Future crew of USS Delaware spends Thanksgiving in Dover

 

Gary Wallik checks on the turkey before the submariner Thanksgiving Dinner on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Gary Wallik checks on the turkey before the submariner Thanksgiving Dinner on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Gary Wallick, a veteran radioman who served on the USS Bergall submarine from 1986-91, remembers the feeling he had when he reported for duty in San Francisco on Dec. 23.

“I was 3,000 miles from home with no support and nowhere to go for Christmas,” he said.

It’s for this reason he wasn’t going to let the future crew of the USS Delaware, a nuclear submarine currently under construction in Newport News, Virginia, suffer the same fate he did.

Mr. Wallick, known locally for his work with Torbert Funeral Home in Dover, has deep roots in Delaware — since the early 1900s on his father’s side and possibly back to the 1700s on his mother’s side.

When he caught wind of the state of Delaware receiving a new namesake ship, he was awash in state pride and civic responsibility.

“A few years ago when I saw the announcement that the Delaware name had been selected, I made it known to a friend of mine who works for Sen. (Tom) Carper that I wanted to get involved and I’ve been following closely ever since,” he said.

His involvement, along with the assistance of other interested citizens, resulted in a successful outing for some crew members of the USS Delaware to come see the Sprint Cup event at the Dover International Speedway last spring.

Mr. Wallick and USO Hampton Roads worked out transportation for the trip from Norfolk and got six private donors to foot the $3,100 cost of a coach bus.

From left, Daniel Kerns, Matt Eichacker, Alex Kaehr talk with host Gary Wallik during the submariner Thanksgiving Dinner on Thursday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

From left, Daniel Kerns, Matt Eichacker, Alex Kaehr talk with host Gary Wallik during the submariner Thanksgiving Dinner on Thursday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Especially since it has been nearly a century since the U.S. Navy has had a USS Delaware in its fleet, Mr. Wallick feels a pressing desire to form a relationship with the newest iteration’s crew. The last USS Delaware — actually one of six to defend the country — was used in World War I. It was launched in 1910 and scrapped in 1923.

“The ship that I served on was named after a fish,” he said. “The USS Delaware is looking at being commissioned sometime late 2018 and then starting a roughly 30-year life cycle. I’m looking at the Delaware and its crew as a rest-of-my-life project. With a namesake ship, we as a state should develop a bond with the crew. We will be bringing them to Dover for patriotic holidays and festivals and just generally making them feel welcome.”

Mr. Wallick’s most recent attempt at this was on Thanksgiving, when he offered to feed and celebrate with any of the USS Delaware’s crew who would not be headed home for the holidays. The sailors were thrilled and jumped at the opportunity.

For Georgia-native, nuclear electrician, Bo Brooks, 24, it was his second opportunity to visit the state.

“I was one of the lucky few that got to come to the race in the spring — we really appreciated that,” he said. “We also got to meet a couple local sub vets when we came up that time, and it was a great experience.

“Now this time, they offered up a visit and I was able to bring my wife, Kayla. I wanted to take her up here to see the state of Delaware — it’s name of our boat after all.”

Although much of Mr. Brooks’ time in his current post is occupied with training to prepare for his tour at sea, he looks forward to the day that Jill Biden, wife of the vice president and the submarine’s sponsor, will come down to Newport News and crack a bottle of champagne on the hull to inaugurate its launch.

“On the boat we’ll all have a shift to stand watch, and we’ll perform routine maintenance, preventative and corrective,” he said. “There will be about 120 crew members aboard and we’ll live in a room with 6 to 8 other guys. You get to know everyone really well and form a strong sense of camaraderie. It’s a really neat aspect to be able to trust the guy next to you with your life. I’m looking forward to the experience.”

Mr. Wallick, with the help of longtime friend Susan Sutton, and Caeser Rodney High School alum and retired NFL offensive lineman Steve Franklin, cooked up turkey, gravy, potatoes, rolls, pies and all the traditional Thanksgiving fare for the sailors at LD and Donna Shank’s Triad Farm on Long Point Road in Dover on Thursday.

For Ohio native Hunter Perl, a 20-year-old IT specialist on the USS Delaware crew, the outing was a unique opportunity to tool around the state’s capital with his shipmates.

“It would have been a 12-hour ride home, and I thought it might be nicer to come visit the state,” he said. “I just arrived in Newport News to the shipyard about a month ago and I’m not really familiar with the surrounding area just yet.”

Mr. Perl is fresh out of a two-year program at the Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Conn. and was inspired to pursue the life of a submariner because his older brother currently serves on the USS San Fransisco.

“He’s been serving on that sub for about three years in San Diego. They’ll actually be decommissioning soon,” he said.

Also looking forward to the launch of the USS Delaware, Mr. Perl is still in the midst of learning all his day to day responsibilities — troubleshooting the sub’s local area network system and keeping it purring will be among them, though.

Mr. Wallick’s primary goal is to emphasize to the crew that while they sail on the USS Delaware, they’ll always have a home away from home in the state of Delaware. Ms. Sutton, an 11th generation Delawarean out of Middletown, summed it up nicely.

“Many of them don’t know anything about the state, they were just assigned to the sub,” she said. “Setting up visits like this is just such a cool thing to do because it’s nice to talk to them, and have them talk to us so they can get to know Delaware.”

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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