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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Good Stuff, Maynard!

He was the biggest baby born in San Francisco on January 7, 1937.  Actually, the biggest baby born probably that year in that city; a whopping 13 pounds.  He seemed really proud of that fact.  I just remember thinking as a little girl how he was always larger than life to me.

His dad worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad.  Grandpa always called it the "Sufferin' Pacific", which made me giggle when he said it because it made him sound like Sylvester Cat.  This railroad legacy showed up in the names of my dad and my uncles.  Grandpa gave them all "RR" names; Robert, Raymond, Russell, and dad was Richard.  He had two sisters as well, but my aunt's names didn't follow the railroad theme.  I never did ask my Aunty Bobby if she was actually a Roberta, but I really wouldn't have been surprised.  I did, however, ask my dad if  that was the reason that my name was Renee, thinking how great it would have been if I had that tradition to brag about.  I was devastated when he answered; "No, that was the name of my first girlfriend.  Don't tell Mommy."  But then he cracked a smile.  Always the kidder.

He joined the Navy because he had to make a choice between that and being homeless or thrown into juvenile hall for being "incorrigible".  So on his 18th birthday, he enlisted and went to boot camp in San Diego.  He remained in San Diego until August of 1955, when he was assigned to the aircraft carrier, U.S.S. Shangri-La.  The Shangri-La conducted intensive fleet training for the remainder of 1955, then deployed to the Far East on 5 January 1956.  Dad remained assigned to the Shangri-La until February of 1958.

Dad did two tours of duty while assigned to ships serving in the South China Sea.  The first was with amphibious transport ship, U.S.S. Paul Revere; the famous "Ghost Riders".  I remember he used to sing the song "Ghost Riders in the Sky" to me and tell me that the song was written about the men of the Paul Revere.  Of course, when I grew up I came to know that wasn't true, but he was my Daddy, and I believed everything he told me.  That was just the way it was.  He served on the Paul Revere from August of 59 to July of 61.  I was born in September of 60.  He came home on furlough to see his new daughter, and went right back, but put in for shore duty.  He wanted to and tried to be that "present" dad, but the Navy was his life.  It was our life.

After shore duty in Alameda, California from 1961 to 1964, he was transferred to the U.S.S. Maury, a Navy survey ship stationed in Pearl Harbor.  He served on the Maury from May of 64 to January of 65.  During this 7th Fleet tour, the Maury and her sister ship, Oceanographic Vessel U.S.S. Serano, charted and collected data on the Gulf of Siam, the Andaman Sea, the Straights of Malacca and areas of the Philippines.

Once the Maury returned to Pearl Harbor, Dad was reassigned, and in February of 1965, he joined the crew of the U.S.S. Hassayampa, a fleet oiler which serviced ships serving in conflict waters.  One of those ships was the fated U.S.S. Oriskany, which unbeknownst to him at the time, Dad would soon come to serve aboard.

Dad served on the U.S.S. Oriskany, more well-known to later generations for its notoriety in the movie "Top Gun", while with Attack Squadron 164 out of Lemoore, CA.  He was very proud of his time on "The Mighty O" and of his membership in what was amusingly known to the crewmen who served in the Tonkin Gulf off the coast of Vietnam, as the "Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club".

The carrier was on station the morning of 26 October 1966 when a fire erupted on the starboard side of the ship's forward hanger bay and raced through five decks, claiming the lives of 44 men.  Many who lost their lives were veteran combat pilots who had flown raids over Vietnam a few hours earlier.

Oriskany had been put in danger when a magnesium parachute flare exploded in the forward flare locker of Hangar Bay 1, beneath the carrier's flight deck.  Dad was among crewmen who helped wheel planes out of danger, rescued pilots, and helped quell the blaze through three hours of heroic action.  Medical assistance was rushed to the carrier from sister aircraft carriers Constellation and F.D. Roosevelt.  It wasn't until Christmas Eve of 1966, two months later, that I would actually see Dad after this cruise.  I was 6, and very very sure that because my Daddy came home to me, there was really a Santa Claus.

In 1967, Dad was transferred to El Centro Naval Air Facility, better known as the winter home of the Blue Angels.  There we remained until 1971.  He enjoyed his extended shore duty in the high desert, and I enjoyed having a Daddy around to play with.  Our house was the house that the neighborhood kids liked to hang out at on base.  Dad was just a big kid and he loved to play with us.  He was the "big man" who would give piggy-back rides, play baseball, wrassle, and make jokes with.  He told tales as tall as he was, and my friends ate them up like candy.  He would eat every concoction I would bake in my Suzy Homemaker oven, or my Mattel Incredible Edibles, even if it was burned and with great conviction, he would exclaim; "MMMmmmmm!  Good stuff, Maynard!"  I never did find out who Maynard was, but I didn't care.

He rode around  base on his "Nifty, Thrifty, Honda 50".  He was quite a sight; a 6 foot 5 inch "giant" on a little scooter, but everyone on base knew him.  He'd pick me up from school, pop a tiny helmet on my head that he had lovingly painted an "R" on the back of, and put me in front of him on the seat of that little motorbike.  "Remember, Little Poo...don't smile.  You don't want any bugs in your grill!"

He loved to camp, and fish, and we did a lot of that when I was a kid.  I loved going fishing with him, but he refused to take me unless I learned to put the worm on the hook myself.  So I learned.  I didn't like it, but I learned because I wanted to go fishing with him.  I wanted to go ANYWHERE with him. 

Every Friday night, we had Monopoly Night.  He and I would stay up late and have a marathon Monopoly game.  We'd play until he bankrupted me, which would be hours later.  He confessed many years later that he'd always cheated, and he wondered why I never questioned why he always wanted to be the banker.

My love for music, I inherited from my father.  He couldn't read a note, but I never knew anyone that could play an instrument like he was born to it the way Dad did.  He was a true natural.  He bought me my first ukulele, and he taught me to play.  We'd spend Saturdays strumming together and we'd sing a "Santa Catalina/Life Could Be a Dream" medley over and over until we got it just right.  He'd make mistakes on purpose and make me laugh until I cried.  Some days, I would just sit and listen to him play his favorites; "Under the Double Eagle" and "Stars and Stripes".  He made that uke sing.  Later on, he'd teach my daughter Averie to play, and then Caris picked up a uke.  I know that Bryson's natural talent for the guitar and ukulele has trickled down from my dad.  It's a legacy that brings me great joy and yet, in a bittersweet twist, makes me miss him so much more.  Some days, when Bry is sitting out on the porch playing, I close my eyes and hear my dad's style emanating through the Grommet's fingers.  How I would have loved to see them play together.  How happy he would be to know how well his grandson plays.

In 1971, Dad returned to duty at Barber's Point in Pearl Harbor, and we remained there until he retired from the Navy, after 20 years of honorable service.  I remember asking him why he had stayed in for so long.  His answer still resonates in my soul.  "I wanted you to see the world, and I knew this was the only way I could do that for you.  It was all I had to give you."  See the world we did.  During his service, Dad would see South America, Iwo Jima, Guam, Guadalcanal, Hong Kong, Japan, Mariana Islands, Philippines, Korea, Singapore, Okinawa, Vietnam, Alaska, and Hawai'i, not to mention all the traveling around the Pacific Northwest and Canada we did in my parent's RV.  For all the places he couldn't take me, he would bring back a doll from that place to add to my doll collection, which once graced Averie and Caris's rooms, and now hold a place of honor in our "Island Room".

He was a wonderful grandpa and wore my children like they were jewelry.  He tickled and played and wrassled and joked.  He told his tall tales and made them believe him, just as he'd done with me all of my life.

I've missed him every day, and I'll miss him every day to come.  But I am so proud of who he raised me to be, and I am so proud that he was my Daddy.  I have a trunk full of letters from Dad from all over the world.  He wrote to me constantly from wherever he was, and even when I was too little and couldn't yet read, he would draw cartoons and pictures.  I would color them and send them back to him.  He might have been away for a lot of my childhood, but he filled those days apart with letters and love from far away.  He would make reel to reel audio tapes of his voice and he would sing to me and send the tapes home.  The song I remember most is "God Bless My Daddy".


God bless my Daddy,
Who's Over There.
Says a tiny little voice,
In a tiny little prayer.
That is my Daddy
So please, take care.
Says a tiny little voice,
In a tiny little prayer.
For this is the night,
Mommy turns out the light
Oh how I wish you were here
So I could kiss you goodnight.
I hope in dreamland
We'll meet somewhere
Says a tiny little voice
In a tiny little prayer.

Bless you, Daddy.  Thank you for everything.  Sleep sweet, until we meet again in Dreamland.  I love you.