NAVAL AIR STATION INGLESIDE, Texas -- – A thunderous, bone-shaking blast from 105-mm howitzers deafened the crowd, as Marines from Camp Lejeune helped commission the USS San Antonio and recognized former Navy pilot, former President George H. W. Bush, Jan. 14.
Twenty-one Marines and a Navy corpsman from 2nd Marine Division left Camp Lejeune for Norfolk, Va., Jan. 3. They had been notified only a couple weeks earlier that high-ranking Navy and Marine Corps officials requested that Marines participate in the commissioning of the Navy’s newest expeditionary assault ship, USS San Antonio (Landing Platform Dock-17).
“Many significant people … thought it was important that Marines be a part of this ceremony. This ship was built with the Marine Corps in mind, so the Marine Corps should be here as part of its commissioning,” said 1st Lt. Salvatore Nigro, forward observer, Alpha Battery, 10th Marine Regiment.
Marines and sailors were more than 100 miles off the east coast, and spent five nights at sea, arriving in Ingleside Jan 9. To many Marines, this was their first time being on a ship.
“I’ve never been on a ship before, but I’ve heard that these berthing areas are a lot larger. We can sit up in the rack and have room to move around. I was comfortable,” said Lance Cpl. Evan M. McDonough, a Prospect Park, Pa., native and devout Philadelphia Eagles fan, is an artilleryman with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 10th Marines. “The ship is great and I had a great time on it,” he added.
Besides the stealthy look of the USS San Antonio, Marines agreed that the larger berthing area was the most noticeable difference on the new age ship.
Marines took advantage of their liberty in the Lone Start State. Some went to a pro basketball game in San Antonio while others enjoyed fresh seafood in the coastal town of Corpus Christi. Marines and sailors conducted a flag ceremony at the Alamo, which lies in the heart of San Antonio, Jan. 10. A small cluster of civilians formed to witness the color guard honor the distinguished history of the Alamo.
“It was my first time to the Alamo and I was proud to be a part of the ceremony. I will always remember it,” said McDonough.
Marines shared the ship’s enormous space with more than 350 sailors. Although some Marines were not used to working alongside sailors, it was smooth sailing for the crew.
“Mostly we read books or slept. During the day we got to tour the ship and see all the new upgrades,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Kenndall J. Paxton. “We couldn’t do much at night because they thought we might fall overboard,” he said smiling.
Paxton, of Alpha Company 1st battalion, 10th Marines, was the lone corpsman. “I take pride in being part of the Marine Corps and I felt like I got a lot of respect from other petty officers on the ship. Being a part of the Marines says a lot about you and about your discipline. I knew they (sailors) were looking at me differently and I wanted them to know that I was squared away,” Paxton explained.
Paxton, from Jasper, Ala., has completed one tour in Iraq and has been in the Navy for more than two years. This was his first time serving alongside his navy counterparts.
Many Marines didn’t know each other prior to this assignment. The battery was made up of Marines from many different batteries within 10th Marines. To many, like Paxton and McDonough, this was great experience and a nice break from the duties back at Camp Lejeune.
Following the ceremony Marines got an opportunity to meet former President Bush and Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Michael W. Hagee.
Marines presented former President Bush with an engraved shell casing thanking him for his time and devotion.
Gen. Hagee took time to thank the Marines for their service. He commented on the many sacrifices Marines make on a daily basis and the courage it takes to volunteer during this time in history.
“I had a great time and met some good people. It was really a lot of fun and now I look forward to getting back to Camp Lejeune and back into my routine,” McDonough stated.