I had been at work a few hours taking care of the neonates in the newborn nursery at the Dispensary of Naval Air Station Albany GA. I was working the afternoon shift and as I recall I was getting ready to take the infants out to their mothers on the OB ward. That’s when the charge nurse gave me the message that the XO wanted to see me. I was concerned. What could the executive officer want. I put on my gown and left the ward and headed to the office where a US Navy Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman was seated waiting for me. I entered the office not knowing what to expect. Try as I might I cannot remember his name but I remember what he looked like and what he said. “Watkins, I hate to be the one to tell you this but we’ve just received word that your father died today.” Though the news was a shock it was not entirely unexpected as Dad had been ill for a number of years.
The senior chief told me I didn’t have to finish my shift and that I could return to the barracks immediately. I told him that I’d finish my shift. He instructed me to go to base personnel in the morning and they would be processing my emergency leave and travel orders. He told me not to hesitate to call him should I need additional assistance. I returned to work in shock but the infants whom I cared for ministered to me that evening. I had last seen my Dad in March. We had spent a fun week touring Northern California, eating salmon, going to the Samoa Cookhouse, going to a basketball game with my sister. In fact it had been the most fun I’d had with Dad in years. It all ended too quickly. We had made plans that when I was released from active duty in a couple of years I would come to California and enroll at Humboldt State. Now, those plans were dashed.
The next morning I went to base personnel and they had all my paperwork in order and soon thereafter I was on a plane headed home for my father’s funeral. My plane was late getting into Hartsfield International so when the Albany flight landed the airport personnel took me and my bag and drove us to the waiting Eastern Airlines jet that would take us to Buffalo. I remember my brother picked me in Buffalo and drove me home. It was all surreal and yet I remember it like it was yesterday and it’s been forty-seven years now.
Dad was only forty-six when he died. That seems very young now. I will always remember our last morning together and how he hugged me and told me he loved me. I told him, “I love you too.” Then I turned and walked toward the waiting Hughes AirWest turbo prop that took me towards home. Though he’s been gone these many years he’s never far from my memory nor is this twenty-sixty day of July when I recall once again that afternoon in Albany and the kindness of the executive officer, the nurses and fellow corpsmen and dental technicians and the infants who comforted me.