Sunday, June 15, 2014

Travelogue: USS MCCANDLESS (FF 1084) Reunion, St. Louis

No posts of mine seem to generate as much appreciation as my travel musings.  I suppose I should be happy to garner any appreciation for these scribblings, but this is supposed to be largely a political blog, so the fact that the more mundane things are more popular than my thoughts aimed at the central character of the blog is troubling.  Be that as it may, one must give the people what they want.

In the Spring of 1987, I graduated (on a Sunday) from UVA.  On Monday, I played golf with my friends, and on Tuesday, I drove from Charlottesville to Norfolk to report for duty to my first ship--the USS MCCANDLESS (FF 1084).  We NROTC types did not get the Naval Academy "basket leave" time off after graduation, so most of my class was doing the same thing, heading off to their first assignments.  Additionally, we got virtually no choice in where we were headed, so a fourteen year old frigate in the time of hot AEGIS Cruisers and Spruance class destroyers was not necessarily the bee's knees.

I wound up serving for three years in MCCANDLESS and made lifelong friends there.  She was a bite-sized ship, perfect for a young man with little or no mechanical skills to cuts his teeth on.  I learned a ton there, made two Med deployments and was held hostage by Fleet Training Group Guantanamo Cuba for twelve weeks of an eight week REFTRA.

So when a group of folks from the ship decided to organize (Facebook) a reunion, I got in touch with some of the seminal figures of our time on that ship and we conspired to join the fun.  That these lame, weak, once great, former friends ultimately dropped out of the event toward the end of the planning did not dampen my desire to attend.

A ship reunion is sort of an odd thing, in that MCCANDLESS was in service for twenty years or so, and so the overwhelming majority of the people in the room were not in fact, enjoying a "reunion" at all.  I served with six or seven of the people in the room of sixty or seventy.  We were however, all bound together by the experience of having served.  There were two "plankowners" there, guys from the crew that built the ship.  There were tales of deployments, of collisions, of groundings (yep, the Mighty Mac had both!).  The guys I served with that showed up were pretty much all of the same kind of Sailor--"Operations Specialists", or OS's.

I've always liked OS's.  As the ship's Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer, I worked most closely with OS's and Sonar Techs.  Sonar Techs were "my guys", but because of the way a ship hunts subs, I spent more time with the OS's.  Keep in mind, this was the last few years of the Evil Empire, and while the MCCANDLESS was a pretty modestly capable ship, we could do one thing well--hunt Soviet subs.  And these guys were really good at it.

I worked with OS's very closely for the two ships after MCCANDLESS too. These are very bright guys, any one of which could have been doing my job if they had either chosen to do so or had the means to pursue the options I did.  The leader of this bunch--JD McClure--then--was the main impetus in gathering them for this event.

I flew from BWI to STL via Atlanta (yech) and rolled in to the hotel about an hour before things got started. After a quick workout, I headed to the bar, there to be greeted by Gadsen Edward "Ed" Rule, the Supply Officer for most of my tour.  Suppo is a great guy, and he was ultra-competent.  It was great to see him and to hear his uproarious laugh again after a long, long time.  Then I ran into the OS crowd, and had a lively reunion conversation with them.

At dinner, I spent the time with three older officers, guys who served in MCCANDLESS ten years or so before I did.  Really good guys, one of whom went to law school after he left the Navy, practiced law for a while, then went to Med school.  Now he's a professor at Tulane teaching medicine.

It was a serious mix of people, just like a ship's crew.  One guy rode his Harley with his girl across the South to get there, mostly in the rain.   There was an emcee of the event, who spent most of the evening walking around with a microphone interviewing people.  All in all, it was a wonderful event, and it was good to see folks I haven't run into in a long time.  I need to thank my Dad (Happy Father's Day, Dad) for suggesting I attend.  It was a good call.

Now I'm on a flight to Atlanta for onward movement to BWI.  Very early start, and the guy who drove me to the airport thought I had committed a sin against nature that I would spend only one night there and see nothing.  I begged a busy schedule and promised someday to see the sites.  If the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce needs a new Director, I know the guy.

The airport experience in the last two days confirms two suspicions of mine.  One, that Americans are simply not getting any smarter, and two, I am simply not getting any more tolerant.  We've been at this ridiculous bullshit TSA stuff for thirteen years now.  Let's get with it people.  It is not that hard.  Take stuff out of your pockets.  Take your belt off.  Take your shoes off.  Take your computer out.  Take your little baggie of liquids out.  There really ought to be a penalty box for people to have to go sit in who cluelessly hold up the ultra-efficient among us.

I paid a little extra to fly biz class on Air Tran this trip.  Doesn't get you much more than a wider seat and early boarding, but these things matter to me and so here I am.  In flight WiFi is a great boon to the traveling blogger, there 's no doubt about that.

Happy Father's Day to all the Dads reading this.  You make more of a difference than you know.


BigFred said...

For the record, I dropped out of this trip as soon as it was announced.

First Divo you didn't invite said...

Thanks for the heads-up McG...

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