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.