Petty Officer Mark Riddell explains weaponry to visitors aboard USS DeWert
BUFFALO, NY - As one of only 18 communities across the country which have held, or are scheduled to host large-scale Navy Week events this year, the Queen City is in some pretty exclusive company.
One reason Buffalo was selected was this year's observance of the Bicentennial of the War of 1812 and the region's importance in that war. The event not only salutes all Sailors and Marines who fought in that conflict 200 years ago, but also those who followed in all the conflicts since and who continue to serve today.
While there is lots of activity along the waterfront, the star attraction thus far, is the Guided Missile Frigate USS DeWert, docked at the former Bethlehem Steel site in Lackawanna and which is expected to welcome about a thousand visitors a day until it leaves Monday.
"Our primary mission is anti submarine warfare, so anything dealing with hunting submarines, that's what we do," said Lt. Ben Carroll of Lake City Fla.
And while folks of all generations are flocking to tour the ship and speak to its officers and sailors it is one generation, famously referred to by Tom Brokaw as "The Greatest Generation", that many members of today's Navy particularly look forward to seeing.
With average World War II veteran now approaching their 90th birthday, it is for many perhaps a last chance to visit a still active ship, the likes of which they once served upon...where they, as young boys, quickly became men, and where they can't help but remember all those youthful comrades who never got to grow old like them.
"I've seen a few guys get emotional... they always say the smell is the same as it was back in the day," said Carroll.
While some, like 86-year-old Bud Miller of Williamsville (who served in both WW II and Korea) are spry enough to still clamber the steep stairways and traverse narrow passages, many of his peers are not.
"A lot of them will come in wheelchairs, if not walkers, but we do whatever we can to get them on board the ship," Carroll told WGRZ-TV.
Some Navy veterans seemed astonished at the firepower and technology of today's warships.
Others, like Girard Kelly, were taken aback by something else entirely.
"To see women officers or women on board ships is different than when I was on board," said Kelly, 71, who served from 1958-1962 and who participated in the blockade of Cuba ordered by President John F. Kennedy.
Carroll has noticed during the tour that graying veterans will often momentarily linger, sometimes alone, during their visits.
"All the time," he said. "We've had guys who sit up in the pilot house and they just sit in a chair and say, 'yeah I was here 40 years ago... I'm gonna kind of relax a bit' which is definitely okay with us."
For it appears that, as important as it is for those who preceded them to return, it is just as important to today's sailors to welcome them back.
"It's sort of hard to put into words...but there is a connection there," said Carroll. "You see it and you feel it, and they thank us for our service but it's really we who should be thanking them for their service because they're our forefathers who fought for us so that we could be here today to have this conversation."
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