Good times happen when they’re least expected

Published 7:08 pm Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Thanks to all of you that called, emailed or personally gave me your condolences about the difficult travel day I wrote about last week. Apparently, I am not the only husband that occasionally hears, “This is all your fault”. I appreciate the sympathy.

Isn’t it interesting that when life throws you a curve, you occasionally knock it out of the park? Following our meetings in Virginia Beach last week, ML and I had planned to spend a few days in Baltimore. We didn’t have any plans other than exploring a city we have never spent much time.

The next few days were one of the best vacations that we have ever had. Totally unplanned and unexpected, we stumbled onto a series of events and surprises that we couldn’t have planned for if we had tried.

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First we checked into our hotel, a restored warehouse at Henderson’s Wharf. We had asked for a waterfront room, but what we got was a corner room on the first floor that practically put us in the water. The wharf wrapped around our room and windows providing a non-stop parade of all sorts of people enjoying the waterfront.

We discovered, quite by accident, that the city of Baltimore was having a “sailabration.” This is the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. That is somewhat of a forgotten and misunderstood war for most Americans. I happen to be married to a British History major that teaches AP U.S. History. That combination made this the perfect setting for my wife, who loves this kind of stuff like no other person I know.

For the event, 45 tall ships from 14 countries around the world had sailed into Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. They were just magnificent as we watched them sail in from our view in the hotel. They were decked out in all their finest, with flags fluttering and lights beaming from the outlines of their masts.

The public could visit any of the ships, including those from Mexico, Canada, Indonesia, Japan, Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil. There were also many warships that had docked, allowing tours for all who were interested.

In addition, we toured the U.S.S. Constellation. Originally built as one of the first six ships in our new country’s navy, the first Constellation served honorably up until the decade before the Civil War.

The second U.S.S. Constellation, which now resides in Baltimore’s harbor, was built just before the Civil War and was instrumental in the Union’s efforts to blockade southern ports. What a great opportunity it is to see how our earliest sailors lived and worked on this great ship.

The second ship was the U.S.S. Taney. It is the last remaining ship that was actually at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked. It survived to play an instrumental role during the war in Europe, before becoming the flag ship for a Rear Admiral in the Battle of Okinawa. Known as the “Queen of the Pacific,” the U.S.S. Taney served throughout the Vietnam War before being retired in the 1980s.

The third ship was the U.S.S. Torsk, which was a Tench-class submarine in World War II. It made more than 10,000 dives during its service to our country. Each time I board a submarine, I have a renewed appreciation for those that served on these vessels. Clearly they were not designed for a man of my size.

Each day we watched the famed “Blue Angels” acrobatic jet team from the Navy as they practiced for the air show scheduled for the day we departed. It didn’t matter that we missed the show, because we were treated to hours of practice over the harbor and the city. What an incredible display of daring talent!

We got to travel to Fort McHenry, whose bombardment led to Francis Scott Key’s writing of the “Star Spangled Banner.” It was even Flag Day. How cool is that?

We visited the U.S. Naval Academy on an incredibly beautiful day. The weight of our Navy’s history in protecting this nation weighs heavy as you hear how many have led this country and also died for this country in defense of its freedom. We saw the crypt of John Paul Jones, the first great American sailor.

We also visited the Military Aviation Museum while in Virginia Beach. Expecting just another museum of wartime artifacts, I was astounded to see that almost all of these airplanes actually still fly.

We listened with delight while hearing a veteran describe a 50-year-old plane in almost loving terms. Then, to the delight of all that got to witness, Obie O’Brien climbed into the cockpit and took off down the long grass runway. We were treated to our own air show by a man that clearly, clearly loved flying. You could see the youthful twinkle in his eyes. He should know what he was doing by now. He is 83 years old.

Finally, it was a trip to Oceania Naval Air Station that brought our whole trip together. While on a bus, a young F-18 fighter pilot boarded to assist with any questions. He happened to sit down by Mary Lou and I and we proceeded to strike up a conversation during our hour or so together.

We drove out on the tarmac and watched the F-18s take off and land in preparation for their imminent departure on the U.S.S. Enterprise, one of our largest aircraft carriers.

Lt. Christopher Nisch, who is from Connecticut, always wanted to be a pilot. He became an aerospace engineer before entering the Navy. He spent the next few years learning how to fly a $60 million airplane.

Chris is a poster child for the Navy. He is good looking, polite, athletic, and smart. His call name is “Allbiz” because he takes his job very seriously. He is also younger than my two children.
From John Paul Jones to Lt. Nisch, they are all heroes. I have a renewed appreciation for all the Navy has meant to those who enjoy our freedoms. And I have a new friend that will be in my prayers. He leaves today on his first deployment to provide air support in Afghanistan.

Godspeed, Lt.Nisch.

Dan Ponder can be reached at