Along the eastern United States, major ports with enormous industrial cranes tote goods from cargo ships for disbursement and distribution across the country. And in several of these ocean depots, distinct patches of battleship gray highlight the naval shipyards, an unmistakable color for the assorted government flotillas in ports from New York City to Jacksonville. At the southernmost end of Chesapeake Bay, Norfolk Naval Station similarly hosts pieces of the Atlantic fleets for extended dry docks, short-term surfacings, and home port check-ins for thousands of sailors before again sending them out on their global sailings.
Summer celebrations of patriotism belong in ports like Norfolk. Sure, just to the north, fireworks and Pops herald the nation’s commemorative Independence Day festivities, but in Norfolk, the swing of a bottle of champagne and its shattering jubilance against the hull of a shiny new aircraft carrier contribute to America’s independence far more than colorful explosive lights in D.C.’s sky. The water of the world’s oceans will spray this newest home for more than 6,000 crew members, once the sideways skyscraper secures its commission, prepares to set sail, and embarks on its first voyage into the central Atlantic.
Not The President
At the tail end of the Cold War, the U.S.S. George Washington and its squadron of tail hooks joined the US Navy, commissioned just days before Son #1 and I meet the floating city face-to-face. On our trek from Canada to Florida, Southern Virginia marks the midway of our travels, but for thousands of midshipmen, it marks the beginning of a Nimitz-class adventure. From here, the vessel navigates the Pacific or the Persian Gulf, and both perilous and peaceful places in between, and it sails out to sea while we continue our tour on dry land.
The new core of this American armada stretches along an expansive dock that seems to meet the afternoon horizon as we examine its girth from behind the chain-link fence. Standing on Pier 12, there appears to be little to see besides its immense size, but from one end, the deck spreads outward like a loosely-bound bouquet. He barely bobs and quietly anchors in his dock; planes are not catapulting from its deck, whistles are not sounding through the stacked and cramped layers of gangways, sailors are not visible on deck, and fighter jets are not jerking to a stop on its minimal runway. All of its adventures lay in the future, and in my mind I randomly comb through the places where this ship may travel. I gaze upon this war craft, jealously yearning for a fraction of the miles this vessel will put behind it during its future service. I am doubtful Son #1 will recall seeing this ship at such an early age, christened before his birth and commissioned before the age of two, but he most certainly will benefit from its missions throughout his lifetime, and I’ll enjoy my future travels under the umbrella of safety George Washington provides.