Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Thursday afternoon, April 14:

Rick and I both leave school early, with Amanda and Bill Mitchell covering our final class time/period and head for Boise to catch our SW flight to Oakland and San Diego.  Because we allowed a little extra time, we didn’t need it and it was smooth sailing right on in to Flying J for a break and then to the airport.  First time we have ever parked in the Long Term section ($11.50 per day), but we will be reimbursed for the parking. 
We check our one BIG bag and then Rick grabs a fish taco because he hasn’t had any dinner.  I ate mine in the car en route.  Smooth flight on down to Oakland.  I drew two pictures I was behind in creating.  Unfortunately, I LEFT clipboard in the seat pocket and lost not only the two I did, but also about 5-6 other completed ones that hadn’t been scanned into the computer yet.  It bummed me out considerably, but I will not dwell on it and spoil my weekend! 
A quick layover in Oakland and phone call to see if the boys are on their way, and then we are back in the air flying over San Francisco and on down the coast.  A clear night and the lights of the coast and Los Angeles are spectacular!  We are met in San Diego by a military man holding a sign with my name on it.  He had seen a picture of me, so knew what to look for!  The next 45 minutes were long – I tried to track down a way to reclaim my clipboard and Rick and Adam watched bag after bag go around the carousel, but none of them ours.  I was starting to get concerned as all of our good clothes for the weekend were in that bag!  Rick checked other carousels, but it wasn’t until he looked over in a corner, nearly an hour after we landed, that he saw our bag.  Someone had taken it off the carousel and just set it down!  AGGGHHHH!!! 
Adam delivers us to another military driver who takes us to the Omni Hotel, right across the street from the Convention Center and  a  couple miles from NASSCO, the shipyard.  Margaret and Rob are waiting for us in the lobby, but since it is now 11pm, Rob says we can skip the review and hands me my book to read!  Whew!
Classy place, but as Rick says, “I can pay a third of the cost AND get a continental breakfast AND free wi-fi!!”  True, but the view from our 13 floor window over the bay is beautiful.  As I write tonight, the sun is lowering the western sky and it is gorgeous outside!  I feel somewhat like the Beverly Hillbillies in Hollywood, but for a weekend, this could be fun!  Our room has a welcome platter with a bottle of wine, two waters, two chocolate covered strawberries, tiny little apples and plums, and a couple dishes filled with nuts and dried fruit.  Wow!  Not everyone gets this but because we are staying as guests of the launch, I think it was put out. 
Thursday night is late, as we wait up for Jed and Luke to arrive at 12:50 am and then another hour visiting and sharing before we all tumble into bed.  Had to give Luke his birthday hugs anyway as he has spent his birthday on the road!
Our room overlooks the San Diego Convention Center & the bay

            Up to a glorious sunshine pouring through the open blinds.  I love it, but decide to close them tight which darkens the room so my “boys” can sleep a while longer.  I do my Bible study, then dress and set off around 8:45 to see who of my family is up and moving.  I finally find Mom and Mac down in the restaurant having breakfast and join them for a cup of coffee.  I had already eaten my yogurt (drinking it from the container as I forgot to bring a spoon!).    Rick went out and found the exercise room in the hotel and the boys slept! 
            We are “scheduled” to meet in the lobby at 11:15 to head over to the shipyard.  Liz, Dave, Gretchen, and Shawn have arrived at this point  (Gretch and Shawn flew in this morning) and they follow Jenny and Tom, Jed and Luke over in their cars.  Mom, Marg, and myself, along with our spouses and escorts are driven again by our military man in a van.  Basically we never have to worry about transportation the entire weekend. 
With our hard hats and ready for the tour. 
            The next half hour is a blur of meeting relatives unseen in years as we all converge at Gate 6 to the NASSCO Shipyard and get our hard hats, safety goggles and earplugs for the tour.  Not everyone is going to make it for the tour, but most are.  I recognize Pat and John Nelson easily and Don, but after that it is tough!   I find Jeff from his Facebook profile, and know Jack Kearny from his flaming red hair!   Mostly I keep thinking, “everyone is so short!”  Other than Mark McLean, the McLean men are NOT tall! 
Marg takes her practice swings.  
            Once we are “protected”, we board little shuttle buses which take the group to a large open building for preliminary speeches, etc.  Margaret is presented with a golden hardhat with her name on it – (she’ll get to keep her hardhat!), and everyone puts coins into the “masthead” of the ship – a tradition of good luck to purchase our passage to heaven should the ship ever sink.  Don had special coins made which he later gave a copy of to all the cousins. 
            Then it is on to the boat…..the ship.  And the closer you get to right up next to it, the more overwhelming it appears in size.  We quickly witnesses the “first shore removal” ceremony where a female related to the shipyard knocks the ceremonial chock away holding the ship in place.  Throughout the night more and more will be removed, so when the tide is right tomorrow night, and the gate is opened to let the waters flow in, the ship will be free to slip its mooring and slide back into the bay.  I can’t wait! 
            Marg, Mom, and I must go to a short rehearsal for bottle swinging while the rest of the group takes off on their tour.  We will rejoin them at some point.  Mark and Ron go with us as well.  We practice our “jobs” – mine will be to make sure Mom stays upright and sits in the chair provided if necessary and then to help “PUSH” the ship after the christening.  That’s a ceremonial push because it will start to move on its own once the switch is thrown! 
            The tour is awesome!  And filled with MANY flights of stairs.  Anyone who works or lives on a ship of this size will be in shape because they go up and down stairs daily.  Plus we had the additional 7-8 flights to get from the yard level to the flight deck of the ship.  We saw the prop – a huge golden color at the back of the boat – and the words ‘WILLIAM MCLEAN’ written across the back of the ship.  They have posted a number of photographs of Uncle Bill throughout the ships – in stairwells, etc.  Most will be removed and then reinstalled once the ship is completely done.  (It is at 88% right now – they have to launch before finishing because the ship gets too heavy to launch!)  Mark find one picture of him and Uncle Bill working in the garage shop at San Diego – and the officer giving us the tour tells him to autograph it!  So Mark whips out a pen and does so! 
            We eventually make our way up to the Control Deck – a huge room lined with big windows (at $5-7 thousand a pop due to the safety features kn the glass) that is currently filled with electrical cords wrapped and waiting for the ceiling to be installed.  They make sure everything is all connected up before applying that last step.  The windows are so special they will be covered again after the tour – they were unwrapped just for us! 
A little lunch outside in the fish taco cafe
            The tour concludes around 2:30 and we are whisked back to the OMNI in our private shuttle van.  A little time now to relax before the 6 PM reception in Margaret’s honor.  However, we are all starving since breakfast was limited and lunch hasn’t come, so.,.,.
            ….many of us converge on the little Tin Fish Restaurant right next to the OMNI where they advertise fish tacos.  Ends up everyone except Ron, Jen, and Tom who went to another place.  But Marg, Mom, Mac, Liz, Dave, Gretchen, Shawn, and the four of us.  I just ordered a salmon taco ala carte, which was perfect in size and taste!!  It seems silly getting lunch at 3:30, but dinner isn’t coming for another 4 hours, so I guess that is reasonable!  It is absolutely beautiful sitting outside in the patio area, with the palm treeing swaying, the light breeze, and SUNSHINE!! 
Dave and Gretchen all dressed up!
            By 4:15 Grandma Mac is nodding off and we head upstairs for short naps and time to get ready for the big evening  celebrating Margaret as the Ship’s Sponsor.  I had ironed our clothes earlier this morning, so we were ready to go in that regard.  Showered and put on the fancy white bathrobe provided by the hotel – just because I’ve never stayed anywhere that had that service!  I felt quite regal! 
            We are given name tags with our table assignments.  It seems the entire family has been broken up into groups of 4-6.  Jed and Luke are with Tom and Jen, Rick and I with Mom and Mac at one of the reserved seating “head tables” .  Marg and Ron are at the table next to us with the “big brass”!  At the reserved tables, name tags designate the individual seats, with couples next to each other, but alternating man – woman, etc.  Mac and Mom are on the far side of the table from us.  Rick is sitting next to the wife of a NASSCO employee, and I next to one of the head employees of NASSCO.  Both are talkative and it is easy to converse during the meal.  I think Rick got the more vocal of the two of us, as I’m not sure she even stopped long enough to eat much of her meal. 
Ginger receives her gift from NASSCO. 
            I wanted to take pictures of each course because it was all so fancy!  Our soup course of mushroom soup (heavenly tasting and quite rich I’m sure) was crowned with a pastry “mushroom” on top.  I found out later Jen did take pictures of each course!!  I didn’t want to be quite so obvious in my amazement at “High class eating”!!  Dinner was a choice between salmon and chicken.  We had chosen chicken because the salmon was titled “crispy black salmon”.  It would have been fine as the man next to me had a huge chunk of good looking fish.  The chicken was spinach stuffed with an asparagus sauce.  Absolutely wonderful as well.  Dessert was a very light (but WW points laden I’m sure) chocolate torte with raspberry sauce.  Heavenly.  I ate 2/3 of it and then gave the rest away to Rick. 
The quilt Margaret made for the ship. 
            In the middle of the dessert, the program portion of the evening began.  Margaret, Mom and I were escorted to the stage area  and the presentations began.  Margaret, as the main sponsor received a number of items:  a box to keep the ceremonial bottle in, a picture of the boat with insets of Uncle Bill and Sidewinder related designs in the sky area, a box with a clock in it, etc.  Mom and I received a beautiful glass paperweight with colors reminiscent of the Mojave Desert and designs of desert reptiles on it.  Margaret gave a short speech, ending with the first two paragraphs of Dad’s eulogy poem to Uncle Bill from his funeral service in 1976.  Then Don took a turn at the podium and did a wonderful job as well.  More presentations will take place tomorrow evening from what I understand. 
With Mom - wish Liz hadn't already left!
            By the time we took a McLean family picture (all except Rick and Ryan who snuck out early!) and extended family visit time, it was 10pm!!  Liz and Dave left to drive Shawn, Gretchen, Jake and Nicole back up to Oceanside and the condo.   Mac escorted a very tired Mom up to their room, Ron and Marg went to their room, but the rest of us went back over to the Tin Fish and enjoyed some drinks and animated conversation until after midnight!!  Jen and Tom are so much fun!  Mac came out and joined us as well!  Rick pulls the blinds completely closed this time so the bright sunshine doesn’t wake us any earlier than necessary.  A full day!  A special time!  More tomorrow!
The McLean Extended Family at Friday night's Sponsor's Dinner

Addendum:  Forgot to share the story of Luke’s belt!  In a nutshell, he forgot to bring one due to his 10 minute packing Thursday morning because he overslept6!  So….this morning for the boat tour, we discovered underneath his shirt hanging out, he had used the tie from the white bathrobe to tie around his pants!  We discouraged the same belt for tonight.  So he and Jed went Internet shopping for a Goodwill, took a short walk to no avail (it had moved) and then Luke found a place called “Urban Outfitters” about 5 blocks from the hotel.  He raced up there and back to the room shortly before 6 with what Gretchen later told him was a “ladies” belt!  Ah well.  It looked better than the white terry one! 


            We enjoy a little more relaxed rising on Saturday, but do get up and going for a 9am (or so) departure to Point Loma and our family gathering at the Westminster Church park.  We get Jed’s car out of the parking garage and with Ron and Marg’s car, get the 10 of us over to the park.  The church is a busy place today with a plant sale going on, plus an AA meeting in the park from 10-11am!  After we arrive, Jen and I head back in her car for the Von’s store to pick up the birthday cake we ordered for Luke, Jed, Gretchen, and Mark.  Turns out to be a perfect addition to the sandwiches and fruit and veggie platters that Mark and Pat picked up. 
            The weather is perfect – sunshine, temps in the mid to high 70’s.  Luke plays soccer, football, tag, and other games with Scott’s two children.  Eventually John and Susan show up with their two boys as well (ages 6 and 10).  ALL the McLeans are present and accounted for.  Unfortunately John and Susan didn’t arrive in time for the group picture we took earlier.  We will photoshop them into the picture!!    We took several smaller family group shots as well, shared email addresses, and in general did a lot of visiting. 
            Who was there?  Lynn Jones, Don and Pat McLean, Pat’s daughter Rhonda and husband Chris, daughter Courtney and boyfriend Greg, son Trevor, Rhonda’s son Ryan and his wife Heidi and son Brandon; Rick McLean and Scott McLean with his wife Trisha, and son Spencer and daughter Ashley; Mark McLean and wife Meredith; Debby McLean, husband Keith Kearny and son Jack; John McLean with wife Susan and sons John “Mac” and Peter; Jeff McLean; Margaret and Ron, Jen and Tom; Liz and Dave, Gretchen and Shawn, Jake and Nicole; Rick and I, Jed and Luke; Mac and Mom Mac.  All nine of the McLean first cousins were together for the first time in our lives – isn’t that amazing?  At age 54 through 67, we finally are all in one place at one time. 
Jed, Gretchen, Mark, and Luke with their cake!
            Just after pictures, we gather everyone around the cake and sing to Luke, Mark, Gretchen, and Jed.  I divvy the cake up and tell everyone to eat up as we can’t take it with us!  I think Mark was glad to have been included and remembered!  Hope we didn’t leave anyone else out! (The past few years Rick and I have provided a cake at the college tennis championships because it always fell on this “in between birthdays” weekend – realized we could continue it this year as well! Then remembered Gretchen and Mom reminded me about Mark!)
            A few of us wander up through the plant sale to the Memorial Garden in a courtyard area of the church, where plaques to both Uncle Bill and Aunt LaV can be found.  They were long time and supportive members of the Westminster Presby Church family, and instrumental in the construction of the park adjoining the church. 
You can learn to do anything on the internet!
            We head back to the OMNI around 1:30 for a little rest and relaxation before tonight’s festivities – the culmination of the weekend.  I keep pinching myself to see if the weather is truly real – it is incredibly beautiful!  Jed and Luke wander off to try the swimming pool for abit, while I shower, rest, iron tonight’s clothing, and attempt to get online down in the lobby to confirm our tickets for tomorrow morning.  I finally am able to make a connection.    Luke needs to go back online to find out how to tie a bow tie.  He has a new one to wear tonight that will match his brown and gray attire, but it is not a prettied bow tie.  When Rick and I leave the room at 4:45, Luke is still in front of the mirror, by now with Jed assisting, and the video clip on the computer, trying to figure it out!  They do eventually show up for dinner with the tie looking great! 
            The pre-dinner reception is a little fancier tonight, with some “fire roasted vegetables” (artichoke hearts!), mini spinach filo treats, and other tasty morsels.  The crowd is thick, however, and it is hard to keep track of who is where. 
            Tonight is a MUCH bigger crowd.  The entire ballroom is wall to wall tables.  The boys are with Jake and Nicole at Table 19.  Rick and I will Mom and Mac, Mark and Meredith at Table 6.  I am sitting next to tonight’s keynote speaker, a Rear Admiral who flew out from Washington DC for the launch.  He spent two years at China Lake previously, so he and Mark were able to share some stories about people and places.  He did mention a name that recently retired that Mark remembered from the 50’s.  We were amazed that someone could spend a career in “experimental” explosives and retire 60 years later….intact!    Rick sat next to another dignitary from DC, the assistant to the Pentagon for Ship Building – a lady!  She flies out for most of the launches, but it was a first for the Rear Admiral, so we both were in the same boat (no pun intended!). 
            Dinner is beef – a cut of meat I wasn’t familiar with – somewhat akin to a pot roast in texture as it fell apart with the fork.  Very tender and moist.  Tiny potatoes, and full string beans draped over the top, plus a chunk of cooked tomato.   All this after a romaine salad with a thin piece of ham on top and little dollops of cheese on the side.  I skipped the dressing on the salad, but other than that thoroughly enjoyed EVERYTHING!  (OK, so only a third of my roll and no butter either. I do have to weigh on Tuesday!  But I have NO intention of even trying to figure out my points for the past two days.) Dessert was a pound cake type stack with cake, cream filling, and strawberry and blueberry.  Not nearly as big looking as last night’s chocolate cake, but rather dainty and excellent tasting!
            Then more speeches and presentations!  They honor all the individual section leaders for the shipbuilders – both for the McLean and for the Chambers (T-AKE 11).  Margaret, Mom, and I were back up front to receive a plaque for our part in the launch.  The Rear Admiral did not speak at the dinner, but rather is the keynote at the launch itself.  The whole dinner affair was over by 6:20 or so.  We are advised to be ready for the prelaunch briefing (the “platform participants”) and be ready to board our Gold Star bus on time!  I discover that you go about 10 ahead of time  according to the military because everything takes place early. 
            Jed and Luke leave to head up to the room to gather up their bags, pick up the car, and drive down to the parking area.  They will be leaving after the launch and dessert to drive back to Tucson tonight….a LATE night!  Rick and I, along with Mom and Mac, Marg and Ron, etc. all board our VIP bus and are whisked down to the shipyard and dropped off right next to the ceremony area.  I could get used to this kind of treatment!
            The next two hours are incredible.  What an experience.  The ship is gorgeous – bedecked now with patriotic banners all around the top of the bow, giant red, white, and blue balloons waving in the air from the deck.  The platform and ceremony area is absolutely covered in floral bouquets of red, white, and blue flowers.  A military band is playing, the Marine color guard is ready.  There is a festival feeling and high energy in the air of anticipation and excitement. 
Mom, Marg, and I with Don and Mark's wives. 
 Tattiana, one of the NASSCO employees who is in charge of all the arrangements for the ceremony, leads us all up to an area where we are presented our flowers, pictures are taken, and then we have a few moments to “mingle with the crowd” (and show off our flowers) before we have to take our places on the platform.  Margaret receives a dozen red roses, while Mom and I receive a dozen white roses each.  Mostly I am excited because they SMELL!!  Rose scent!  While mingling, I see Pat and Meredith with Don and Mark up front, thinking once again, “What am I doing here?  They should be up here!”  So  I quickly check with Mom and we decide to give one of the bouquets to them to share and we will share the second one.  I will have a hard enough time getting 6 roses home in one piece on the plane, but since they smell so good I will work at it! 
What a ship!
            Then we are escorted up the 8 steps to the platform and take our seats in the front row.  What a view.  The huge bow of the ship to our right, I look out and see all the family seated in the first three rows of the audience, and that big old full moon behind them.  Pinch yourself – you are part of this, Ginger!   Don and Mark are right center front, then Margaret’s family, then Rick and the boys and Mac.  They all have assigned seats right in the front row! 
Marg breaks the bottle!
 (Picture compliments
of Jeff McLean!)
            Promptly a little early, the program begins.  The “countdown” clock is ticking and the show must get going or the boat will launch without us!  The colors are presented, the choral director from La Jolla Nazarene College sings a beautiful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, and we honor the Wounded Warriors from Camp Pendleton,  the Marine base just north of San Diego.  Then introductions, and the speeches begin.  I have to admit I thought the speeches long and boring on the DVD I watched earlier this spring from a previous launch, but when you are there and they are talking about YOUR relative, it is a different story!  In the middle of the last speech, as the clock was nearing 7 minutes, we are escorted from the platform and up another flight of steps to the Christening Platform at the bow of the ship.  Looking straight up to the top of the deck is exhilarating!  The air is crisp and cool yet pleasant, the colors seem so vivid in the night air.  The Rear Admiral finishes his speech right on time, and Margaret is given the bottle, which is totally wrapped in red, white, and blue ribbons.  Mom rises from the chair where she has been sitting and with a death grip on my arm, I can hardly get her to move slightly forward and to the side so I can see around Fred Harris in front of me.  Marg, into a microphone, voices the words, “I christen this ship the USNS William McLean” and then gives a mighty swing of the bottle.  The champagne splashes, but not as much as I expected!  Seconds later, the bow QUICKLY slips out of reach.  I didn’t even get to push!  This ship was ready to leave. ( I later learned  the warm temperatures of the day probably helped move things fast as the tracks were smooth and the grease slick!)  I messed up the video camera (naturally) so I don’t have the footage of the first part.  But the band starts playing, streamers pour off the edge of the deck, and the ship just slips backwards into the water.  Makes me cry now thinking about it.  Standing up there on the platform with a front row seat was amazing.  Fred Harris, head of NASSCO, was to my left and kept up a running commentary the entire time.  The gates holding back the high tide of water are opened and the water rushes in like a mini tsunami as the boat falls back.  Within moments, fireworks started exploding from the end of the pier over the bay and you could see the ship with a vanguard of two tugboats out on the water.  As it shifted sideways, a huge spotlight lit is up in the dark. 
            Mr. Harris is a big fan of fireworks, and the spectacular show we had because of the night launch was because of him.  Evidently, environmentalists halt more fireworks over the bay if you apply for the permit within the normal 60 day window.  But if you apply for a “last minute” permit within 6 days, it goes to a different agency and is approved!  We had at least a 5-6 minute show with a great finale! 
Luke and Ashley after watching the fireworks. 
            Then a walk through the shipyard to the Paint Shop area which is set up for a buffet dessert, complete with chocolate fountain, and multiple little treats.  We have a final time to celebrate and compliment Margaret on a bottle well broken.  (Apparently it is Naval tradition that if the bottle isn’t broken on the first swing, it bodes bad luck for the ship.  Thank goodness Margaret rings the bass hand bells, and hence can pack a wallop!) 
            Shortly before 10, the boys make the rounds with their goodbyes to family and friends, board the shuttle back to the parking lot, and take off for Tucson.  They promise to text when they arrive…SAFELY!  Mom and family are some of the last to leave the party….guess it is a lot like coffee hour after church!  NASSCO pretty much has to kick us all out.  One other family member I saw at the launch was Jo, Don’s ex-wife.  That was pretty neat for her to be able to come.  She knew Uncle Bill, and of course enjoyed seeing her sons Rick and Scott and family. 
            Back to the hotel to crash!  What a day!  What an experience!  Oh – prior to the program, the three of us were approached by a young lady who said she was one of the matrons for T-AKE 9, the Commodore Perry.  She said we would be given the opportunity to go out with the ship on its preliminary sea trials, scheduled for the end of August.  Her words were, “Don’t miss this chance.  It is a great experience! Cancel anything, but go!”  We appreciated that because we hadn’t heard anything about that until today.  A good reason for me to be retiring!  I’m free!!  (Hm…..I doubt the Navy will be paying for that airfare.  Maybe I can take it out of the mega federal taxes Rick and I just paid!)
            All day long I kept thinking to myself  that Uncle Bill would be humble with all this attention and pomp and circumstance.  Aunt LaV would be in her element and love every second of it.  But both of them would have deemed it all a wonderful reason to bring the family together, and for all of us, that was the most special part of all.  The chance to gather and pay tribute to Uncle Bill especially, but overall to three incredible sons of some amazing parents, my Grandparents, Robert McLean and Clara Blohm. 


            Travel day for many.  John and Susan, their sons, and Jeff left early this morning headed for Seattle.  Debby, Keith and Jack are staying in San Diego for the week.  Marg, Ron, Jen, Tom, Mom and Mac are driving up to Oceanside and the condo to join Liz and Dave for the drive back up to Sacramento.  (Margaret had a McLean challenge of packing her car and would have done Dad proud.  In fact, the valet at the hotel complimented her on an amazing packing job as he watched her for 20 minutes!)  We had a text this morning from Luke on a safe arrival in Tucson.  Now to pray Jed homeward to Socorro today. 
            After coffee with Mom and Mac while they breakfast in the coffee shop, Rick and I finish up our packing and find Adam Cox waiting for us with our driver – 15 minutes ahead of time!  
           Not much more to write - a smooth trip home, although bumpy out of Phoenix and into Boise.  Flight from Phoenix was filled with young families and babies.  Fortunately the one behind us with the piercing scream settled down eventually and slept the rest of the flight.  Home to Baker City by 6:15 and early to bed!  After checking in with Jed and Marg to find all have arrived safely!  WHAT A WEEKEND THIS WAS!  

Click HERE to view MORE pictures from our weekend. 

Click HERE for a video of Margaret's speech during the Sponsor's dinner. 
Click HERE for the video of the launch posted by Jen, Margaret's daughter. 
HERE is another video from a different perspective - that of the NASSCO workers preparing the boat!   

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