Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Midway Moment

I guess the older you get the more you recognize that you are surrounded by history. Not only that, but you are yourself rapidly becoming a part of that history! I remember a few years ago when my brother, John, told me that the CH46 Sea Knight helicopter he had flown in Vietnam was now part of the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington DC. I laughed and told him they needed to stuff him like a taxidermist would do and place him in the museum with the helicopter.

Not long after that I was attending a meeting of Navy chaplains at NAS Alameda. This would have been in 1993. As I drove toward the base I was struck by several thoughts. First, Alameda had not changed all that much since I had served there as a Marine in the early 70s. Second, I had heard they were going to close down NAS Alameda – something that seemed inconceivable to me. During the Vietnam War that base was a beehive of activity 24/7. Navy ships coming and going, Navy and Marine Corps jets and other varied and assorted aircraft were punching holes in the sky day and night, and Marines and Sailors were all over the place. Going away? Shutting down? I simply could not grasp that. Third, as I pulled up to the Main Gate I noticed an addition to the turnabout just inside the gate. In the grassy center was mounted a T-A4 with the numbers on the side, “00”. This was one of the planes from my former squadron, VMA 133. This Marine squadron had been decommissioned several years earlier, but the reality of it did not strike me until that moment. A thought came to my mind: “You know you’re getting old when the planes you used to work on are now on display!”

So, anyway, this past weekend, Isaura and I took off in the car on Thursday and drove to San Diego. Our friend, Bob Page, was being commissioned as an ensign in the Navy. Bob and I served together most of the past seven years. We have similar military experiences, though I am older by more than a dozen years. We both initially served in the Marine Corps, attaining the rank of E6, staff sergeant. My path led me to become a Navy chaplain, but Bob became a Navy RP. An RP is the Navy designation for a Religious Program Specialist. These folks are enlisted personnel who train specifically to work in support of chaplains. Unlike the chaplains, however, who are non-combatants, the RPs are combatants, and serve as the bodyguard for the chaplain in a combat zone. Desiring to serve the Lord in the military, Bob became an RP. We first hooked up in 2002 when he joined me at I MACE located at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. We were nearly attached at the hip for the next number of years until my retirement from the Navy last September. Being attached at the hip with Bob would be nearly impossible since I’m no longer the towering 5’10” I once was, and Bob is 6’6”!

Bob performed wonderfully as an RP, rising to the rank of E8, senior chief, and I’m absolutely certain he would have gone on to E9, master chief except that an opportunity came along for him to apply for a commission to be an officer. You see, Bob has an extensive background in news journalism. He has worked cameras, broken big news stories, and served as news director for several major television stations. In the process he has garnered seven Emmys for his work. For those unfamiliar with the Emmy Award, it is a television production award, considered the television equivalent to the Academy Awards. The Emmys are presented in various sectors of the television industry, including entertainment programming, news and documentary shows, and sports programming.

Since the Navy was in need of people for the PAO (Public Affairs Officer) program, Bob thought he might apply and see what happened. Sure enough, they selected him to be commissioned as an ensign, now serving the base command in Coronado, California. Nice!

On Saturday, all the candidates for commission were mustered on the flight deck of the USS Midway, now a museum permanently anchored at a pier in San Diego. There was a nice crowd of folks attending the ceremony, including a three-star admiral whose daughter was being commissioned as well! When it was Bob’s turn to be sworn in, Lori, his wife, and I came forward to insert his ensign shoulder boards on his Navy summer white uniform. Administering the oath of office was Navy chaplain Rabbi Irv Elson who had served with Bob in a Marine command that made the historic run to Baghdad in March of 03.

The backdrop of the USS Midway was perfect because, like the checkered story of the old warship, Bob’s military story, though not totally unique, nevertheless, is checkered. It is a rarity for a person to have gained that much experience and achieved that much success in two different branches of the military, and to have moved almost all the way to the top of the enlisted ranks only to set that aside and start at the bottom of the officer ranks as a newly commissioned ensign.

But if I know Bob, in short order he’ll know his job better than anyone else, and will be promoted right up the chain.

Admiral Page? It could happen!

I can’t help but think that Bob will have an endless supply of stories to regale his grandchildren with some day.

Thanks, Bob, for your friendship, and for your service to our country.

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