Week 1, Day 2: Homecoming

Many thanks to our guest author today. Jane Fugate is a dedicated social worker and addiction counselor. She is a published author, a popular speaker and presenter, and she helped develop the television program “The Family Works.” She began her career serving in the Red Cross Special Services during the Vietnam War. Natives of Kentucky (!!) Jane and her husband, Bob, are active members of Foothills Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Phoenix, AZ.

What are you Waiting For?

They say reflections in the wake of an aircraft carrier are many.

Leaving me to wait, a war ship sailed away with its crew of 5,000—and 80,000 tons of floating airbases– to conduct flight operations from Yankee Station in the Gulf of Tonkin, off the coast of Vietnam. The year was 1969, and after 14 years of marriage to a navy man, this was not the first ship that had sailed away with my heart and soul mate. But this cruise was scheduled for a year. That seems an eternity when you imagine yourself alone in a new home, new neighborhood far away from family, with a new job and 3 young children.

Other ships had sailed away for months at a time to dangerous places, but our tradition had always been to say good-bye at the door of our home, in whatever coast or meridian the USN had us stationed. This time he drove us to the pier. We watched him walk down to one of the huge ship’s entry ladders to go aboard, and then I drove us back to Virginia Beach.  Stoic, I am not.  I began 14 months of waiting in a wash tub full of tears, with hands bruised from beating on the steering wheel.

The saying used to be, “If the Navy wanted you to have a wife, they would have packed her in your sea bag.”  It was before the days of Family Support Services.  It was long before e-mail correspondence. This was in the time of ‘two weeks for a daily letter to reach each other.’ It was in the days of ‘one short ham radio patched phone call every four or five months.’

I can spare you the many details of the waiting. Fast forward through the broken car windshield; the inoperable (insert here the name of every appliance known to woman); countless trips to the base pediatric specialist; then hurricanes and blizzards and one kitchen fire, during which the family Great Dane wouldn’t let the firemen enter the house.

Then one day, the waiting came to an end. The USS America, decorated Flag Ship of the Seventh Fleet with one half acre flight deck, was returning to Norfolk with 10,600 combat and combat- support missions for American and Allied Forces completed.  Ooooh Happy Day!   It was December 21st, 1970 and we were ready!

The house was spotless.  Cookies were baked. Wood was brought in for the fireplace. The Christmas lights were out of boxes and ready for stringing.  We had new best-dressed clothing and coats, plus new shoes and up-swept hair. Once again, the family made the trip to the carrier pier to wait with the thousands of wives, kids, parents, well-wishers, banner holders and press.  It didn’t matter that it drizzled a cold rain and matted my new wool coat and fancy hair style. It didn’t matter that, as the ship inched into the pier, a million men that could possibly be him lined the ships rails.  It didn’t even matter that someone asked us to hold their banner and then ran off in frenzy, leaving its awkward self with us to hold. On that day, December 21, 1970 we soon found each other in the crowd. We were a family again.

She also serves who stands and waits.

About Erin Wathen

Rev. Erin Wathen is the Senior Pastor of Saint Andrew Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Olathe, KS (www.sacchome.org). She's a Kentucky native, a long-time desert dweller, and she writes about the sacred thread that runs through pretty much everything. For more info, click the 'about' tab above...

  • http://revkory.wordpress.com/ revkory

    Wow. What an amazing story! Thanks so much for sharing this.

    • http://www.irreverin.com irreverins

      i know! they are awesome folks. the soldier in question there is from LAUREL COUNTY kentucky. i’m not even joking.

  • Barbara Simmons

    Your story brought back memories! My husband left to go to Korea by bus & then by aircraft, something like a 32 hour flight time. I didn’t hear his voice or see his face for the next 14 months. One time he didn’t receive any mail for three weeks, we never did find out what happened to my daily letters. But, oh the joy of meeting him at an air base in California late one night & driving down the coast of California for the next week on our way back to our lives.


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