In a previous life, I was a Naval Officer’s wife….and all that comes with that. I was in my early 20’s the first time I experienced this thing they call deployment. Now I was no “Mama’s or Daddy’s girl”. Far from it. I had been involved in a scouting program from age 15 in national leadership which took me from my Georgia home to locations all over the US. So by age 19, when I met this charming and charismatic Navel Officer 8 years my senior, I was smitten! He was like no man I had ever met (and remains the holder of that title to this day). We met actually during a state-wide conference that I was running where he was there representing the US Navy in his job as a recruiter. What can I say about him… Funny… Sweet…and very unlike the “good ‘ol boys” that I was typically around in Macon. GA. So within 3 months of meeting and beginning to date, we were engaged. I know that seems quick! Realize that it was 1975 and the world spun a bit slower back then. Or so I’d like to think. Three months later we were married on a HOT Georgia August day with not a cloud in the sky. There I was in my pretty white puffy wedding dress, you probably know the style if you lived during that era! And there was my groom… in his white “Mess Dress” Naval Officer’s uniform with his gold Navy wings, all his “dangle metals” ,with his sword at his side and those Paul Newman blue eyes. Who would not have swooned?
As we made our way in life we continued to live another 2 years or so in Georgia and then one day, as it is inevitable, the detailer called! That is the person who is in charge of determining your destiny as I quickly learned. They assigned him to report to an air carrier for what they call a disassociated tour of duty. Basically as a P3 aviator, with the rank of LCDR, there is no place for you in a squadron. So they place you on a carrier…. Yeah a BIG ship that is gone more than it’s home! In the process of preparing for his tour of duty on CV 63 USS Kitty Hawk, there were interim schools to attend to prepare him for his work and ship life. We were headed to San Diego but not before a 3 month intermediate stop in Virginia Beach for training. Life is an adventure in the Navy. My husband went to Virginia a few weeks before me and I will never forget the look on my sweet dearly departed Mother’s face as she watched me pack my 1976 Audi Fox to the brim with a microwave, linens, all the household items I could muster, my clothes, his clothes and 2 blonde cocker spaniels. It was a 12 hour drive and I was doing it all by myself. She thought I was CRAZY! It was definitely the longest journey I had ever made by myself but as I would come to find out as a Navy wife…by no means my last! Three months came and went very fast. He was to meet the ship on deployment in progress right after Christmas. We drove cross-country to California and left the car with his best friend for the duration of the cruise. Then it was time to say goodbye. If you are a service wife you know how this goes…the sadness is just too much so you typically pick a fight the day before thus making the departure actually a relief! Well you may not actually do that by design, but more times than not, it works out that way. It’s a form of survival I suppose. I headed back to Georgia where I lived for about 5 months until it became time to pack up and move…. to San Diego. You know how most couples who are moving to a new city go on a home searching trip together and determine where they collectively would like to live? Well, no can do in the Navy. I flew to San Diego where I stayed with Navy friends of my husband’s whom I had never met and proceeded to pick out our new place. A few days later it was done. New condo, new address, new friends and new life. Then the day arrived. Now I was raised in the South and not on the ocean so I had never witnessed a Navy ship come home from deployment. I hope I can do it justice and describe the scene in case you haven’t ever experienced it yourself either.
Cool, crisp, salty sea air. San Diego’s majestic views. Excitement that you can feel in the air. Coming over the Coronado Bay Bridge that early morning in May with my loved ones that had joined me for his arrival… so early that ship was not in sight yet! Good …. we had time to get to the pier and post our signs and wait…. and wait… and wait…with about 5,000 other family members! As the carrier came in sight the crowd became joyous with excitement. Jubilant anticipation! Remembering that my wait had been about half as long as most of the wives with my husband’s joining the cruise in progress. I marveled at the fortitude that it takes to endure 10+ months without your partner. It is something most civilians will never have to experience and may not comprehend. There were newborn babies whose lives had begun since their dads left many months previous. There were reunions of the sweetest kind just getting ready to unfold with Daddies meeting their babies for the very first time! Get out the kleenex! As the ship drew nearer…. the faint outline of sailors on the deck came into focus. They were positioned all around the rail of the flight deck at parade rest… it was a sight to behold. These men (in those days only men on the ship) were so glad to be coming home after so many months of service. There were officers and enlisted men alike. The one thing that tied them all together was that ship, that deployment and that homecoming! It takes literally HOURS for a ship of this magnitude to dock. Then the moment arrives… the first men disembark. You’d think the Captain of the ship might be first off…. Not so. There is a special line for “First Time Dads” and the men who had not had the pleasure of holding their precious little ones are the first off…. then the tears start to fall! There are over 5,000 men in ship’s company. You can imagine the sea of happy reunions going on around you as each sailor finds his special ones that have been waiting on his arrival! By the time my husband disembarked and got to me I had cried off all the makeup that I put on that morning. That was a wonderful feeling to have him back home! Indescribable really. A feeling that is tough to explain but something I can remember vividly even 35 + years later!
During subsequent deployments I learned these truths: Your toilet only backs up when the husband is gone. The car is fine until the ship pulls out at which time there is something so wrong with it that they send a mechanic to Sweden to learn how to repair it! Meanwhile it stays in the shop for 6 months gathering dust! Washing machine repairs go up exponentially during deployment. Maytag loves that! Basically if it has moving parts it will either break or disintegrate while the husband is on deployment. This is Murphy’s law at it’s best! Being a Navy Wife was both frustrating and rewarding. This is why I say “Navy Wife….Toughest Job in the Navy”! My hat is off to all of you ladies who are out there standing that watch! I say press on and know that this Ex-Navy wife respects and applauds you!
Photo by https://www.navypictures.net/products/CV_63_USS_Kitty_Hawk_Photograph_2-2395-63.html
Info on the USS KITTY HAWK (CV 63) Contribution: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Kitty_Hawk_(CV-63)
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