So many mornings I trekked across that concrete deck. My father
pointed out the
window of our tour bus as we eased to a stop in front of a docked destroyer
on the Naval base in
It was the first time he had joined his old
shipmates since their
tours of duty on the USS-Stoddard from 1965-67. The leaders of the
get-together had arranged
for a tour of a destroyer like their old ship, but a much more recent and
Were loading up, the reunion coordinators called to the crowd and
everyone out of the restaurant. Want to go with us? my Dad asked, popping
the last bit of
breakfast into his mouth and sliding across the vinyl booth. I didn't know
much about that part of
my fathers life, except for a few stories of being off the coast during
Vietnam, seeing some black
and white pictures of him aboard the ship, and knowing that he was stationed
in San Francisco
when he met my mother. I instantly took him up on the offer. I was
intrigued by the idea of
tracing that time of his life, so I grabbed my purse and followed him out.
The sky was clear and the horizon long as we left the bus, filing down
the steps into the
salted air. The men looked toward the ship. They laughed and talked and
partook in remember when's, then fell into hushed tones at the booth where an 100% security
check was in progress.
We never had anything like this, my Dad said as we watched an armed
sailor traverse the
deck on the look-out for possible terrorism threats. Its a different
world, I agreed.
Walking across the deck, I stared at the length of the ship and
remembered as a child how
our 20 foot sail boat would ride by those ships in the bay and they looked
like slabs of
mountainous granite suspended in water. My childhood eyes had seen
insurmountable force, my
adult ones knew better and saw the vulnerability of all things...even something
made of 100% steel.
The career military were the first alumni on, eager to shake hands and
tip their hats to the
new generation of sailors. Then there was the gang that my Dad was part of,
joined the Navy
because they didn't want to get drafted into the Army, didn't know what else
to do at that point in
their lives, and had a love for the sea.
As we stepped onto the ship, my Dad tapped a mid sized post with his foot.
shins up black and blue when we were running dark", he said grinning. His
friend and former
shipmate agreed. What does that mean? I asked stepping to his side. That's when the ship
was completely dark and no light could be seen anywhere. My father and his
recalling stories that heralded the pitch black night.
Our tour guide met us at the stern, he was short, sturdy, and young.
Welcome to the
USS-Oldendorff, he said, and begun pointing to missiles and guns, explaining
their uses. He
observed the older men and asked them if they had any questions.
What will that do? How much power does that have the men looked at
machinery, nodded slowly and raised their eyebrows at one another.
Onto the Combat Information Center. Our guide ushered us along. We
Commanding officers quarters on the way. The passageways were narrow, but
spit spot clean
and lined with strength.
This is where I worked, Lynne, my Dad offered as we entered the Combat
was amazed at how big it was, how high tech it seemed. They have chairs
someone called to
the others and they recalled how they had been required to stand all day.
Our wide grinned tour guide continued with his explanation. When was
this ship built?
someone wondered. This one is actually a little out of date now and will
soon give way to the
ones just produced, but she was built the year I was born...1978 Laughter
and moaning from the
crowd. Well this is what you'll look like in 30 years, my Dad said, to
more laughter. He walked
through the center, stopping periodically to look more closely at some of the
screens and dials, his
hands halfway in his pockets-looking over the top of his glasses. I imagined
him thirty years
prior, searching the radar, following commands, feeling a certain weight and responsibility. I
wondered about the decisions he had made in his life. Did he remember being
at a crossroads and
fearing the future? Did he have many regrets?
Our guide explained everything they could do from there and the crowd,
remembered what they could do and possibly how much they couldn't. My Dad
glanced back as
we left the radar room, Still smells the same. I took a deep breath...
like Band-Aids and wet
What are these? Dad asked Mitch, our tour guide, while running his
hand over the rail
of the deep step ladders that separated the decks. He was referring to the
hard rope like material
that covered the once strait brass railing. Mitch shrugged They covered the
strait brass handles a
long time ago.
My father ran his hand down the foreign material We had learned to just
hold on and
slide, like a fireman's pole. He was laughing with his friend as they
remembered how easy it had
once been. Now, the steps weren't as solid beneath their feet and on the
first couple of flights
their footing was tentative; but, halfway through the tour it began to come
back to them- the
speed, familiarity, and agility they had possessed at 26.
We went onto the bridge. Dad showed me the compass on a gimbal, built so
matter how turbulent the seas are, the compass lies flat. I was surprised to
see the helm looking
very much the same as it did hundreds of years ago. They still steer the
ship the same way? I
asked, expecting to see something out of the Star Trek command center by now.
Yep, they still
steer it the same way, Mitch said and I smiled. I appreciated that there
permanent there, something that resisted change. I slid my fingers around
the curve of the wheel
wanting to feel the weight of what all mariners had known throughout the ages
and I caught my
fathers reflection in the window.
I notice little things about him now, like how his skin looks a bit more
fragile, when once,
everything about him seemed invincible. Its surely worn from years of
building, working, playing
catch, waving hello and goodbye to my sister and I throughout the seasons of
our life, and now
lifting the grandchildren. Is my imagination or are his shoulders slightly
rounded forward... is his
mustache almost white?
We ended our tour on the bow. Mitch listened to the men's questions, but
humbly admitted he didn't know the answers to some of what they wanted to
know, then he
turned over the last explanation to another sailor his same rank, but very
decorated for his young
age. Mitch watched him as he talked about where all of his ribbons had come
from, then kicked
at the gray texture beneath his feet and looked out toward the horizon. That's what I used to
look like, my Dad said, chuckling to me and his friend, his crease is all
off, his shirt is sloppy and
his shoes look like he polished them with a Hershey bar.
My Dad's shipmate, Terry, had his memory sparked at almost every turn.
guy who could recite all fifty states in 3 seconds and the barber who would
scalp you if he was in
a bad mood? he asked. They talked of how eerie the middle of the Pacific
ocean could be when
they were running dark, and the guy who was once a pretty good mate, but
turned fat and mean
when he became a chief. Diego, the man who patched up the hole when they
were hit by enemy
fire in 67, likes Jay Leno and feels amazingly blessed by his good fortune,
grandchildren. There's a widow who comes with her son every year to pay
tribute to her
What do you watch these days? one of the guys questioned. We've got 16 cable stations, Mitch answered, then went on to explain
technologies related to a man and his remote control. My Dad's friend
recalled their choices in
1965, which were limited to black and white films and the same 6 books in the
We thanked Mitch and followed the rest of the men as they disembarked.
from the ship as my father had done some 35 years ago, I wondered how he felt
his steps and I watched him look into the face of his past, watching him
We got back on the bus that would soon drive us away from a memory.
propped his elbow onto the window and looked out to sea. I turned my face in
direction. That's who we were then, he said with tender resolve, Just a
bunch of kids. And I
think of him as one of those kids and his life since then and I am overcome
with memories when
they are too powerful to embrace, covered with a desperation to hang onto
every moment that
reflects the relationship of a father and a daughter.
The engine fired up and the bus began to throttle itself unto the narrow
roads of the navy
base. I was seeing my Dad reflecting on the period of life that I'm in now,
early 30s- kids,
mortgages, careers and I am amazed at the overlap of time. Just as I had
looked at the compass
tucked beneath the glass, so delicate an instrument, yet so stabilizing a
force, I was realizing that
the memories resting upon the compass of my own life where incredibly strong
in some respects,
yet so fragile in others. I wish I had more faith, I wish I didn't feel the
passing of time so keenly
now, and I wish I knew that everything that is supposed to be said, has been
When I get home I'll place another picture on my bookcase.
It's just been
taken of my
father and me at the reunion. I set it next to a picture taken of our family
in 1974. My parents are
in their early 30s, my mother in her baby blue cut-offs, sunglasses in hand,
standing next to the
sailboat my father had just bought. My sister and I propped up on the
all smiles. I had
often wondered who were they then, how much they had changed...how much they
how much was I like them. My simple afternoon at the harbor taught me that
they had changed
some, they had learned much, and I am very much now, who they were then.
[These are the
thoughts of Lynne Petersen, the daughter of Brad Petersen
(Stoddard 65-67) after returning home from visiting with her Dad
and attending part of the 2002 Reunion]