- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 8, 2005

ABOARD THE USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN — Standing in the hangar bay of this mammoth aircraft carrier, Seaman Joviena Kay looks across the waves toward the devastated coast of Sumatra, remembering a time 13 years ago when she huddled on the same deck with evacuees from another great Asian disaster.

Seaman Kay was 6 years old then, a refugee from a volcano. The Filipina-American eventually joined the U.S. Navy, and she is serving on the ship that rescued her as its sailors help the survivors of an earthquake and tsunami.

“It’s horrible, what happened to those people out there,” she said of the tens and tens of thousands of Indonesians swept to their deaths by huge waves.

It was horror of a different kind that descended on Seaman Kay and her mother in 1991. A gigantic eruption of Mount Pinatubo rained volcanic ash on their home in the Philippines. More than 700 people died.

When friends urged them to go to a Navy ship evacuating American citizens from the disaster area, they packed a few clothes and rushed to the U.S. base at Olongapo City, its streets flooded by a tropical storm.

Married to a Navy man stationed in the United States, her mother carried an expired identification card, but the guards let them through the gates and onto the Abraham Lincoln. On its maiden voyage, the ship led a 23-ship armada that carried away 20,000 military dependents, children and civilian workers.

Seaman Kay, now a cook and administrative assistant aboard the warship, recalls long lines of evacuees, the kindness of the crew — and a monotonous diet of sandwiches.

After nearly a year in the United States living with grandparents, she and her mother returned to Olongapo City, where her mother owned a bar frequented by sailors. But U.S. forces were pulling out, Seaman Kay’s father had died, education costs were rising and the prospects of a job were dim.

So after a year in college studying hotel and restaurant management, Seaman Kay followed a time-honored tradition in the Philippines: She joined the U.S. Navy — and found herself assigned to the ship that saved her.

The carrier’s crew, including Seaman Kay, had just enjoyed a Christmas liberty call in Hong Kong. But they were soon steaming at high speed toward Sumatra, where entire communities were obliterated and isolated survivors needed emergency assistance that only the ship’s helicopters could deliver.

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