Monday, May 25, 2015

A Memorial Day Wish

I know this is Kelley's Dog Blog, and I always share fun dog-related stuff. But truth is, I have other aspects of my life too, and I feel the need to share. Please bear with me.

Today is Memorial Day. I'm not going to wish you a "Happy" Memorial Day, because today isn't suppose to be happy. Today is a solemn day, where we remember the service men and women who have died to protect the rights of all the BBQ grillmasters and drunk beachgoers that are enjoying their day off. I'm working today, but before I head out I wanted to share a story: 

Me and my M-14 on patrol in Italy, 1988
In late 1988 I was in the US Navy. I was on the fast track in the male-dominated field of weapons technology. In December of that year my naval career was derailed by a surprise pregnancy. At the same time my new husband (also a sailor) was offered his dream job as Turret Two Center Gun Gun Captain of the USS Iowa. The Navy was not friendly to dual-military families in the 80s so we had a hard decision to make: one of us had to quit to raise that baby.

In January of 1989 I returned to civilian life and started packing up our household to make the move from Mayport, Florida to Norfolk, Virginia. At the last minute my husband received a call from a Senior Chief Reginald Ziegler. The senior chief wanted Hubby to attend a school in San Diego, California for three months before reporting to the Iowa. This required us to put all our stuff in storage and drive across country (and back) in a Camaro as my belly got larger and larger. Hubby was to join the ship in June, a week before it left port for a 6-month Mediterranean cruise. This new plan left me to find a place to live and unpack, alone and 8 months pregnant. Yeah, I grumbled. In fact, I bitched at all the way to California.

The USS Iowa in all her glory
But then tragedy struck. On April 19, 1989, there was explosion on the USS Iowa inside the center gun of turret two. 47 people died, including Senior Chief Ziegler and the Turret Two Center Gun Gun Captain. Had it not been for that last minute change I would have been a 20 year old unemployed, pregnant widow.

The story doesn't end there! When the Iowa pulled back into Norfolk in December of 1989 families of the 47 victims visited the ship and laid a wreath upon the turret. Iowa sailors then gave tours to various family members. Can you guess who Hubby was assigned to escort? Mrs. Ziegler. (I'm not making this up!) She shared that she had MS and was having a hard time with her husband's death. Hubby shared the story of how her husband's arbitrary decision saved his life, and then showed her a picture of our newborn son. They both cried.

I have a large, framed copy of this on my office
wall. The Captain gave it to my husband when
the ship was decommissioned.
Several weeks later, Hubby was assigned to discreetly remove and dispose of the wreath. He did, but not before pocketing one of the iridescent plastic stars. It's chipped and it's ugly, yet I hang it on my Christmas tree every year in memory of the Iowa 47.

And on this day every year I say a prayer for the families, with an extra one for Mrs. Ziegler. The accident was pre-internet. I have no idea where she is or what became of her. If I did, I would tell her how sorry I am for her loss and how grateful I am for her husband. I would tell her that Hubby and I have been happily married for over 26 years and have two wonderful children. Her husband saved me from the unimaginable grief she had to go through. I feel so blessed, and at the same time I feel so guilty. I hope that Mrs. Ziegler eventually found peace and happiness.

I rarely tell this story because I can't share it without sobbing uncontrollably. Fortunately, I can cry and type at the same time. Thank you for reading this to the end. If you were touched please do a couple things for me:
    1. Say a prayer for the families of the Iowa 47. I know it's been over a quarter century since the accident, but I doubt that the pain of their losses will ever completely go away.
    2. Share this post. I would love nothing more than for it to reach the Ziegler family, wherever they are. I don't wish contact, but I would like them to know how indebted my family is to their husband/father/son/brother. He will always hold a special place in our hearts. I hope that brings them a small amount comfort.
OK, enough tears. Go back to your BBQ! Fun doggie stuff returns tomorrow. Promise. -- K
P.S. This was originally published on the 25th Anniversary of the Iowa explosion and was titled: 25 Years, 47 Dead, and 1 Personal Miracle. Kinda morbid, hunh?

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