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Going Home

By Karl C. Priest May, 25, 2019 (revised 7-24-19)

In 1968 I was stationed aboard a ship home ported at Norfolk, Virginia. The U.S.S. Wright (CC-2) was one of two National Command Posts which stood by as a possible re-location for the president and Joint Chiefs of Staff had the Russians launched a nuclear attack. More details of the ship are in Ghosts of the East Coast:   Doomsday Ships.

The two ships alternated alert status on two-week rotations. Aboard ship, even in port, the work was long and hard and the showers were cold and short. There were no cell phones. The TV room had a small thick television and room for a few dozen crew members elbow to elbow. The toilets were a wall of about ten with no partitions between.

During our two weeks in port our days were full with much work and when my Charleston friend and I could leave the ship we engaged in the usual recreational activities, but those diversions were easily abandoned when we were given a liberty of 72 hours (Sometimes, even for 48 hours!). Then we headed home and those trips were adventures. Most of the time, we traveled together, but I made the trip alone many times.

We used different strategies to get back to West Virginia.

Occasionally, a shipmate who owned a car and lived in Kentucky would get liberty at the same time. One time we made the 10-hour drive with three in the front and four in the back of his car. We traversed the (non-Interstate at the time) WV Turnpike in a little over an hour!

Another method was to catch a flight. That was difficult because Norfolk had so many military personnel traveling by air. The option of getting a reduced price “Military Standby” flight was practically zero. So, we would hitchhike to Lynchburg where we easily found an open seat at the Military Standby price, which still was difficult on our income.

Once, I used a Greyhound bus and it took three hours longer than the travel method we used most often--hitchhiking.

We would catch a Greyhound and get off about five miles outside of Norfolk. We did that because the Shore Patrol would get us for hitchhiking if they saw us. It was easy to catch a ride while wearing our uniforms. One time, as we were let out of a car, another one pulled over to pick us up! Another time, late at night, near the point where the driver was going, we stopped behind a car at a stoplight in a small Virginia town. We saw the car in front of us had a West Virginia tag. By honking, we got the driver’s attention and he and his wife agreed to let us ride with them to Charleston.

At that time, car radio dials had to be frequently turned in order to pick up an AM station in rural areas as we rolled along the winding two lane roads. Few stores were open on Sundays, so gas stops had to be carefully planned on that day. When arriving at the base, I would use a pay phone to make a person-to-person call home to myself to let my parents know I had made it safely.

All of the return trips were all-nighters. We were dropped off on Route 60 below the Turnpike bridge to begin hitching a ride. Sometimes we ran down the pier to make it just in time for 0800 muster.

Most people who gave us rides were great. Some would even buy us a meal. Sometimes it was a family. Once, two soldiers picked me up crossing the mountains into West Virginia. They drove so fast that I got down in the floor of the back seat. Often it was a single guy who gave us a ride. Most were good guys. A couple of guys were not so nice, including one that was drinking whiskey straight from the bottle.* One guy started sobbing as he told me his troubles. About midnight one night a sailor picked me up. He had been driving for a while and was tired. I drove for several hours while he slept in the back seat. Sadly, I came over a rise and was unable to avoid hitting a dog in the middle of my lane. The sound of the impact woke him up and he took over driving.

The berthing compartment on the ship consisted of metal frames with a piece of canvas stretched inside and a thin mattress on top. The term for these “beds” was “racks”. The racks were stacked three sigh with about two feet wide aisles between. The racks that were not against a bulkhead were about two inches apart. We slept there, but did not really rest.

We made those long, sometimes dangerous, journeys because we wanted to get home.

Christians understand that this world (like our ship), is not our home. Our journey home is sometimes difficult and dangerous, but the destination makes it worthwhile. As the song so aptly describes it:

Going home, I'm going home
There is nothing to hold me here
I've caught a glimpse of that Heavenly land
Praise God, I'm going home.


(“Going Home by Bill Gaither)



More photos are at USS Wright (CC-2).


Also see:

Counting to the Appointment

Trust the Captain

The first draft of this was printed as Essays on Faith: Going home is always worth the trip on June 1 in the Charleston Gazette-Mail. The article appeared in the print edition of the Charleston Gazette-Mail (top of page 5C) under the title “Essays on Faith: Long weekends proved going home is always worth the trip.”

*He insisted I take a drink. I pretended to do it. Once, I had to put my hand on the steering wheel to get him back on the road. We arrived at his destination and I have no idea if he drove again that night.