Kristina Irish and the two girls were WHALE watching last Thursday afternoon, parked in the grassy Nautilus Memorial overlook above the Thames River, waiting to pick up Daddy from work.
Mildred Dahl and her two girls were also there. David Dahl is a senior chief aboard WHALE.
The two Navy wives chatted about things domestic, particularly their daughters. Anastasia Irish turned S that day. Angela Dahl, 16, had her first day of driver ed.
It was late April in spring sun. Down the Thames, as WHALE and its pilot tug passed below the overlook and then the Nautilus, Coast Guard cadets were flocking onto the water in their two sailor Flying Juniors. Around the park forsythia was doing it up in yellow. The dominant willow was beginning to leaf.
When their husbands return home again, it will be fall.
WHALE, with Irish and Dahl aboard, will depart the sub base May 9, heading out on what’s grandly called a world cruise that is to end next September in Bremerton, Washington where the sub will be decommissioned.
“At least six months, maybe seven months,,. said Kristina Irish, gamely, wistfully.
She’s 32, and was raised in Philadelphia. Her husband’s 31 and from Michigan.
Some 20 wives of WHALE crew members, she said, will follow their husbands to the West Coast and resettle there. Not the Irishes or the Dahls. Both husbands have other assignments here.
“I didn’t want to uproot the girls”, said Kristina Irish, whose older daughter, Angela, is 8 and attends Mary Morrisson School. Mildred Dahl has lived in Guam, California, Washington and Connecticut since her marriage. She was born in Hawaii, a self described Army brat. The Dabls live in Uncasville where Angela attends Montville High School and Jennifer, 13, Tyle Middle School.
She said she couldn’t tolerate living in San Diego again. Both women are Navy enough to endure deployments, but only Kristina Irish still follows the boats out. She takes the girls from base downriver to beneath the Gold Star Memorial Bridge and then down to Eastern Point Beach, eyes ever on the sail and wake.
Their husbands will be home for a couple of weeks. On Friday, the base is planning farewell ceremonies for WHALE, the second boat launched in the Sturgeon (637) class of attack subs. It was built by General Dynamics at Quincy, Massachusetts, and commissioned in October 1988.
Two weeks ago, WHALE was at sea from Monday to Friday, and last week for four days. In deployment time, that’s 9 to 5. The women said they didn’t know where WHALE had been. They said they never do.
Thursday afternoon, families of other crew members already had gathered by a pier on the base. Kristina Irish and Mildred Dahl and their daughters were a bit late, left driving upriver ahead of the sub and parking near the Nautilus for a good look. They could see sailors standing near the vessel’s sail, riding the boat in.
“It’s the last day WHALE’s coming back to Groton,” said Kristina Irish, from the front seat of the family van. “I was late because the kids didn’t want to hurry up. It was too nice a day out.”
Chances are the weather will be fine the next time Daddy conies home. Autumn is always lovely here.