Hello in there, hello!

Finding a new shipmate at the World War II Memorial

My new shipmate! Two old sailors we served at Yokosuka Naval Base, 19 years apart!

In a few of my previous posts I urged the reader to do more than use the phrase “Thank you for your service!” Engage the vet, ask where they served, what they did and stand by for the sea stories!

This past week-end I had quite the treat, joining friends for a 5K walk we traveled the monument circuit from the Smithsonian Castle towards the Potomac River. Stopping by the World War II Memorial we were greeted by veterans visiting the memorial with the Honor Flight from Kern County, California. (I learned that is in the Bakersfield area.)

It didn’t take but a glance to see “Navy” on the Korean War Veteran hat worn by Cedell MacDonald. Striking up a conversation, I learned he started his career as a boatswains mate on a Pacific Fleet destroyer or in navy-speak a “tin can.” However, after the frustration of trying to make rate as a boatswains mate he struck for storekeeper and finished his service as a “box kicker.”

Yokosuka Naval Base circa 1955 (L) and in 1989 (R). The USS Midway is at its usual pier. The Midway would return to the states for decommissioning after serving its final combat tour during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Photos courtesy WikkiCommons.

Leaving sea duty he transferred to the Harbor Defense Unit at Yokosuka Naval Base. The base was a former Imperial Japanese Navy Base from World War II and became the headquarters for the U.S. Navy in the Western Pacific. Cedell told me how he was there when they removed the “sub nets” that protected the Japanese harbor from U.S. and ally navies during the war. He lamented that was in 1955. Wait that was the year I was born!

I arrived at Yokosuka in June 1974, fresh from boot camp and technical training to serve on the USS Midway (CV-41) which was then homeported in Yokosuka as the only forward deployed carrier!

Cedell told me he stayed on a carrier a few nights but found them too big and I told him about seeing the typhoon waves crashing over the bridge of the destroyers escorting the Midway as she tried to outrun a typhoon in the straits between Korea and Japan. Destroyers were too little for me!

With only a few minutes of chatting I heard a fantastic story of a young Sailor in the fleet! It was well worth stopping to chat, so the next time you see a veteran wearing his cap or a shirt with a unit name on it or even a faded tattoos from the war, take a minute to ask, “How are you doing, where did you serve?” And as I have said before, stand-by for the stories they are well worth it!

Dave Mattingly is a writer and national security consultant. He retired from the U.S. Navy with over thirty years of service. He is a member of the Military Writers Guild, NETGALLEY Challenge 2015 and a NETGALLEY Professional Reader.