A Sailor Who Served His Country
Veterans Day is the one day each year when we remember and honor those who risked their lives for the preservation of our freedoms. For those soldiers fortunate enough to return home, we recognize what they endured on our behalf: time away from their families and physical or emotional scars. On this special day, our acknowledgment of their many sacrifices is the least we can do to thank veterans for their service to our country.
Growing up, Veterans Day always had special significance for me since my father, John Rowe, served in the navy from 1962-1964. He was a signalman on a destroyer. He was also part of history (keep reading).
As a kid, I remember seeing some of my dad’s navy mementos when my mother was cleaning out the closet. I can still remember how his insignia patch felt on my fingertips, the thick stitching that stood out from the smooth cotton fabric. I remember running around the house wearing dad’s sailor cap Gilligan style – down over my ears. One day, Dad showed me how to make a “Dixie Cup” hat in the fashion that sailors wear. Pushing in the top to make a dog bowl shape, he flipped the hat over and placed it on my head…with the diagonal seam in the back, of course.
Dad taught me how to give a proper naval salute, which is nothing like the ones frequently seen on TV or in the movies. Ironically, dad’s hero, John Wayne, was one of the sloppiest saluters in movie history (more on John Wayne in a minute.)
Parents always look larger-than-life to kids, but my dad had an impressive physique and was a giant from my perspective. It wasn’t until my teen years that I learned dad had been a boxer in the navy. Perhaps it’s because he was a tough Irishman from NJ, but in a dozen bouts, he never lost a fight.
Some of my father’s habits changed as a result of his time in the service. For instance, as my family sat down to dinner one evening, I observed dad mixing peas and carrots into his mashed potatoes. Curious, I asked him why he did that. He said that you always had to mix your veggies into the mashed potatoes while out to sea; otherwise, the first time the ship listed, all the peas would roll off the tray. To this day, he still mixes his peas and carrots into his mashed potatoes.
Dad always enjoyed regaling stories of his navy days with family, friends or even new acquaintances. One of my favorite stories was when his destroyer was part of a convoy in the Mediterranean Sea during a typhoon. Leading the escort group was the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Enterprise (something I’m particularly proud of as a lifelong Star Trek fan). Dad said because the ships were riding massive swells, he was only able to get off a few dit-dahs (Morse code) at a time to other ships. At that rate, it could take hours to send or receive a single message. The entire ship’s company ate rations or cold hot dogs as the wind and waves continued to pound against the ship. After six agonizing days, the storm finally relented and the crew got a hot meal…and some decent sleep.
Fortunately, there’s more to navy life than sea storms. One of the fringe benefits of being assigned to a ship is that you get to visit many ports of call around the world. Of the many destinations he visited, my dad said Barcelona, Spain was the most beautiful place he ever saw while in the navy. Unfortunately, it was also the site of one of the biggest missed opportunities of his life.
As fate would have it, John Wayne was in Barcelona shooting a movie, “Circus World” (1964), when the destroyer was docked there to take on supplies and grant the crew some well-earned shore leave. Some of my dad’s buddies went ashore to visit the movie location. During a break in filming, John Wayne came aboard the destroyer and was taken on a tour of the ship. Regrettably, my dad missed out on seeing his favorite actor because he was suffering from the effects of the previous night’s liberty.
As promised, here’s the historical part of my father’s naval service. His destroyer was part of the blockade during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. At one point during the 13-day confrontation, a Russian U-boat charged the line and the destroyer’s deck gun was trained on the challenging ship. Its bluff called, the Russian ship turned and headed back the way it came.
Fast forward to November 22, 1963. It’s an indelible date in our nation’s history and was a particularly terrifying day for those on my dad’s ship. Upon receiving news that President Kennedy had been shot, the destroyer was placed on high alert. My dad remembers that he and his shipmates thought they were headed for war. Their fears were allayed when the ship received the full news story from home.
Though some memories have been lost to time, my dad still remembers numerous experiences he had in the navy. In many ways, those years shaped him into the husband and father he became. Though he was only a seaman and only served full-time for two years, I still see my dad as a hero. He served his country during a turbulent time in our nation’s history, and I’m deeply indebted to him for his service.
Well, that’s my father’s story. But what about you? Do you know someone who is currently serving or has served in the military? Perhaps a friend of a family member? If so, there’s no better time to honor them than Veterans Day.
BrainMD would like to thank all the brave men and women who have served and continue to serve both near and far, in order to protect our freedoms and our safety. We’re able to continue the work we do because of you.
Thank you for your service!
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