Of Reunions, Remembrances, and Such

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The repair ship USS Hector

This past weekend was spent in Portland, Oregon, at a reunion of sailors from the USS Hector (AR-7), my first ship.

I served from December 1980 until November 1982 as Diving Officer. There were several folks from my time on board: my department head, the Repair Boss; the assistant repair officer, a warrant officer, a repair department colleague; the Command Master Chief; a fellow officer who managed several divisions and then the deck department in the two years she was on board; two Master chiefs, and two petty officers. It was great seeing them all.

I had never spent much time in Portland prior to the weekend, so I took advantage of the sightseeing activities offered: a tour up the Columbia Gorge, a tour of the city, and a lunch cruise up the Willamette River. Dinners were spent with my officer friends, and Saturday night was the big banquet.

Although I was on board in the early 1980s, there were people there from the entire life of the ship: from 1944’s commissioning to 1987’s decommissioning. None of my divers came, but there were two enlisted divers from previous eras, of whom I was glad to meet and swap sea stories with. Even though our time on board was separated by years, the camaraderie we shared was precious. I came home happy to have served on that ship with those sailors, and I intend to renew those acquaintances and friendships for years to come.

Upon my return home I had a LinkedIn request from an officer who served as my ex-husband’s Executive Officer. Just seeing his name brought back memories from those years serving on ships, and trying to maintain a semblance of family of just my husband and me. As our responsibilities grew and our deployments increased, my heart ached for what was, what wasn’t, and what could have been. I haven’t yet answered that request. Sorry, not ready to tread down that road.

And then, 9/11, a day that will not easily be forgotten.

All of us who were alive on September 11, 2001, can remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news of the first plane to hit the first tower, the confusion, the wonder of how that could have happened, the misinformation that was being disseminated by the media.

Then the news of a plane hitting the second tower, and the realization that something was really wrong.

I was a teaching assistant for an undergraduate sociology class called Women in the Military with my advisor and mentor, Dr. Mady Segal, at the University of Maryland, College Park. There was a student whose wife kept calling him to give him updates on the events. The class had started at 9 a.m. and ended at 10:30. We all rushed out to try and find the nearest television.

I went home and saw the replaying of the crashes into the Twin Towers — and then something that chilled me to the bone. The smoldering ruins of the plane that hit the Pentagon. Although I was separated from my husband by then, I was shaken with the possibility that he was involved and hurt.

Luckily, I did not know anyone who perished or was injured during that horrible event, but many of my military friends and academic colleagues did. And yet it took me two months to take the subway to Virginia to see the ruined chunk of the building. I could barely stand to look at it.

Time has a way of dimming hurts and joys, but sometimes it just takes a sliver of memory, a name, or the smiling face of a friend to bring you back in time, both good and bad.

Many of us who were not directly affected by the events of 11 years ago still look back with shock and sorrow for those who perished, as well as those whose courage helped others to survive. I spent most of my Navy career during the Cold War, where courage was measured not in battles fought, but in presence dedicated to protecting the people you worked with, and the country.

Today, as I look back, I salute all of us who went in harm’s way every day, not knowing if that day would be the last in our service to the country.