A Friend Indeed…In Fact, Two Friends

i have unpacked and settled in for this ride to somewhere. i have even gone a three-mile hike in the hills.

i promised myself not to work on my writing project tonight, but get organized and close some loose ends.

So far it’s been good but i haven’t been tested yet.

One of the loose ends is making comments about my friend’s retirement this past weekend.

At Frank Kerrigan’s retirement party Saturday night in La Quinta, i had planned to read a piece Noreen Leahy sent to me via email and make a few comments of my own. But it became evident, the party was not structured for me jumping into the speaking segment. There would have been enough of others wanting to say something, the party would have never ended. So i am using this post to write what i wanted to say and record Noreen’s thoughts.

In August 1983 in Mayport, Florida, Lieutenant Frank Kerrigan reported aboard the U.S.S. Yosemite (AD 19) to become the medical officer. I reported almost the same time to become the executive officer, a position the Brits call “Number Two.” One month later, we deployed for eight months to the Indian Ocean.

There are enough stories about Frank and i during that deployment, and the year plus back home afterwards, and through today to fill a book. In fact, i may write one someday.

But just about everybody at that party has an abundance of stories about Frank, so i’ll just put mine on the back burner for now.

But i do need to point out Frank and i forged a friendship on that deployment which remains one of my best friendships. i suspect that almost all of those party attendees feel the same. Frank is that kind of guy.

i would like to relate one story, which i think captures the essence of Frank Kerrigan.

We were on liberty in Mombassa, Kenya. Frank and i were returning to the ship by cab one afternoon. i believe we were returning from one of the German resort hotels on the beach. The driver came upon a crowd of locals filling the two-lane road. A local had been hit by a car and was lying in the road. The crowd of around a thousand were angry and upset.

Frank wanted to get out of the cab to see if he could help the downed man. Having some experience in such things as liberty incidents in foreign countries, i recommended caution and urged Frank to stay in the car.

Being Frank, he did not listen to my urging. He got out of the car only to find out the man was dead. But before he left the car, he told me, “But i might be able to help him.”

Frank Kerrigan cares about other people more than anyone i know. He remains a much needed confidant for me. He is the godfather of Sarah.

So i guess it’s manly enough to say i love him.

And i want to share Noreen’s thoughts. Noreen was one of the first women to receive a Navy commission from the United States Naval Academy. Lieutenant Leahy was the operations for most of that cruise. In actuality, she also was the ship’s navigator although i held the official title. Noreen was one of the best Naval officers with whom i served. After she left the service, she received her doctorate in education and is currently the vice-superintendent for a Long Island school district.

This is what she sent Frank:

I wish I could have beamed myself to California to celebrate your retirement Frank and spend an evening with you and Jim; two dear shipmates who made such an indelible mark on my life.  My words and best wishes will have to do, but will serve as poor substitutes for the bear hug I would have preferred to deliver and the glass I would have liked to raise to celebrate with you!

I also wish I could beam myself back to the early eighties to relive just a day aboard the Busy Lady!  Now, with so much of life lived, I know I would better appreciate the greatest job I ever had, working shoulder to shoulder with the best people I have ever known. 

I remember with much affection the sailors who helped me cut my leadership teeth,  And I remember the senior officers who patiently mentored junior officers such as myself.  These were wonderful patriots.  I suppose we were working hard, but mostly I remember the camaraderie, the laughs, the warmth and the fun.  

And you were in the thick of that camaraderie Frank.  You were  the third ship’s Doctor  to serve aboard  Yosemite while I was assigned to her. But the one I could not and will never forget.   I had no idea when I met you that you would one day save my life, in more ways than one. 

You made quite an impression when you showed up on Yosemite.  Smart, fit, good looking and a killer smile just began to describe our new Doc.  But it was your heart of gold and kind disposition, which became evident almost immediately, that defined you. Of course, you knew next to nothing about the Navy.  Lord knows.  We could convince you that the strangest combination of uniform parts were required for inspections. The supply officer, Linda, and I thought it was hilarious. Placing it in context we were thousands of miles away form home, in the middle of the Indian Ocean.  We were desperate for entertainment and Frank Kerrigan seemed to be fair game. Frank, you  took it all in stride and with good humor. And despite our shenanigans still allowed us to read your medical school textbooks.  I say again…we were desperate for entertainment. 

I remember how you would often wander up to the bridge.  You were interested in the operation of the ship and what we did as watch standers.  Often you would find me monitoring the navigational charts and always asked about our location and how I figured that out.  In doing so, you demonstrated your respect for us and our work.  You had no obligation to spend time with SWOs.  You could just have easily watched movies when medical shut down for the day or banked precious sleep, which we as watch standers all craved.  But instead, you became part of the operational team. Thinking back it was an incredible show of support.  As a holistic healer, perhaps it was your way of ensuring our social emotional well being during those long, lonely nights. 

Your dedication as a Medical Officer was clear.  You were then as I am sure you are now, an incredible doctor. Jim and I could never repay the care you gave me when we lost our first child.  We were stupid young newlyweds scared out of our wits.  You calmly and expertly took over that wild scene, allaying our fears and restoring my physical and emotional health.   Nothing was lost on us, including your decision not to give me a blood transfusion in the months just prior to the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic.  I remember you standing there telling me I could probably use a pint, but I was strong enough to allow my body to replace what I needed.  A year later I found myself wondering if you had an inkling about what was to come.  You probably don’t even remember these details, but we sure do.  You set the bar very high for any doctor I have seen since. 

I was so happy to reconnect via Facebook (and Jim Jewell) a short time ago.  I wish we had stayed in better touch, but life happens.  With any luck our paths will cross again one day.  But if they don’t please know that you remain a bright spot among my happiest memories.  I wish you the very best in your well deserved retirement.  I understand you are heading home.  Enjoy every second! 

Fair winds and following seas old friend.  God Speed.

Love,

Noreen

And Frank, as Noreen said so well, Fair Winds and Following Seas.

Frank Kerrigan and his family at his retirement party, Will Kerrigan, Lindsey Wurtz, Frank, wife Deborah, and TJ Wurtz.
Maureen and i with another couple with many Frank Kerrigan stories.

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