50 groceries shutting their doors. As the 1970s began, Pittsburgh’s high-producing steel industry was dying out and the whole city seemed like it was choking. She was determined to escape the brown and gray north and migrate south—to the landscape of sun and sand. In Florida, Margie, found her tender blue sky. Before she passed away, I asked my mother to send me whatever old papers she had in storage. She photocopied documents she had in her attic, forms about my father with barely legible dates and military acronyms which I carefully recorded in a notebook. I wrote to the military archives office in Washington, D.C. to try and obtain his official military records. Eight months passed before I received them. But on the day the envelope arrived, I couldn’t bring myself to open it. Maybe Lychie had been booted out of the Navy for bad conduct, or maybe his official record would be full of black-marks and reprimands. The envelope sat on my dining room table for two weeks, until one Friday night all alone and with a glass of red wine, I slowly pulled out the sheets of paper, worried about the embarrassing truths I might find. On one of the forms, under the heading “Service (Vessels & Stations Served On)” I found the name of the U.S.S. Wisconsin. In small print on another official record, I saw that Lychie had received a Victory Medal for the Philippine Liberation, but no one in our family ever remembered hearing him talk about it. The next day, while visiting a bookstore and searching in the military history books, I learned that the U.S.S. Wisconsin was an important battleship which performed distinguished military service in the Pacific: She was first commissioned out of the Philadelphia Naval Yard in 1944 and served America well, along with other famous Iowa-class battleships such as the U.S.S. Missouri and the U.S.S. Iowa. In her World War II configuration, the Wisconsin had a crew of 2,900 men. I turned to a full-page, black and white photo of the ship, the only aerial photo of the U.S.S. Wisconsin featured in the book, shown with this simple caption: At sea off the coast of Japan, 22 August 1945. I shifted the heavy book away from the light’s glare and stared at the sleek monochrome form of the U.S.S Wisconsin. I admired it immediately. The battleship, at 837 feet long, looked imposing, invincible, masculine, and to my eyes, something graceful.
CIRQUE I read further: ….The Wisconsin and the task force moved to Iwo Jima to provide direct support for the landings….When the war ended in September 1945, the Wisconsin docked in Tokyo Bay with a flotilla of other battleships from the United States’ Pacific Fleet for the signing of the armistice treaty. The Wisconsin earned five battle stars in World War II. And this: In 1944, the Wisconsin was caught in a severe typhoon. The U.S. lost three destroyers, all of them capsized and sunk. The Wisconsin proved her mettle and seaworthiness and she escaped the typhoon unscathed. The typhoon he told my mother about had really happened. My hands trembled and the book felt heavier. I pulled up a nearby footstool and wiped away some tears. I read the caption over, again and again, “At sea off the coast of Japan, 22 August 1945.” I realized my father’s dates of service on the Wisconsin matched those dates. When this photo was taken, he was one of the 2,900 men on board at the time and working as a gunner’s mate. The U.S.S. Wisconsin is now permanently berthed in the Norfolk Naval Shipyard on the Charles River as a World War Two museum. In late spring of 2005, I traveled to Norfolk, Virginia. I took a camera and a notebook and as soon I arrived, I rushed to the ship’s gift shop to buy a stack of postcards. Most of the afternoon, I paced up and down the deck, snapping souvenir photos, and inspecting the remnants of its once-formidable weapons and armaments. A slight breeze blew in over the Charles River and through my hair. One of the elderly volunteer docents, a military veteran who was probably in his 80s, approached in a friendly way. He wore aviator sunglasses, thick gold rings on his freckled hands, and his dark blue vest was covered over in commemorative pins and ribbons. In his passion for World War Two history, he barely caught his breath as he recited a litany of the most impressive facts about the Wisconsin’s configuration, its tonnage and speed, its wartime battles and honors, the support it provided to the Marines at Iwo Jima. The ship had steamed 105,831 miles across the Pacific. It was re-commissioned during the Korean War and later called to duty in Operation Desert Storm during the Persian Gulf War before it was mothballed. At last, the docent stopped rattling off military statistics and paused long enough to ask me a question. “Well young lady, what exactly brings you here today? Where you from?” I explained that I was from Alaska, and that my
A Journal for the North Pacific Rim