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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

Full Military Honors: Getting a Chance to Repay a Service done for My Family by the Navy

Last summer my dad Aviation Storekeeper Chief Carl Dundas died after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.  Since I wasn’t much good for anything then my boss at my last duty station Chaplain Jesse Tate contacted the Chief of Chaplains Office and our mutual friend Chaplain Jerry Seeley in California.  These men and the Navy came through to provide my family with a funeral with full military honors for my dad.  It was something that we all treasured and something that really helped my mom get through that dark time. It allowed her to reconnect with the Navy something that was a big part of our lives for years. I won’t forget Chaplain Seeley and his comforting words and the Senior Chief Petty Officer who presented our Nation’s Flag to my mother.  One thing that I did do was construct two collages of pictures from his life which were available for friends and family to view. When I put them together it was really for my mom but the task of sorting through a couple of thousand photos to find the ones that best epitomized my dad, his life and personality was healing to me.

Since I am a Chief’s kid I have a soft heart for Navy Chiefs and in the past two and a half years working in Navy Medicine I have been able to be with quite a few of these men and women in their final days as well as their families. Last week I had the duty pager and received a call to come to our multi-service ward as a family had requested a baptism for one of our former Master Chief Petty Officers named Carl.  He and his family had arranged with one of my staff to be baptized last Friday as he knew his life was coming to an end.  Well late Wednesday night it became apparent that he would not last that long and I was asked to come in.  I got to the hospital and put on my Khakis and went to the nurse’s station where I listened to them tell me the situation and read his chart. I noted the request for baptism and the plan for it to be done Friday.  When I had done that I went to the room where Carl lay in bed dozing. I met his wife Judy and son’s Randy and Jeff and we visited for nearly an hour as he lay there and I listened to them tell me about him as a husband and father, his Navy service, his faith and his love for baseball.

Carl had entered the Navy a couple of years after my dad and remained in it a good deal longer retiring in 1988.  He served in combat as a Corpsman with the Marines in Vietnam and saw service around the world. He retired as the Command Master Chief of Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune.  He was active and played for and managed various Navy Baseball and Softball teams including the hospital’s team which I now play on.  There were a lot of emotional connections for me with this man. He served during the era that my dad did and both served on the ground in Vietnam.  His name was Carl like my dad, his wife Judy like my wife and one son Jeff like my brother.  He loved baseball.  I felt like I was family and in a sense I was because we are part of the Navy family and that is something that is special. I still receive e-mails from one of my dad’s former Chief Petty Officers almost like he is trying to watch out for his friend and fellow Chief’s son.

I prepared to conduct the baptism and Carl woke up. His wife introduced me to him and he greeted me. I explained that I was there to baptize him and asked if he still desired to be baptized and he replied yes and gave me a “thumbs up.” As I baptized him he was praying with a smile on his face as the water flowed over his forehead. I then asked for Carl and his family to join me in the Lord’s Prayer and as we prayed he prayed along with us.  It was a special moment and I elected to stay with the family for a while longer and simply be with them as they shared and ministered to Carl.  I gave Judy my card and went home getting to bed about three AM Thursday.

Yesterday afternoon I received word that I had been asked to conduct his funeral and I was honored. It was like having a chance to repay the generosity given to my family by the Navy.  This morning it seemed that nothing went right in trying to get my stuff together. We are in temporary office spaces as our offices and Chapel are being renovated. As a result I have no earthly idea where half of my things are. I prepared my Service Dress Blue uniform last night and placed it where I wouldn’t forget it. I discovered that I didn’t have it about 5 miles into my trip and had to go back and get it. Then on my second trip in about the same place I had the feeling that I had forgotten something else.  I looked around the car and couldn’t find my Bible and Book of Common Prayer.  I thought I had packed it and taken it home with me last night so I turned around again. I got home to the Island Hermitage and try as I might I couldn’t find them.  So I grabbed the Kindle that my Judy had got me for my birthday knowing that I had the Book of Common Prayer and the liturgy for burial on it.  I got back on the road for the third time and arrived at the office where I found my Bible and Book of Common Prayer.  I then started to get ready to go after a bit of business and discovered that I had everything but a tie, which I only have about five of but none were to be found. Our small Marine Corps Exchange in the hospital had none so I had to go to main side where I got one of the two on the rack; this is a Marine Corps Uniform store so the Navy items are not well stocked.  Getting back to the office I donned my uniform looking perfectly resplendent I might add and went to the funeral home where I met up with other perfectly resplendent Chiefs and Sailors.  One thing about the Navy Service Dress Blues they are a classic uniform and are always a classy look.

We had a significant number of sailors there with members of our Chief’s Mess acting as pallbearers, other Petty Officers and Sailors serving as the Flag detail and one of our Master Chiefs presenting the American Flag to Judy.   We also had about 30 other Sailors present joining Carl’s family, his extended family and friends which included a number of men who had served with Carl during his career.  A Marine Honor Guard commanded by a Gunnery Sergeant fired the 21 gun salute and then Taps was played.  It was an honor and privilege to participate.

The brief homily that I gave came out of the Gospel according to John where Jesus tells Martha at the tomb of Lazarus “I am the resurrection and the life.”  In it I focused on that message even as I mentioned his service, life and care of his family and his sailors and his service during and after Vietnam.  After the committal I lingered with various friends of Carl’s and as the crowd dissipated I got into my car and left.  I was blessed by God to be able to return a favor done to my family.  For me this is a large part of why I continue to serve, to care for God’s people in the Sea Services those currently serving and those that blazed the trail for us.  Sometimes one gets lucky.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, Military, Pastoral Care, shipmates and veterans, US Navy, vietnam

In Memory of My Dad: Aviation Storekeeper Chief Carl Dundas, Husband, Father, Grandfather and Navy Chief 27 July 1935- 23 June 2010

Aviation Storekeeper Chief Carlton (Carl) Dundas

My dad passed away last week and today we held his memorial service with full military honors in De Young Shoreline Chapel in Stockton California.  The past couple of days leading up to this have been hectic as we thought of things that we needed to do for the service and it was a team effort to get everything done. My brother had handled the initial tasks immediately following dad’s death early Wednesday morning and when I arrived I helped coordinate the honors with the funeral director, the Navy Chaplain performing the service and the Military honors team leader as well as digging through dad’s briefcase to try to find life insurance policies as well as try to deal with the Social Security Administration on the phone, which if you read my last post you’ll know exactly what I went through dealing with the cheerful automated attendant from the pits of Hell.

Dad on the Flight Deck of USS Hancock, CVA-19 deployed to Vietnam with A4-J Skyhawk

With that being said we went to work yesterday, my brother and his wife took care of everything for the reception while one of my sister in laws’ aunts burned a CD with some of dad’s favorite music by Willie Nelson, Anne Murray and John Denver along with renditions, I think my the Naval Academy Chorus of Anchors Aweigh and the Navy Hymn, Eternal Father Strong to Save.  The fact that she did this on short notice took a great weight off of my shoulders as I dug through well over a thousand and probably close to 2000 photos to put together two collages representing the fullness of dad’s life as best as I could do.  After laying them out last night I knew that there were some that needed to be reproduced and since I am not at home where the Abbess has all of her high speed gear to do such work off to the local Target I went to have the kind people there use their Kodak machines to digitalize and print them of course after I picked up my large cup of 7-11 French Vanilla Coffee with French Vanilla creamer and Splenda, I do think that they should be paying me for advertising right now but until that time I have no problem mentioning them because I do like their coffee.  The young Mexican girl helping me was a gem, she knew exactly what to do and in no time had all of the pictures digitalized, printed and burned on CDs even as I realized that I needed a decent pair of white socks to wear with my summer white uniform to which I walked over to the Kohl’s down the way, picked up my socks and went back to pick up the CDs which were ready when I returned. The girl wished me well as I thanked her again and as I left as is my custom I told her to be safe and added “after all this is Stockton and I lived here when they invented the drive-by” to which she thanked me, laughed and said that she would try to be safe.

Dad on Liberty most likely in the Philippines in the 1971-1973 time frame

After that is was the usual chaos that families experience trying to get ready and out the door, what to wear for my mom and to finish up the collages, get a shower and get into my Summer Whites, or as I refer to them around my Marine friends as the FWUs or Faggoty White Uniform as Colonel Nathan R Jessup (Jack Nicholson) referred to them in the movie A Few Good Men but I digress.

Mom Dad and Me probably in San Diego 1964

My mom and I got the funeral home chapel about 1215 and Captain Gerry Seely, a Navy Chaplain, the members of the Naval Military Honors team, a Captain with Fleet Marine Force experience, two Commanders, a Naval Flight Officer and a Surface Warfare Officer, a BUC or Chief Builder, a Seabee Chief as well as a Electronics Mate First Class who served as the bugler. Chaplain Seely was in his Summer Whites matching me and the Honors team in their Full Dress Whites. Additionally a ceremonial honors team from Travis Air Force Base composed of a young Sergeant and three young Airmen in their Air Force Dress Blues looking very sharp were there for the rendering of honors, the ceremonial rifle volleys that would precede the playing of Taps.

Flag Folding Ceremony

As friends and family gathered I worked with the Honors team, Chaplain Seely and the funeral director to ensure that everyone was read in on the sequence of events before the service. My mom was taken by the number of military personnel present to honor my dad this last time. The service began promptly as scheduled with Chaplain Seely offering the condolences of the Chief of Navy Chaplains Admiral Bob Burt as well as the Deputy Chief of Chaplains and Chaplain of the Marine Corps Rear Admiral Mark Tidd. Chaplain Seely did a marvelous job in weaving the intersections of my dad’s life together with the understanding of the Navy being a family, discussing my dad’s career while talking about Navy life, particularly the effect on families of the frequent moves and separations cause by deployments as well as the specialness and importance of dad being a Chief. You see in the Navy the Chief Petty Officer occupies a unique position, it has been said and is largely true that Chief’s run the Navy, good Chiefs teach, mentor and discipline young sailors in the ways of the Navy, their rating and life.  Gerry also shared about our hope in Christ the hope of the resurrection and the faith that we have that Jesus has gone before us to prepare a place for us as well as send the Holy Spirit to comfort us. He did the service so well you would have thought that he knew dad and obviously as he shared with us felt the connections with dad through service on similar aircraft carriers, duty stations and hobbies.

Chaplain Gerry Seely (right) along with the OIC of the Honors Detail

He invited Jeff and I to say some words about dad and I led off talking about what dad meant to me, how good of a father he was, how he inspired me in my military career and brought me to love the game of baseball. Jeff talked about how dad influenced him in values and teaching him right from wrong, I do think that despite being the clergyman that I probably was more of a pain in the ass to my dad as despite for all of my innocent charm and introversion I am a bit of a rebel, believing that while there are definitely 10 Commandments most everything else is more of a suggestion and that there are a lot of gray areas.  Jeff is a teacher and definitely a no-nonsense kind of guy much like my dad, though I think Jeff is a bit more serious than dad who could be a jokester and was much of the time which is where I think that I get some of my humor from. I think that Jeff is like dad in a lot of ways and me in some, but both of us benefited from his love, care, discipline and values.  It is funny how much Jeff and I am alike despite our age differences and much of that has to be from the influence of dad. Jeff talked about dad’s love of golf as well as his ability to sit down and enjoy a beer and go to the casinos in the area.  That reminded me of something that both of us had not mentioned which was my dad’s love of horse racing and going to the track to bet on “the ponies.”  Jeff has taken that up having a part interest or ownership in a thoroughbred horse which races at Santa Anita.

So many memories came back during the service as well as while putting the collages together, memories of good times and the realization that dad was always there for us. After Jeff concluded his remarks Chaplain Seely talked about what we in the military call “PCS orders” and what in dad’s passing from this life was his final PCS move to heaven where he will wait for us. It was touching the way that he made that connection in terms of the military service.  When his remarks were concluded Eternal Father Strong to Save was played followed by the military honors which were led off by the Captain leading the detail explaining what would happen. Following this the two Commanders took the flag from the stand on which they were displayed and unfolded them laying them out flat. The room was called to stand and active and former military asked to render the appropriate salutes as the rifle volleys were fired and Taps was played. Following taps we were asked to be seated while the two Commanders then very sharply refolded the flag with great preciseness and passed it off to the Chief who came up and after rendering honors to the flag moved deliberately to my mom, took a knee and presented the flag on behalf of a grateful Navy, Nation and his and dad’s fellow Chief Petty Officers.

Dad’s last Navy assignment USS Hancock CVA 19 1971-1974 where he did two 11 month deployments

There were a good number of people there, some that I knew and others that I had heard about from my mom, dad or Jeff. My friend from high school and Navy Junior ROTC Jeff Vanover was there with his family as were numerous others. The sad thing is that when you get to be my parent’s age many of their closest friends have either passed away or are no longer capable of traveling however my mom’s phone has been ringing off the hook while her e-mail in box and snail mail box are filled with expressions of sympathy and friendship.

To all of those that attended the services today as well as those that have helped in various ways during my dad’s long and difficult battle with the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease, especially all of my mom and dad’s friends and Jeff’s wife Melissa’s family those present and those separated by distance or physical affliction I offer you my thanks. To the members of the Navy Military Honors team for Northern California and honors team from Travis Air Force Base you were all great. I have seen many teams and yours was outstanding. To Chaplain Gerry Seely your kind words of comfort and the celebration of my dad’s life went beyond measure.  To the Chief that presented my mother Old Glory thank you, it meant so much to her and I know to my dad that a Chief presented this token of the Nation’s gratitude.  To my boss Chaplain Jesse Tate who got the ball rolling to make this happen, Admiral Burt and Admiral Tidd for your support, to my fellow Chaplains, fellow shipmates and all of my friends around the world that have offered words of encouragement and prayer I cannot thank you enough.  The same is true for my Bishop and fellow priests as well as the Rector and parishioners of St James Episcopal Church in Portsmouth Virginia where I worship.

Dad was a good husband, father and grandfather. He was a devoted friend to many, loyal shipmate to others and a man who worked hard to set his family up for success in life.  I miss him, I have for years because of Alzheimer’s disease, but now while I am thankful that he is no longer suffering nor trapped in the shell that once was him, I miss him. Maybe someday like Kevin Costner’s character in Field of Dreams, Ray Kinsella, I too will be able to once again have a catch with my dad on the lush green diamond in heaven.

Since this is starting to sound like one of those actors that can’t stop talking after getting an Oscar, so I will just say thank you and God bless. My mom appreciates everything as does my brother. Keep us in your prayers as we attempt to help mom navigate the sea of paperwork generated by various bureaucracies both governmental and the private sector that she will need to work with over the coming days and weeks. I return to Virginia on Wednesday.

Peace and blessings,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under alternative history, remembering friends, US Navy