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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

The Importance of the Navy Family

There are families and there are families. One family apart from my biological family that I think I treasure the most is my Navy family going back to when I was a Navy Brat and the friends of my parents who were in fact another family.  These were people that my dad served with at various times, mostly though from our tour in the Philippines that remained lifelong friends through thick and thin now for close to 50 years.  In my own life I have serve in the Army and the Navy.  We have a couple that we have known since my first month on active duty that we stay in contact with and hope in the near future to see again. Marty and Sue are part of my Army family we served together in Germany and I expect that we will remain friends the rest of our lives.  Then there is my Chapel family from Fort Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania many special people, some now with the Lord some of whom wrote letters of recommendation for me to transfer from the Army to the Navy.

I entered the Navy in February 1999 and there have been people that have been part of our lives since early in my Navy career. We will be seeing one of our best friend’s son’s graduate from high school next month, hard to believe how young that he was when we first met.  Judy loves both of their boys and we have been fortunate to share many special occasions with them. I also have friends that I have known since coming in the Navy.  Some are fellow Chaplains and though our careers have often taken divergent paths when we get together it is like yesterday. In an institution where denominational barriers and distrust sometimes disrupt relationships these are special relationships. Today during a training session aboard Camp LeJeune I was able to meet up with some old friends, many like me who have or are going through periods of great trial and pain.  I was able to share a couple of beers with one dear from my old denomination who was here from out of town for the training.  He was still shaking his head about how I had been tossed from the denomination and the subsequent events and scandal associated with the Bishop who had tossed me and the stories from others in the denomination who believed what the man had said about me.  He told them that it couldn’t be true but many did not know me as well as he did and evidently believed the lie. Even so it was good to see Dean again and I hope that we are able to meet again sometime soon.  Another friend that I saw is going walking with his wife through her terribly painful cancer treatments.  These are friends that I know if I need that I can go to and be honest.

Some are former shipmates from the USS HUE CITY CG-66 and Marines from any of the number of Marine Corps units that I have served and my friends EOD Group Two and from the Navy Medicine Community at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth and Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune.  I have baptized their babies, married them and been their when death took a spouse, counseled regarding personal, marital or spiritual issues many times long after we served together. I have been able to stay connected and I am happy to be their “Padre” or simply “Chaps.”

Yesterday I conducted the funeral of a retired Navy Master Chief and I talked about the Navy family and how important it was. There were many heads that nodded in agreement when I talked about this. I got an e-mail from the son of a man who was one of my parent’s closest friends in the Navy.  I mentioned Frank yesterday during the funeral how he had been my dad’s Chief and sponsored us in the Philippines nearly 50 years ago. He sent my mom an e-mail about a chance to the ID card system yesterday, a Yeoman he never missed administrative messages.  His son contacted me this evening on his e-mail account to tell me that he had passed away early this morning and asking me to contact my mother.

After I responded to the e-mail I called her and of course she was shocked and she wondered what would happen to Frank’s wife who has been chronically ill for many years.  Frank took care of her. He had a heart attack about 10 days ago and when he got out of the hospital he was told to take it easy and even stay off the internet.  He didn’t listen and he had to stay involved in the lives of his family as well as his Navy family.  He has been an encouraging person to me in my ministry as a Priest though he was a conservative Roman Catholic. He prayed for me and cared and I am sure that he will keep praying for me now that he is with the Lord.

While this was going on a sailor from a previous command popped in on me on Facebook regarding a pressing family matter. Another friend from Marine Corps Command and Staff College and Iraq responded to a friend request and sent me a couple of messages and another friend from the past chimed in on a humorous post that I had placed on Facebook regarding Osama Bin Laden’s Facebook account.  Another sailor who referred to me as the “Anti-Chaps” when I bought beer from him and some other sailors on a liberty call and stays in regular contact. What can I say? I do like the nickname.

What I find wonderful about my Navy family is that they have been there for me and my family over my entire life more so than most of my non-immediate biological family.  Those that don’t know this because they have not served in the Navy or another military branch of service are missing so much. For most it isn’t politics, religion or even if they are Dodgers’ fans we share a common bond serving in war and peace that transcends everything else.  They are my friends and I am their Chaplain or friend.  It is a most wonderful fellowship far better than most churches will ever known.

It has been a long day there were other things that happened in caring for Sailors and Marines over the past couple of days, some things that I can assist and others that I can only pray for and offer some guidance.

I am also exhausted by some of the commentators on the David Wilkerson article in which I postulated that his death could be a suicide. It is amazing how nasty some people can be when you even suggest that their idol was a human being.  Likewise I made the mistake of getting involved in a discussion with some pro-life activists who had to throw abortion into the death of Osama Bin Laden and been frustrated with how fellow Christians are wringing their hands about the killing of that perfidious bastard who killed so many of our people. The lack of moral clarity in these people who see the world in black and white dualistic terms and ignorant of philosophy, ethics and history as well as the nasty gray areas of life really pisses me off. Tomorrow I should get a good PT session in after physical therapy and play ball in the evening. Thanks be to God.

I’m now finish a big glass of Riesling and getting ready to prepare for tomorrow. Thankfully I have an appointment with my shrink in the afternoon.

Pray for me a sinner.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, Military, shipmates and veterans, US Navy

34 Hours: Reflections on Family, Service and Baseball amid Life and Death

91788333NM088_New_York_YankJohn Lackey and the Angels fought back to Send the ALCS back to New York defeating the Yankess 7-6 in Anaheim

Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

I’m a bit reflective today after a long on-call duty in the medical center that lasted from about 0615 on Wednesday until 1630 today.  About 34 hours in house with about 4 hours of fitful sleep as I left my sleep meds at home.  It was a busy night and once again it seemed that I was dealing with patients and families similar to mine.  The patients were retired Navy Chief Petty Officers about the age of my father and of course their children, who like me are “Navy Brats.”  I’m pretty tired as the day has been very full complete with me being the acting department head for much of the day and having to deal with a number of situations outside the clinical setting.  It’s kind of funny how “Company Commander Steve” can show back up, and thankfully not in a bad or asshole kind of way. I guess that the Deity Herself has given me a bit of grace to only allow the best of the old company commander to show up.  Thankfully I work with a lot of really great people.

Last night was very intense and there were no easy cases, all took a long time and the work went deep into the night. I did not even get a chance to catch any of the Phillies game against the Evil Dodgers.  I only found out the Phillies had won before I trundled off to the call room about 0200.  Of course for me there was cause for rejoicing as my “anti-Dodgers” wear did not go the waste, which is of course my San Francisco Giants apparel.   What I find interesting is just how many of the players in both the NLCS and ALCS that I have seen play in the minors to include Shane Victorino who I saw a lot in Kinston North Carolina when he played for the Kinston Indians, and Ryan Howard who I saw the first time playing for the Reading Phillies in Harrisburg back on our wedding anniversary in 2004.

It is humbling to be with people who have similar histories to me and my family and to be with them as they “walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.” Of course what goes through my mind is that I would hope that there would be someone there for my parents, especially my dad who still lingers in a nursing facility with end stage Alzheimer’s disease.  My mother seems more introspective and reflective than she has been in a long time. She seems to be preparing for the inevitable with my dad, trying to visit him within the limits of her physical condition and letting him know that she loves him and even tries to be with him when one of their Lutheran pastors when he brings Communion to my father.  Likewise she seems to be preparing just in case something happens to her, asking me to help her decide the disposition of various belongings.  This is a first.  So I wonder what is going on.

Since my dad has held on for many months longer than his physicians expected I will be travelling to California to visit my parents to see them as well as well as take care of more administrative, banking and other matters with my brother and mother.   I’ll be out there about a week.

It is funny too that all of this is taking place during the MLB playoffs and in particular as the Angels are playing the Yankees in Anaheim.   Our time in Long Beach California was probably one of the most magical couple of years in my childhood, and much was due to the time that my dad took in teaching me the game of baseball and taking me to game after game at Anaheim Stadium.

Me and Lefty PhillipsMemories at Anaheim Stadium, Me with Manager Lefty Phillips in 1970

As I looked at the stadium I can see the areas that we would sit when we attended the games.  Since dad always got us there as soon as the gates opened we would get to see batting practice, shag fly balls and meet players before the game.  That really was a special time and really did make a lasting impression on me, so as I watch the game tonight I am more reflective than usual, not in a morose way but in a way that somehow blends appreciation for those that I am honored to serve with in their life crisis, my own family situation as well as baseball and wonderful memories from the “Big A.”

Tonight’s game was full of drama and for the most part free of the egregious bad calls.  The Angels went up 4-0 in the first inning and then in the top of the 7th the Yankees scored 6 runs.  The Angles came right back in the bottom of the 7th scoring three of their own to go back up 7-6.  The drama continued in the 8th and finally with the bases loaded after an intentional walk, a walk and a hit batsman Nick Swisher popped up to end the game. The series goes back to New York with the Angels resurgent after being clobbered by the Yankees in game 4.

Well, I’m tired and it’s time to go to bed.

Peace, Padre Steve+

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Filed under alzheimer's disease, Baseball

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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