(Blogger's NOTE: It's been a week today but I can't still get out of my head that Sunday special treat I have had from an unexpected person I met and unexpected place I was into...Thanks to this cool, accommodating Sailor/Naval Officer named George who made it possible. Thanks to Sailor Keller, too, for his professionalism and service. Here's my recollection of last Sunday's special...)
Sunday. 14 Sep 2014. I have said this before that, of all the days of the week, my favorite is Sunday. Why? Simply because it's one of the two weekend days in which most of the populace are at home, not working, with the exception of those scheduled, and those who have duty watch, militarily speaking. Plus, it's the time for family and friends to get together in church and, later, for lunch.
What makes last Sunday extraordinary or special? Well, let me explain. After attending or participating in Sunday Mass at our parish, St. Paul's Catholic Church in downtown Portsmouth, my wife Freny and I, together with sis-in-law Rose and our family friend Myrna (her husband Mike declined our invitation to join us) have decided to go to Norfolk Naval Station (NAVSTA) where we had lunch at NEX (Navy Exchange) Food Court. (BTW, our consummate driver is none other than my wife Freny.) We ate Mexican, this time. That is, we had burritos and tacos (soft and crunchy! Note: I used "crunchy" as opposed to "hard" tacos because it may connote something...You know what I mean?) Anyway, for drinks, we opted for sweetened, iced-tea.
We had a good time there, enjoying the camaraderie and fellowship while savoring Mexican food.
Guess where did we go after lunch? Freny drove us around the largest naval base, specifically to the area where small and mammoth ships and submarines are docked, by the pier-side.
As a retired U.S. Navy veteran, I always feel a connection with where I was and what I've been witnessing...our naval vessels that have been charged with patrolling our sea lanes and oceans around the globe. The naval power we project is something so important yet interesting. For centuries, we have done extraordinary feat of maintaining freedom and independence, and safety of our oceans which are vital to global commerce and trade. On the other hand, our Sailors have played major roles in the overall peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts, and naval exercises involving other countries.
I said I feel connected to these ships, even if, I tell you now, in my twenty years of serving honorably and proudly in the United States Navy, I haven't been stationed in or on board a naval vessel, with the exception of that training ship, USS Never Sail, while in boot camp back in the mid-1980s. The question is: Does that mean I am or was not a real Sailor? You be the judge, my dear folks and friends. But in all honesty, I have religiously upheld the Navy traditions and core values of Honor, Commitment, and Courage. Yes, I'm very much aware of the fact that I didn't have what you call "sea duty," that all I have had were "shore duty," mostly at naval medical clinic and hospitals. My only overseas duty was my assignment to U.S. Naval Hospital Guam. Well, with the early evolution of the Gulf War, with Operation Dessert Shield/Storm, I was on the alert status. My sea bag was ever-ready. On my part, I had no choice but to be ready. (Almost 60-65% of our staff-personnel in that clinic were deployed. Thus, we had a skeleton crew. That is, we had either one or two military personnel in each department. In my department, it was only me and my chief.) Yes, I admit, I wasn't mentally ready but I would say I was because I have had to be ready to go if or when called upon to help in accomplishing the mission.
Last Sunday, to me, was a special one. I'm so thankful and glad that a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity took place in my life. Such an experience was truly unprecedented and unexpected: touring a naval submarine in commission. Yes, I did it! Never in my mind had occurred to me that I would be touring a submarine! Thank you, George! You made it happen, Sailor/Submariner! Without you, I would have not been inside a submarine. Never in my wildest dream that I would be inside a submarine!
Well, it was happenstance how and when I came to meet George, the "third man in the chain of command," he said. I couldn't believe it...my first time to be in a submarine! How did it happen?
I met George at that parking lot by the pier where those ships and submarines were docked. I was still in our car that was parked on the parking lot facing the water, with the ships from a distant, with my company: Freny, Rose, and Myrna. We're admiring those ships...In shorts and T-shirt, he was walking towards the gate guarded by a couple of Sailors. Upon seeing him, I immediately called his attention and asked him if he could give me and my company a tour of his ship. I walked out of our car and was enthusiastically happy to meet and come to know him. Approaching him, he asked me for my military ID card which I gladly showed him. We exchanged pleasantries. Then I told him I'm retired from the U.S. Navy, after 20 years of honorable service.
It was my turn to ask him about himself, too. As we were walking side by side as if we've known each other before, after entering the gate, he said he's from Philly. I could sense that he's cool and respectful Sailor/naval officer. He hinted, too, that he may give me and m y company a tour.
OMG, I felt an aura in my head and my excitement was building up. I told him briefly about my work history while still active duty. We continued walking towards his sub. He's got a board meeting, he said, but would send someone to give us a tour, as he walked his way to the sub. (At that time, I was about to say, "Permission to come aboard, Sir," but I held that thought as he breezed his way to the plank and into the sub.) I don't know if he heard me say, "Thank you, George." I did it several times, though.
Momentarily, as soon he disappeared from view, a young Sailor showed up and anxiously met us. I introduced myself and thanked him for taking the time to give us a tour. He said, "no problem." Sailor Keller did give us a brief overview about the sub before he guided and lead us inside, one at a time. I can say, he did his best to show us and explain to us where he works, areas of the sub that are not off limits to visitors and guests. He mentioned, though, that his crew is anticipating a public official to have a tour, too. No wonder a couple of Sailors were, at that time, busy trying to tidy up some spaces there. All I felt was awe and amazement at what I was witnessing inside a sub. What I've seen in movies became a reality to me.
Indeed, my submarine tour was one that's unforgettable and unprecedented, and unexpected! I thanked Keller and did tell him to convey my sincere gratitude to George. As to souvenir photos, thank God, we had two. Sailor Keller made it happen for he volunteered to take the photos for us. (Freny's camera has them. My smartphone/camera was "acting up" or not functioning well that time, too bad. But, hey, my wife has the proof we've been there in that sub. But the photos were taken outside of the sub, though.)
After the tour, I thanked Sailor Keller for his professionalism and service. I reiterated my wish to extend my gratitude to George for making my once-in-a-lifetime sub tour possible! (At that moment, I offered my silent prayer of thanksgiving to God and prayed for the safety and good health to all of our servicemen and women who are stationed everywhere...May God bless them always!)
What did I not expect to see by the same pier where we just had a tour? Chris, my fellow retired "shipmate" who also worked at NMCP while I was there...What a coincidence! He and his wife and another mid-grown female were there and presumably waiting for their turn to tour the sub, too. As usual, we did shake hands and exchange pleasantries , then we had a brief conversation as we introduced each other's company. In short, we bid goodbye to each other.
I felt so good that day, especially those moments when George and I were walking side by side while exchanging casual talks as if we've known each other for so long. I was extremely happy when we were touring the sub. I can say with pride, "Mission accomplished!" Btw, what's the name of the sub, you ask? I give you clues: Named after a city in Montana; A Los Angeles-class submarine; It's motto is "Proud and Fearless." Commissioned in 1987, and currently homeported in Norfolk, VA. It's USS H...(SSN 725).
Yes, dear folks and friends, seize the moment when there's a rare opportunity to experience something good that comes your way. Mind you, I had my first opportunity to travel abroad, in Europe, specifically in Italy, prior to emigrating here in the U.S. before. And, I considered myself fortunate that time. So, don't let any opportune moment pass or slip by. Dreams do come true, I believe, when you least expect them. So, keep on dreaming! Be good always! Such a random act of kindness, manifested by George to me and my company that Sunday afternoon was a blessing to me. Again, thank you, George, for all that you do. God bless you and your family and fellow Sailors everywhere! God bless US always!
-Chris A. Quilpa, a retired U.S. Navy veteran, lives in Suffolk. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.