- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2001

NORFOLK Goodbyes, long absences and a clear-eyed sense of risk and sacrifice are facts of life in this Navy town, which has lived with the specter of battle ever since it was bombarded by the British during the Revolutionary War. But an uneasiness has settled over Norfolk as thousands ship off to fight an unnamed war against a largely unidentified enemy.

"I told those boys, 'You just come back safe,'" Hubert Davenport, owner of Davenport's Barber Shop, said as he gave a loyal patron a flat-top cut. "I'm a lot more worried this time."

In his 36 years as a barber in the city's Oceanview neighborhood, Mr. Davenport, 61, has seen thousands of sailors and Marines just before they headed off to distant lands.

This time, though, is different. This city of 240,000 home of the world's largest naval base, Norfolk Naval Base is not accustomed to the secrecy required in this new war, a response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

When the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt and its battle group left last week on a regularly scheduled six-month deployment, it took with it 15,000 men and women aboard 14 ships headed toward a place "points east," as the Pentagon described it during a briefing.

Most likely the "TR," as it is called, and her contingent of ships are headed toward the Persian Gulf to join the aircraft carriers USS Carl Vinson and USS Enterprise and their battle groups with 30,000 more sailors and Marines.

Ship movements, which are usually publicized on the Navy's Web site and in local newspapers, are blacked out. So, too, is e-mail between ships and family members back home, and phone calls are made only in emergencies.

The stepped-up security is just a part of being a Navy town, most say, but the feeling it could be targeted hasn't been lost on many residents.

"There is a quiet uneasiness in the city," Mayor Paul D. Fraim said, though he added that it is tempered "with a real sense of duty, a real sense of obligation."

The terrorist attacks and the U.S. military response is about the only topic of conversation, and sports bars usually carrying "Monday Night Football" are tuning into CNN instead.

The city looks as if it has just celebrated the Fourth of July with American flags atop nearly every light post and a huge sign reading "God Bless America" hanging over the entrance to its downtown Town Point Park.

But a statue betrays the festive decorations and the reason they're hanging in September. Near a statue of a sailor hugging his bride, called "The Homecoming," pictures of the devastation at the World Trade Center, flowers and hundreds of candles have been left in impromptu vigils.

Albert Doumar, 79, owner of Doumar's, said the swell of patriotism in the city feels like it did Dec. 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor when most Americans found out about the surprise attack by the Japanese on Hawaii.

"It bothers a lot of people," Mr. Doumar, who still works 40 hours a week at the 67-year-old diner, said of the attack. "You could see it on TV, you could see the atrocities."

Throughout the city, young people put on a brave face even though they're concerned.

"There is a certain undertone of worry," Emmagene Worley said. "There is a worry about what's going on in the world and not just your life."

Emmagene, a 16-year-old junior at Maury High School and a member of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, was part of a interfaith vigil of more than 250 people of different faiths who came to pray, sing, and paint American flags and prayers on a sidewalk in a park in the Stockley Gardens section of the city.

At Camp Allen Elementary School, Principal Carolyn P. Sands said 60 percent of her 649 students are military dependents.

Banners drawn by the school's children with red and blue crayons and markers have messages of hope, but also show the children have that same clear-eyed understanding of what's at stake.

"If there is a war, he's going to have to be out for a long time," 9-year-old Mariah Forstrom said of her father, a sailor who works in the operating room at the Portsmouth Naval Medical Center and who could soon be called up for sea duty.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide