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USS Hudner tour gives veterans a chance to see the future

Streamers mix with falling snow during the christening of the future guided-missile destroyer USS Thomas Hudner (DDG 116) at the Bath Iron Works shipyard Saturday, April 1, 2017 in Maine.

U.S. NAVY

By KEVIN P. O'CONNOR | The Herald News | Published: November 30, 2018

BOSTON (Tribune News Service) — By the time they got to the bridge, the Navy guys were on a roll.

They knew what they were looking at on the USS Thomas Hudner. And they were impressed.

"Do you still use a sextant?" asked Gary Pavao of Somerset, U.S. Navy, 1980 to 1986.

Corpsman First Class Dane Pace stood before a bank of computer monitors and a console of dials and switches. There was nothing on the bridge that looked like a steering wheel or a throttle. No compass binnacle.

"Every day," Pace said. "We do the actual, classic stuff."

He put his hand on a computer.

"I can do this," he said, "or I can do the sun lines."

The USS Thomas Hudner, a guided missile destroyer, will be commissioned Saturday in Boston. It leaves Monday for its home port in Florida.

Sen. Michael Rodrigues chartered three buses Wednesday to bring 100 local veterans to Boston for a tour of the Hudner.

Men and women arrived at Battleship Cove at 7:30 a.m., the patches on their jackets and hats announcing their service. There was one veteran of the Korean War, several from the Vietnam era, most of the veterans were younger.

GSM 2 Cesar Bernal lead a tour onto the Hudner, pointing out the missile tubes, the 5-inch gun, the hatches that securely shut, tighter than the door on a bank safe.

Bernal's spiel during the tour delved into engineering details. The veterans delved into life on board.

Pavao admired the roll on the brim of the Dixie-cup sailor hat worn by GSM Joan Fanel. ("It is Joan, like Joan of Arc," Fanel said. "It's Cuban thing," he added.)

Pavao and Fanel quickly began trading stories about tattoos. Fanel laughed when he learned that some sailors got XX tattooed onto the soles of their feet. It was supposed to protect against sharks, Pavao said.

"Did it work?" Fanel asked.

"We never had to find out," Pavao said.

The Hudner is the newest ship in the U.S. Navy. It was named for Fall River native Thomas Hudner, a Navy pilot, who earned the Medal of Honor for service in Korea.

Hudner belly landed his fighter plane on a snow covered mountain meadow during the battle of Chosin Reservoir, Dec. 4, 1950. He was trying to save his friend and squad mate, Jesse Brown.

Browns' plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire and crash landed. Brown survived the crash but was trapped in the plane. The plane was burning. Hudner landed to try to free him but Brown died before that could be accomplished.

Brown was the Navy's first African-American aviator.

In naming the ship after Hudner, the Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, said Hudner exemplified the values of the U.S. Navy.

Many of those touring the Hudner Wednesday served on similar ships.

Robert Klevecka of Freetown served on a succession of Navy vessels from 1973 to 1993, most of them old, he said.

"I can't get over how everything is new and clean," he said. "I'm used to being on old vessels, so this was great.

"I'm an airedale, so my interest was the hanger bay for the helicopter. That was beautiful."

A contingent of veterans from Westport took the tour, if only to see what they were missing by joining another branch of service.

"We're all Army, so it is a great opportunity to see how the Navy guys lived," Bob Bouchard said. The tour slowed to a stop in the dining hall. Hudner crew members walked by with cafeteria trays loaded with cheeseburgers, French fries, hot soup and cups of coffee.

Though it was a big ship, 510 feet long and 66 feet wide, it felt cramped. Passageways required everyone to walk single file. The walls were lined with coiled hoses, pumps, firefighting jump suits hanging from the ceiling, axes and brooms cleated into corners.

Computer monitors were everywhere you looked.

"It was awesome when you saw the newest and the best. You have to love it," said Gerry Benoit of Somerset, an Air Force vet.

"The Navy guys are in their glory today. You have to give them that once in a while."

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©2018 The Herald News, Fall River, Mass.
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