Navy crew can feel the pull of history

By Bill Grace

Special to The Herald

From the bridge of the USS Decatur down through all of her decks, there is a pride of mission that is both quietly professional and boastfully American. There is a real air of being in the moment, and that moment is history.

Whatever personal distractions there may be, no one has taken their eye off of why they are here — for family, friends and country. On the ship’s computer is a directory with songs and videos. One of those sites is a compilation of 9-11 news clips.

Even in the calm of the daily routine, no one’s attention has drifted from their obligation and responsibility.

A young ensign who I can identify only as Suh, standing watch on the bridge, made an interesting remark about what this deployment means to him.

"There is a different sense of pride and obligation about being in the Navy when we have a mission," he said. "Being needed, being sent somewhere for something other than training makes a big difference."

Suh possesses a strong sense of commitment to the Navy. He began as an enlisted man, and from there he took advantage of the Navy’s opportunity to go to college.

He talked for a while about his wife of two years, whom he left behind in San Diego. He met her while he was in college. In that light, maybe she’s another benefit for him being in the Navy. He obviously misses her, and at the same time is very excited about his duties on the ship.

Trying to balance the two priorities, family vs. Navy and career, he seems confident that he can give each its due.

Chief Boson Mate Arthur — again following protocol and using only his first name — is obviously proud of his ship, and if he is not everywhere at once, he gets there eventually during the day. From directing helicopters as they land on the flight deck to the more mundane, he either is doing it or seeing that it gets done. Under way, he has 18 new seamen who have never been to sea.

His seasick days now old memories, he is slightly amused at the plight of the rookies.

"They can’t go to their racks. They still have their duties and to stand watch. They just gotta get used to it and get their sea legs in a hurry," he told me as we stood on the outer decks, gray clouds around us, the veil of rain in our path ahead.

Even with his 23 years in the Navy, his early seasickness is not so far behind him that he hasn’t a little sympathy.

"I am glad that this is happening to them on their first few days out and they get it over with. It would be kinda tough on them to be over where we are going and being seasick and scared at the same time."

A little spray blows through the air as if to punctuate that thought.

Bill Grace of Everett is sending periodic dispatches from aboard the USS Decatur during its deployment. He’s on board as a U.S. government teacher in the Program Afloat College Education. He can be reached at

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