Third Class Petty Officer Kevin McEntire is pictured with his grandmother Judy Bluhm in San Diego on Monday, May 7, 2018, following his service onboard the USS Bunker Hill. (Judy Bluhm/Courtesy)
Originally published Monday, May 14, 2018 at 06:04a.m.
His ship came in. And what a joyful, momentous, thrilling sight and celebration!
My grandson, Kevin, who is in the U.S. Navy, had been deployed for seven months on a destroyer and traveled more than 60,000 miles. So my family went to San Diego to watch his ship as it finally came into port. And there was not a dry eye in sight!
First, we had to get onto the Naval base, where visitor parking was as tricky as finding a spot at a Super Bowl stadium. Then there was the long walk toward the designated pier, with mothers carrying children, people of all ages hurrying to see their sailors, ladies (including officers’ wives) in cocktail dresses, families lugging homemade “welcome home” signs, all with a collective emotion of anxiety and anticipation. We lived for this moment. Homecoming!
The Navy knows all about pomp and circumstance and provides a splendid ceremony of respect, with flags flying, families crying and all manner of formalities while the ship is tugged into the pier. The Navy band plays in all its glory. And then there is that incredible moment when the ship approaches, and you can see all of the sailors in their crisp dress-whites, standing on the ship’s deck. It is a sight to behold!
Families know that danger lurks. Our service members go to faraway places, are often out of touch with their families and have few comforts during their tours of duty, taking risks and engaging in activities that can cause bodily harm or death. While they are away from home, we worry about them. Will they be okay? What will happen if there is an accident? How do we communicate? How do we know they are all right? We anxiously send boxes of goodies from home. (How the boxes arrive to a ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is another story).
Even if you don’t have a sailor of your own, the images of the men and women walking off the platform — pausing midway to stop and salute the flag, then sprinting down the steps to the arms of a loved-one — is enough to make you cry! It has all the human emotions wrapped into one frenzy of hugging, kissing, weeping, laughing and thankfulness.
I liked to read the signs that families made. One little boy, about 5 years old, was holding a huge poster that read, “See how much I have grown, Daddy.” A pretty young woman held up a sign that said, “Sailor, report for kissing duty NOW.” One elderly man held a small flag, along with a banner that read, “I lived to see this day, Grandson.”
Sometimes, you get to witness greatness. A special sliver of time where thousands of strangers are all thrown into the same boat (no pun intended) with one commonality. In this case, it was the relief and joy of finally seeing our loved one safe and in person. Alive and well! And so the band played, cameras rolled, families were united, children jumped up into the arms of parents, and we all experienced the rich tradition that accompanies every U.S. Navy ship as it brings its sailors home.
They exemplified the motto: “Non sibi sed patriae.” Not for self, but country.
Judy Bluhm is a writer and local Realtor. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.