By Jug Varner

After saying “Semper Fi,” a Leatherneck may add, “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” That sort of love and loyalty for one’s service also holds true about the Navy for me, and obviously for a lot of Navy people I know.

Those of us who were career Navy (in my case, during WWII, Korea and Vietnam eras) as well as those many non-careerists who were on active duty for a lesser period of time, consider serving our nation to be the highlight of our lives. That’s why I am now involved with the Golden Pelicans, a local squadron of the national Association of Naval Aviation (ANA), Washington, DC.

One of the better ways to get acquainted when you move to a new community is to join a group with whom you have something in common. To start with, I joined Sarasota Downtown Association because I wanted to meet some of the “movers and shakers” in town. One of the first persons I met was June Gordon, volunteer extraordinaire who is active in a lot of community groups here. When she found out I was a former Navy pilot, she said her husband Bill was, too, and suggested I might enjoy the Navy camaraderie of the Golden Pelicans. They invited me to a monthly noon luncheon meeting and I was tail-hooked.

Last summer, when the Commanding Officer moved to Arizona, I suddenly found myself as his replacement, and have been thoroughly enjoying being “back in the Navy again” - if only vicariously - with some very nice and interesting people who speak my language. But just as in the active duty Navy, recruiting never stops. In our case, it is looking for “younger members” such as those who served since Vietnam. The rest of us are getting a bit long in the tooth so we need to recruit our eventual replacements.

Early in June 2005, the ANA hosted its national meeting in San Diego and wife Bonnie and I greatly enjoyed being part of it. Fellowship with other squadron’s members and wives from cities across the country and other nations was special. In addition to making new friends, it gave us an awareness of what other squadrons are doing. Attending highly interesting ship and base visits, command presentations and social affairs along with active duty people brought us up to date on some of today’s Navy and Marine Corps. We were privy to a tour of MCAS Miramar, the USS Belleau Wood (LHA-3), and a special program aboard the San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum USS Midway that commemorated the anniversary the Battle of Midway - America’s turning point to victory in WWII - and a salute to the attending survivors.

Among the many excellent presentations were:

  • the Coast Guard’s new role within the Department of Homeland Security
  • an update on the Navy’s role in the Pacific
  • a first-hand unclassified reports by participants of a Special Forces missions in Afghanistan and Iraq (the classified versions must have made Hollywood pale by comparison), and
  • a knock-your-sox-off briefing from an air group commander aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln about their heroic aircraft and personnel Tsunami relief efforts in Indonesia, dispelling the erroneous report by the liberal media that the ship was required to leave, which was totally false. Conversely, it was a very positive aspect to help save the people of the world’s largest Muslim populated nation, rewarded by many smiles and hugs for the Americans by those survivors.

At every turn we were constantly reminded of what great kids we have in our armed forces today and how proud America should be of their service. If the ANA awards presentation luncheon honoring sea service personnel from near and far is any indication, we are not running out of heroes.

Returning to this great Navy town where we once lived and served was highly enjoyable, although its population is perhaps ten-fold what it was when we were there on active duty and we hardly recognized downtown or the urban sprawl.

“You can’t go home again,” may be a true statement because of how things change during one’s absence, but if so, it is mainly because most of the people you knew are no longer there to share the return with you. However, visits to old familiar places stir many subconsciously buried memories of life experiences. Reviving them by your visit reprises your footprints in the sands of time for those eras in which you were a part of history in the making.