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Where It All Began, a Navy Family and NJROTC: Prelude to a 39 Year Military Career

 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Every story has to start somewhere. Mine began in the womb of my mother after she and my father engaged in some merry making somewhere along the scenic 17  Mile Drive near Monterrey California. Nine months later after nearly a day of labor I was was born at what used to be Oak Knoll Navy Hospital in Oakland California. At the time my dad was a young Petty Officer serving at Naval Station Alameda. Thus I became a Navy brat and by the time I was in kindergarten I had dreams of military glory, and I kid you not.

Pretty soon I was watching television series like Combat, The Rat Patrol, Twelve O’Clock High, Gomer Pyle USMC, Hogan’s Heroes, and McHale’s Navy. Then I graduated to military movies like Sink the Bismarck, The Caine Mutiny, Away All Boats, The Desert Fox, The Enemy Below, Mr. Roberts, Cockleshell Heroes, Stalag 17, The Battle of the Bulge, The Bridge Over the River Kwai, They Were Expendable, The Great Escape, The Sands of Iwo Jima, Fort Apache, Tora! Tora! Tora!, The Longest Day, and later Patton, M*A*S*H, The Dirty Dozen, Kelly’s Heroes, A Bridge Too Far, and Stripes. By the time I was a teenager I wanted to be every hero, malcontent, misfit, rebel that ever served in the military. But that wasn’t all I graduated from toy soldiers to military models of all kinds, the old hexagonal war games, and reading every book about military history, battles, leaders, and technology I could. When I was in 10th Grade I even cut geometry classes to go to the library reference section to read the books I couldn’t check out so often the librarians thought I had a permanent pass to be there.

It was also in 10th grade where I first donned a uniform, actually that’s not true, I was a Cub Scout for two weeks until my Den Mother quit right after I got my Bobcat pin, but I digress. I think that when my dad retired from the Navy in 1974 and we were going to settle down that I must have had some kind of mental break, but I could have just been mental.

Armed for Battle, Cubi Point, the Philippines 1963 or 1964

After moving up and down the West Coast from San Diego to Oak Harbor, Washington, and across the Pacific to Naval Air Station Cubi Point, the Philippines we stopped moving and it was like the life I knew ended. I knew I didn’t want to live what I thought was the boring life of a civilian.

All I knew was being around Navy bases, watching Navy ships and aircraft, and even traveling home from the Philippines on the USS John C. Breckinridge, AP-176, a Navy Transport Ship assigned to the Military Sea Transportation Service moving Military Personnel, their families, and Marine Units around the Pacific from San Francisco, Pearl Harbor, Guam, Okinawa, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and other exotic locations. To safeguard the families a Marine Guard was stationed at the family quarters. My first real memories are being stationed in the Philippines, and I never will forget the F-4 Phantoms of the Blue Angels flying low over our house in Oak Harbor practicing for an air show at the Naval Air Station.

 






My little and much more serious and mature brother who is now a School Principal  was born at the Naval Hospital and when dad retired he and mom never looked back, but I couldn’t get it out of my head. So I joined the NJROTC unit at Edison High School, Stockton California. My instructors, LCDR Jim Breedlove and Senior Chief John Ness were awesome. In addition to our classes and our extra curricular activities like the Rifle Team, Drill Team, and Color Guard, they got us every opportunity to experience life at sea on Navy ships. in an interesting twist, his son Darren is now a Marine serving with a squadron at MCAS Yuma, Arizona. So now we have three generations, my late father, Aviation Storekeeper Chief Carl Dundas, me, and my Nephew Darren who have served or are currently serving in the Sea Services. 


During high school I spent about 70 days aboard ships or naval installations learning about the Navy at NTC San Diego mini-Boot Camp, with Coastal River Division 11 at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, and aboard USS Agerholm DD-826, a modernized World War Two designed destroyer, USS Pyro AE-24 an ammunition ship, USS Coral Sea CVA-43, USS Mount Vernon LSD-39, a Dock Landing Ship used to Transport Marines, USS Frederick LST-1184 a Landing Ship Tank which was the last of here type in the Navy when she was decommissioned and sold to Mexico in 2002, where she still serves, and finally USS Grey FF-1054. Aboard those ships I sailed up and down the West Coast and to Pearl Harbor and back. Aboard Frederick I first felt the call to be a Navy Chaplain just before Easter of 1978. Little did I know that 23 years later, as a Navy Chaplain serving with 3rd Battalion 8th Marines in Korea, that Frederick would embark us for our return to Okinawa and on her I celebrated my first underway Easter Sunrise Service and first underway celebration of the Holy Eucharist aboard a Navy Ship.

My parents talked me out of enlist immediately out of high school but asked me to try at least a semester at our local Junior College before making the decision. That was a good thing, because in late August 1978 I met Judy, and began a brief interregnum before my heart would no longer let me remain a civilian. That is my next subject.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under faith, life, Military, Navy Ships, US Marine Corps, US Navy

A Navy Brat Grows Up…Sort of

NJROTC USS Gray 1978Edison NJROTC on USS Gray FF-1054

I grew up in a Navy family. I was born in a Navy hospital, and my brother was baptized in a Navy Chapel. I went to 6 elementary schools in three states in 6 years. As a result I learned to adapt to change, make friends and at an early age, move on when we moved to our next duty station. I have to admit I rather enjoyed the life.  I think that Navy Brats and other military brats either love it or hate it.  I haven’t seen a lot of in-between reactions; those that love it seem to keep coming back for more.  That was me.

We grew up in the anti-military maelstrom of the 1960s and 1970s. A Sunday school teacher told me that my dad was a baby killer when he was in Vietnam.  It was a Roman Catholic Navy Chaplain that helped me keep some faith in God, and it is to him I owe my vocation as a priest and chaplain.

constitution-poster-lgThis Recruiting Poster was My Favorite

When Dad retired from the Navy I was not happy because I wasn’t ready for the adventure to end. I liked the new places, people and travel. Dad was really good about making sure that we got to experience something unique everywhere we went, from Corregidor in the Philippines, the outdoor life of the Puget Sound, Major League Baseball in California, and Hockey. Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm were regular attractions in Southern California. From Dad, presents from the Far East including a 10 speed bike and a pachinko machine for me.  When we visited dad at work in the squadrons or ships that he served on I was in awe.  The summer of 2008 I made a trip to Charleston South Carolina and went aboard the USS Yorktown (CV-10, CVS-11), a sister ship of dad’s last ship the USS Hancock (CV-19, CVA-19).  The trip came a few months after my return from Iraq and as I went aboard my mind was taken back to visits to the Hancock and the wonder I had waling up the brow and through the hangar deck as 11 to 14 year old.  After Yorktown I went to the USS Laffey a Allen M Sumner class destroyer.  On the Laffey there was a display of a DASH helicopter.  The DASH program was way ahead of its time; it was a drone anti-submarine helicopter that could be flown off of smaller ships with small flight decks such as the modernized WWII era destroyers.  My dad worked a number of years in that program.  It was a primitive rotary wing UAV.  It is amazing how memories come back when you see, touch and smell old ships.

hancockUSS Hancock CVA-19, my dad’s last ship

They were good times. We took trips across country by train to visit family in the days before Amtrak, riding every major route from the West Coast to Chicago, the Great Northern-Burlington Northern “Empire Builder,” the Western Pacific “Zephyr” Southern Pacific “Daylight”, Santa Fe “Super Chief” and “El Capitan.” As we were coming home from the Philippines on a Military Transport ship, the USS John C Breckenridge, we were allowed to explore the ship and for the first time I got a sense of the sea.  Something about that voyage caused me to love the sea and ships. Growing up we were allowed to take risks, we had the chance to succeed, but also to learn about life by occasionally failing.  When dad was deployed mom took on the burden of caring for us.  That was difficult for her, but she did well.  The Navy wife and mother actually is a harder job than the deployed sailor.

NAS ChapelChapel at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station where My Brother was Baptized

There is something about being a Navy “brat.” I have been blessed to see our best friends’ boys, Jack and Alex grow up. We’ve known them since they were 4 and 8, respectively and now they are 17 and 13, or something like that. They have great senses of humor and are great to be around. Like me, the life of being a Navy brat is all they know. My first memories of being a Navy brat begin with living in the Philippines. Their dad’s first Navy assignment was in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Jack may remember life before the Navy, but Alex is too young to remember anything but the Navy.

Deception Pass BridgeDecption Pass Bridge

My life has remained closely tied to the military. After dad retired I did three years of Navy Junior ROTC in High School getting to travel up and down the West Coast and to Hawaii aboard 6 different ships for about 70 days at sea. My parents hoped beyond hope that I would settle down, but I was not deterred. I joined the Army National Guard just prior to entering the UCLA Army ROTC program. I didn’t do the Navy because my fiancée, now my wife Judy, said that she would not marry me if I joined the Navy. Her oldest sister’s husband was on a ship during Viet Nam and was never home. Judy witnessed the pain and hardship her sister went through, and then a couple of decades later, her other sister married navy men while she herself was in the Navy.

Our Old House 186 Queets StOur Old House in Oak Harbor 37 years later

So I spent 17 and a half years in the active Army, National Guard and Reserves before finally getting the chance to come in the Navy in February 1999, as I turned in my gold Army Major’s oak leaf for the twin bars of a Navy Lieutenant. Judy wasn’t happy at first, because she had been looking forward to me retiring from the Army Reserve so we would no longer have so many separations. Judy was also less than thrilled because remembering her words about the Navy when we were dating, I didn’t consult her. I just signed on the dotted line. It took her a while to come to terms with this decision. I’ve also learned not to make major decisions without consulting her.  Oh well…It has all been good, she is the love of my life, and somehow she has survived 26 years of marriage with me.  Since I can be a bit of a pain in the ass this has been no easy feat for her.

My brother Jeff was born in 1966 too late for so of the adventurous tours, but not too late to see dad deployed or away from home a pretty good amount of his life.  I’m pretty sure that Jeff was pretty happy that dad retired.  As a little kid from the time he could remember anything dad was gone close to half of his life.  At the same time with dad away I grew to be pretty independent.  So when dad came back I was doing my own thing and my brother was growing into the time when he and dad would become close as I moved away.  Strange how that happens… he needed a place to be home and he has found it in the town that my dad retired from the Navy back in 1974.  I needed to explore and haven’t stopped exploring.  In a sense I love what I do so much that I am like a little kid about it.

FWU Crete 2002Underway on USS HUE CITY: The Navy Brat all Grown up but not

I now serve at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center. Often in the ICU I have patients who are about my parents’ age facing major health crises and sometimes end of life issues. Their kids are often my contemporaries. We have shared a similar life and cultural experience as Navy “Brats” of our era. It is interesting to compare what we have been through, the places we have been, what we have seen and done and how life was a Navy brat.  There is a kinship that I have with these families that transcends the here and now, something almost mystical that binds Navy families together. I have no idea when this grand adventure will end, but one thing is for sure, and for this I will always be grateful, to be a Navy Brat.

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings

Navy “Brats”

I grew up in a Navy family. I was born in a Navy hospital, and my brother was baptized in a Navy Chapel. I went to 6 elementary schools in three states in 6 years. As a result I learned to adapt to change, make friends and at an early age, move on when we moved to our next duty station.

We grew up in the anti-military maelstrom of the 1960s and 1970s. A Sunday School teacher told me that my dad was a baby killer when he was in Vietnam,. It was a Roman Catholic Navy Chaplain that helped me keep some faith in God, and it is to him I owe my vocation as a priest and chaplain.

When Dad retired from the Navy I was not happy because I wasn’t ready for the adventure to end. I liked the new places, people and travel. Dad was really good about making sure that we got to experience something unique everywhere we went, from Corregidor in the Philippines, the outdoor life of the Puget Sound, Major League Baseball in California, and Hockey. Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm were regular attractions in Southern California. From Dad, presents from the Far East including a 10 speed bike and a pachinko machine for me.

They were good times. We took trips across country by train to visit family in the days before Amtrak, riding every major route from the West Coast to Chicago, the Great Northern-Burlington Northern “Empire Builder,” the Western Pacific “Zephyr” Southern Pacific “Daylight”, Santa Fe “Super Chief” and “El Capitan.” As we were coming home from the Philippines on a Military Transport ship, the USS John C Breckenridge, we were allowed to explore the ship and for the first time I got a sense of the sea.  Something about that voyage caused me to love the sea and ships. Growing up we were allowed to take risks, we had the chance to succeed, but also to learn about life by occasionally failing.  When dad was deployed mom took on the burden of caring for us.  That was difficult for her, but she did well.  The Navy wife and mother actually has a harder job than the deployed sailor.

There is something about being a Navy “brat.” I have been blessed to see our best friends’ boys, Jack and Alex grow up. We’ve known them since they were 4 and 8, respectively and now they are 17 and 13, or something like that. They have great senses of humor and are great to be around. Like me, the life of being a Navy brat is all they know. My first memories of being a Navy brat begin with living in the Philippines. Their dad’s first Navy assignment was in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Jack may remember life before the Navy, but Alex is too young to remember anything but the Navy.

My life has remained closely tied to the military. After dad retired I did three years of Navy Junior ROTC in High School getting to travel up and down the West Coast and to Hawaii aboard 6 different ships for about 70 days at sea. My parents hoped beyond hope that I would settle down, but I was not deterred. I joined the Army National Guard just prior to entering the UCLA Army ROTC program. I didn’t do the Navy because my fiancé, now my wife Judy, said that she would not marry me if I joined the Navy. Her oldest sister’s husband was on a ship during Viet Nam and was never home. Judy witnessed the pain and hardship her sister went through, and then a couple of decades later, her other sister married navy men while she herself was in the Navy.

So I spent 17 and a half years in the active Army, National Guard and Reserves before finally getting the chance to come in the Navy in February 1999, as I turned in my gold Army Major’s oak leaf for the twin bars of a Navy Lieutenant. Judy wasn’t happy at first, because she had been looking forward to me retiring from the Army Reserve so we would no longer have so many separations. Judy was also less than thrilled because remembering her words about the Navy when we were dating, I didn’t consult her. I just signed on the dotted line. It took her a while to come to terms with this decision. I’ve also learned not to make major decisions without consulting her Oh well…It has all been good.

I now serve at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center. Often in the ICU I have patients who are about my parents’ age facing major health crisis’s and sometimes end of life issues. Their kids are often my contemporaries. We have shared a similar life and cultural experience as Navy “Brats” of our era. There is a kinship that I have with these families that transcends the here and now, something that binds Navy families together. I have no idea when this grand adventure will end, but one thing is for sure, and for this I will always be grateful, to be a Navy Brat.

my-tom-clancy-look5

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings, Military, Religion