Sunday, February 1, 2015

Fair Winds and Following Seas

I celebrated my 30th birthday in October of 1995. I remember turning to my (then) 60 year old dad and saying, "Remember when you were my age, you had me." Without skipping a beat, he looked at me and said, "Don't remind me."

For some reason I took that as a joke about him having ME, and that might be right. But upon reflection, it may be that he went through the same "crisis" as I was going through when he turned 30.

Thirty. That was the only birthday that I've experienced, in my 49+ years going around the sun, that had an impact. The rest were just like any other day.

Thirty was not necessarily the beginning of a new era, but the ending of others. Twelve years of school were over. My teen years. Four years in the Navy. Hell, even "dating" was over (I was married to my ex at the time). I felt more the loss of life, than the excitement of what was to come. C'mon: I was too young to be having a mid-life crisis!

This weekend I attended the end of another 30 year "life". On Friday, January 30, the USS Elrod (FFG-55) was decommissioned. Twenty-three of us "Plankowners" (the ship's commissioning crew) were there to watch her last crew disembark, and to see the last watch secured. The same twenty-three (out of approximately 190 crew) who had the honor of being there to first man the rails at her commissioning ceremony.

(Note: there were actually twenty-four of us in attendance. One was there by proxy. He was on a deployment, and was in attendance via Skype.)

The USS Elrod had 19 captains. I had the pleasure of serving under the first two. During her career, she sailed around two million miles and had conducted 19 deployments. I was there for the first deployment to the Persian Gulf in 1987-1988. She had served the United States proudly, in true recognition of her namesake, Major Henry Tallmadge Elrod, who served valiantly during World War II on Wake Island.

"To all the former commanding officers and former crew members in the audience, we want you to know that all the way to the end, Elrod's radars detected and tracked aircraft, her sonars detected and tracked submarines, her communication equipment function[ed] as designed, her guns shot straight and her engines ran fast." - Commander Brad L. Stallings, the final Commanding Officer of the USS Elrod.

Video from U.S. Navy of USS Elrod Decommissioning

After the ceremony had ended, the twenty-three of us gathered around to have pictures taken, with the Elrod in the background. We were accompanied by Commander Stallings and guest speaker Brigadier General Raymond R. Descheneaux. General Descheneaux had "jockeyed" to be in attendance, and we were proud to have him there. As a Marine, he spoke passionately of Major Elrod and his team's actions on Wake Island. He said that, when telling the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) of his opportunity to attend, that the CNO "beamed", knowing the sacrifices made of both Major Elrod and the ship that bore his name.

My wife noted so accurately, that what we were attending was in essence a funeral. And like most funerals, the tone was somber at the event, and nostalgically joyous during the gatherings that followed. During the decommissioning, there was not a dry eye among us (as mine are wet now, while I write this), and we hung onto the memories shared with laughter the common expression.

My wife Lisa and I on the flight deck
Thirty years. Unlike the Elrod, whose future is either the scrapyard, or hopefully a few more years serving in a foreign navy, I still have many more to go. Many more years to build upon the memories and friendships that have been made.

To you, the Plankowners and crews of the USS Elrod, I bid you Godspeed in all that you do. Fair winds, and following seas.

Former RM2 J.P. Wiegand.

Me - outside of Radio

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