With Veterans Day behind us, Thanksgiving upon us, and the Christmas season of giving looming, I would like to pass along a feel good story.
My Navy friend and golfing buddy, Pete Toennies recently sent me an email with a connection to this story. With many things going on, I frequently delete such emails because of time limitations. But I read this one.
It was written by Jennie Haskamp, a former Marine who served in Afghanistan, just started a new job, and is finishing college a little north of the Southwest corner. To fit this column’s normal length, I have condensed it.
Jennie’s “Pop” Bud Cloud, a former second class Electrician’s Mate on the U.S.S. Dewey (DD-349) during World War II. Jennie had him admitted for hospice care but agreed to give him a last trip to San Diego and a tour of today’s Navy.
She contacted a friend, Mandy McCammon, a Navy public affairs officer, to arrange the tour. Mandy went beyond a tour around the base in a car. She contacted today’s U.S.S. Dewey (DDG-105), whose Executive Officer, CDR Mikael Rockstad, invited Jennie and Pop to visit the new destroyer.
Mandy met Jennie and Bud and escorted them onto the base and down to Dewey’s pier. The command master chief, Joe Grgetich, and a squad of sailors met them. Bud was overwhelmed by the attention and cried when he learned they were his escort.
The Dewey’s Sailor of the Year, Petty Officer Simon, announced to Bud he had the honor of pushing Bud’s wheelchair.
The ship had not been satisfied with Bud getting a pier side ship of his ship’s namesake. Unbeknownst to us, they’d decided to host Budaboard the Dewey, not at the Dewey. They carried an ecstatic Bud aboard, an unexpected gesture. The ship’s commanding officer, CDR Jake Douglas met them when they came aboard with more of the ship’s company selected to greet Bud. The men and women lined up to shake his hand and introduce themselves. They “swapped” sea stories, and had photos taken with Bud.
Bud’s voice was little more than a weak whisper at this point and he’d tell a story and then GMC Eisman or GSCS Whynot would repeat it so all of the Sailors on deck could hear. In the midst of the conversations, Petty Officer Flores broke contact with the group. Bud was telling a story and CMDCM Grgetich was repeating the details when Flores walked back into view holding a huge photo of the original USS Dewey. That moment was priceless. Bud stopped mid-sentence and yelled, “There she is!” They patiently stood there holding the photo while he told them about her armament, described the way it listed after it was hit, and shared other details about the attacks on Pearl Harbor.
Bud finally admitted how tired he was after more than an hour on deck. While they were finishing up goodbyes and taking last minute photographs, GMC Eisman asked if it’d be OK to bring Sailors up to visit Bud in a few months after a Chief’s board. I hadn’t said it yet because I didn’t want it to dampen the spirit of the day, but I quietly explained to GMC Eisman the reason we’d asked for the visit was simple: Bud was dying.
I told him they were welcome to come up any time they wanted, but I suspected Bud had about a month left to live. Almost without hesitation, he asked if the crew could provide the burial honors when the time came. I assured him that’d be an honor we’d welcome.
Leaving the ship was possibly more emotional than boarding.
They piped him ashore. CMDCM Grgetich leaned in and quietly told me how significant that honor was and who it’s usually reserved for as we headed towards the gangplank. Hearing “Electrician’s Mate Second Class William Bud Cloud, Pearl Harbor Survivor, departing” announced over the 1MC was surreal.
Later that night, Bud sat in his recliner, hands full of ship’s coins and declared, “I don’t care what you do with my power tools; you better promise you’ll bury me with these.”
He died 13 days later. For 12 of those 13 days he talked about the Dewey, her Sailors and his visit to San Diego. Everyone who came to the house had to hear the story, see the photos, hold the coins, read the plaques.
True to his word, GMC Eisman arranged the details for a full honors burial. The ceremony was simple yet magnificent. And a perfect sendoff for an ornery old guy who never, ever stopped being proud to be a Sailor. After the funeral, the Sailors came back to the house for the reception and spent an hour with the family. This may seem like a small detail, but it’s another example of them going above and beyond the call of duty, and it meant more to the family than I can explain.
There are more photos, and I’m sure I missed a detail, or a name. What I didn’t miss and will never forget, is how unbelievable the men and women of the USS Dewey were. They opened their ship and their hearts and quite literally made a dream come true for a dying sailor.
They provided the backdrop for “This is the best day of my life, daughter. I never in my whole life dreamed I’d step foot on the Dewey again or shake the hand of a real life Sailor.”
Without question, it’s the best example of Semper Fidelis I’ve ever seen
Story byline: Jennie Haskamp is a Marine Corps veteran who was fortunate to be adopted by a Pearl Harbor survivor after her first tour in the Corps. She’s an accidental tourist of sorts, keeping her friends entertained with anecdotes and photos, while she continues college and decides what she wants to be when she grows up. Follow Jennie’s personal blog at jennslenz.wordpress.com.
Jim Jewell, a retired Navy commander lives in San Diego but was raised in Lebanon. His book, A Pocket of Resistance: Selected Poems, is now available through Author House, Amazon and Barnes and Noble online. Jim’s email is email@example.com.