During the week of June 20-25, 2018, my wife Ann and I attended the 81st National Convention of the American Gold Star Mothers, Inc., (AGSM) held in Long Beach, CA, to represent Wreaths Across America. It was an emotional week filled with meeting several new members of the AGSM, and renewing friendships made from previous conventions. AGSM’s president, Sue Pollard, had prepared a busy schedule for her members as well as a fun filled and educational week of tours and visits to surrounding locations.
While Sue and the other members conducted their official convention business and held annual elections, Ann and I, along with the husbands and other guests of those attending were provided with opportunities to tour such places as the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, a harbor tour of the Port of Long Beach, and a guided tour of the Gold Star Manor. In addition, all guests and members were also treated to lunches, a “high tea,” a Hawaiian Luau, and dining at places including the Joe Jost Pub, aboard the RMS Queen Mary, and the Northwood Memorial Community Park.
In addition to having the pleasure to meet Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams, by far, the most moving event for me during the week was an amazing tour of the BB-61, Battleship Iowa, berthed in Long Beach. As the bus taking us to the Iowa filled with the Gold Star dads and other guests, I noticed that Gold Star Mom Ann Davis was also on the bus. My first thought was wondering why she wasn’t attending the AGSM’s official meeting. Then I thought she was probably assigned to make sure all of us made it to and from the tour of the Iowa on time. However, upon arriving at the berth site of the Iowa in Long Beach harbor, we all learned that Ms. Davis was there to see the place where her son, Seaman Apprentice Nathaniel C. Jones, Jr. had died in an accidental gun turret explosion aboard the Iowa on April 19, 1989.
On that date, a gunpowder explosion occurred in Turret 2 when the Iowa was conducting gunnery drills off the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. While preparing to fire, the center gun powder bags exploded before the breach was closed. The resultant fire spread throughout the turret all the way down five decks below which took the lives of her son and 46 others.
When we all learned of what Ms. Davis was there for, there was a moment of silence before our tour commenced. I’m sure there were also many prayers silently spoken, tears shed, along with hugs and comforting words shared with Ms. Davis. My wife Ann and I walked next to Ms. Davis throughout the tour, especially as we reached the portion of the ship where there was a memorial posted to those 47 sailors lost in the explosion. Again, our eyes filled with tears as we looked upon Nathaniel’s name etched on the memorial plaque and we hugged Ms. Davis a little tighter.
Further during the tour we all stood by the gun turret where the explosion had occurred and walked through a section of the Iowa set aside and dedicated to those 47 sailors which detailed the story and resulting investigation of gun explosion. As I left the room I noticed a framed tribute to all of those killed in the explosion which had pictures of all 47 over which the following was written – “They came to the Navy as strangers, served the Navy as shipmates, and left the Navy as brothers in eternity.” Once again tears filled my eyes as I reached out to touch Nathaniel’s picture and thank him for his service and sacrifice.
It’s Not What We Do, But Why We Do It.