room for supper. Officers have to pay for their own meals so we fill out a slip of what we want and the mess officer picks it up and fills the order. My son graciously picked up the tab so I wouldn’t starve on board. I remember the food as being good and service excellent. The mess crew was to be commended and I did so. Deployment can be monotonous so the captain had movies playing all the time.
Meeting the other tigers was a highlight of the trip. It takes all kinds of people to make up America. We are free people free to think as we wish. I met conservatives and liberals, men and women, educated and uneducated, but all loved freedom. It is truly an honor and blessing from God to be born an American. I never got seasick, but a handfull did. That was alleviated 24 hours later after their Dramamine kicked in!
I arrived Thursday afternoon and the ship was not to leave until Saturday at 0700hrs. So, Friday my son and I set out with the ship’s XO and his father and nephew to see the sights. They had graciously invited us to join them as the had a rented car and room for us. I could not thank them enough. There were four places of major interest for our group of five; the USS Arizona Memorial, Diamond Head, Waikiki and a pineapple plantation. The cost and distance to the last one proved impractical, but we made it to the others. We went straight to the memorial and learned it is a very popular destination. In fact, though getting there at about 0900hrs, we could not get tickets (free) for a tour before 1140hrs. The boats leave every 20 minutes. This gave us time to cruise through Waikiki Beach, drive around Diamond Head and look at that beautiful ocean. Granted, what we saw was not quite what the Tourism Council has in the brochures, but Hawaii is still beautiful. I could live there in a pinch!
Without being overly dramatic, the trip the the USS Arizona was the highlight of Hawaii. Passengers board a small tour boat (about 100 persons) run by real Navy sailors. The crew was very professional and were helped by a National Park Ranger acting as tour guide. The Arizona is across the harbor and the ride was only about 4 minutes. Most of you have seen the pictures, but it would be hard to imagine the emotion of stepping into a cemetary for 1,777 sailors killed in an unprovoked attack before a state of war was even declared.
As you know, the Memorial is built over the ship as it rests on the bottom of the harbor. Though the barrels of the 16″ guns were removed to go onto other ships to fight the war, the ship was left mainly intact out of respect for those buried below. All of the names are etched in the granite wall in the main hall. A bronze plaque is next to the base of where the ship’s flag mast still stands high above the water. The sign next to it basically reads “Though the Japanese sunk the USS Arizona, her flag still flies.” This brought tears to my eyes. Remember, I am VERY partiotic! I was so into the memorial that I had to be called out by the tour guide to get to the boat.
The Saturday departure was a thrill. Because the ship’s propellers are so huge, they cannot be used close to the dock. (The wash they kick up would damage the port’s bottom.) So, tugs pulled us away from the pier. Most of the ship’s crew main the rails out of respect for the Arizona. That was most impressive seeing such respect and tradition. The Navy is steeped in tradition. If an officer, any officer, is in the officer’s mess (ward room) and another officer walks in, the arriving officer asks the ranking officer in the room “Permission to join you.” All the military stuff just comes across as classy to me. Anyway, the crew stood down after passing the Arizona. The machine guns were crewed all the while we were traversing the ship channel in case of attack. I believe this was implemented after the USS Kohl incident in Yemen. Looking up the channel I could see that we were traveling directly under the flight paths of arriving 747s into Honolulu airport. I took LOTS of pictures. Hawaii is beautiful.
Out at sea the captain did not want all of us tigers to get bored. So, a Tiger Cruise Qualification sheet had been made up for each of us. (There was a crew of about 260 and about 60 tigers on board.) This consisted of about 8 pages of questions, information points or tasks that we were to get signed off on by qualified personnel so we could earn our “Tiger Pins.” Needless to say it was a lot of fun and proved to be competitive in that many of us wanted to get everything signed off and faster than the others. Of those that I knew of, I was the only one to get everything signed off. It helps when your son is the ship’s chief engineer in charge of the largest department on board. No, I did not cheat. All signatures were legit.
We saw demonstrations of the firefighting equipment and abilities of the crew. We saw the two ship’s helicopters take off and land. We saw a demonstration of the ship’s firepower in it’s 5-inch gun, 20mm computer controlled gun, 50-cal machine guns, Sea Whiz (2400 rounds per minute). Since the missiles cost about $1million each, they did not demostrate those. However, they had fired eight missiles during the course of their deployment in support of our troops in Afghanistan.
The most significant event for the crew was their help to the crew of the MV Ariana, a ship pirated by Somali pirates and held off the coast of Somalia. Please read www.salem-news.com, December 25, 2009. The crew was very frustrated from the captain all the way down when they, while floating in sight of about 9 pirated ships and seeing the pirates activity, were refused permission by higher ups to take out the pirates and rescue the crews. Obviously, political issues beyond their control and my understanding prevailed. Anyway, one of my son’s crew welded a beautiful casket for the child that was miscarried by one of the two female crew members of the Ariana. Our Navy crew were glad to help.
Another incident occured when the SARS (Search and Rescue Squad) boarded a tuna fishing boat. I talked to the first man who went over the rail. He saw four armed Germans! He said the first minute was tense. No doubt! Turned out they were the protection crew for the boat. After that first minute they had a wonderful. The fishing boat even gave the destroyer fresh tuna for supper that evening!
We were scheduled to arrive in San Diego at noon the Friday after we left Pearl Harbor. That Thursday we took on fuel during what is called an unrep (underway replenishment). How cool can it get while you watch this hugh tanker moving slowly through the water, the frigate in front of you pulls up to its starboard (right) side then you pull up to its port side, they somehow get big hoses across to each ship, and you take on about 100,000 gallons of fuel oil all in less than one hour. I was up on the bridge watching the action and watching the officers and bridge crew do their thing to keep the ship on course and the right distance from the fueler. It is no easy task. My son was giving instruction to the conn (conning officer), a relatively new female midshipman.
Weather was generally great. We had been warned of rough weather, but, except for the Wednesday night, it was fine. That night, between about midnight and 3 am, I thought I was going to be thrown out of the bunk. Each bunk has two safety straps on the side for just such an event. That was the only time I used them. I stayed in my bunk.
Friday morning could not have been more beautiful. The crew seeing land sent a lot of electricity through them. They had been gone 8 months. Everyday we had had a briefing to go over the next day’s events. This morning we had another briefing so all would go well on our arrival and docking. This is one time you don’t want to mess up! Many of the sailors manned the rails in their dress blues. They want to be seen by and see their families. We were scheduled to be under the Coronado bridge at 1200 hrs. We were there at 1159 hrs. Way cool! The fire boats, the HUGE flag (about 12×36′), the families crowding the dock, the pleasure yachts blowing their air horns all got to me. I went through about half a small pack of tissues all the while taking lots of pictures. I am proud of my son. It is difficult to describe the reunion. I am sure you could imagine it. It was glorious. I am proud of my country in spite of the politicians we have now. But, that is another story.