Sept. 11–The Sea & Air Parade returned to San Diego Fleet Week0 on Saturday, after being absent for eight years.
Not only did the parade put the “fleet” back in Fleet Week, it’s the rebirth of a signature event.
Navy warships promenaded sedately up the middle of San Diego Bay and military aircraft rumbled overhead for two hours.
The event was meant to celebrate San Diego’s troops right in their home port, organizers said. It appeared to accomplish that, in addition to providing a blast of nostalgia for veterans.
As the amphibious assault ship America cruised past, its sailors in dress whites, spectators at the USS Midway Museum waved at the hulking warship.
Patrick Marshall said the sight “put chills up his back.”
Marshall came all the way from Pennsylvania to take part in San Diego’s Fleet Week calendar, as he has for several years.
“I was in the Navy for four years during Vietnam. You don’t realize how much you miss something until it’s not there anymore,” Marshall said.
The America was joined by the minesweeper Champion, the destroyers Pinckney and Sterett, the Coast Guard cutter Sherman and the Canadian warship Winnipeg.
The amphibious ship San Diego and the destroyer Kidd were open for ship tours at downtown San Diego’s B Street pier, along with the Sherman and Winnipeg. Tours continue through Friday.
Navy Vice Adm. Nora Tyson said she thinks the parade is back to stay.
Tyson is widely credited with green-lighting the return of Sea & Air, canceled since 2009 because of tight defense budgets and demand for Navy warships around the world.
“The fact that we all live here, it made sense that we need to do a better job of connecting the community with the service men and women who live and deploy from here,” said Tyson, who commands the U.S. Third Fleet from headquarters in Point Loma.
What are sailors saying to her about it?
“Sailors love for people to come on board and say ‘thank you.’ They love to tell you about what they do,” she said.
Tyson had to stop talking while two Navy F/A-18 Hornet jets thundered by overhead, making it impossible to hear.
“Don’t you love it?” she responded.
“I’m going to say, yes, we are going to keep doing this, because it’s good for us and it’s good for the community,” Tyson concluded.
Around the events Saturday, there were sweet moments of connections made.
As visitors exited a display of gear on Broadway Pier, several of them spontaneously shook the hand of the young Marine standing guard. He looked a little surprised.
Similarly, people stopped to take photos with sailors in dress whites. The sailors obliged, striking tough-guy poses.
And on the Midway, as Navy warships sailed by, gray-haired veterans in civilian clothes snapped smartly to attention and saluted.
“It’s a great day for San Diego,” said Jack Harkins, chairman of the San Diego County United Veterans Council. “It’s especially a great day for veterans because so many veterans served on these” ships and aircraft.
About 1,000 people watched the parade from Harbor Island, where they got front-row seats for a demonstration of rescue swimmers at work.
Also, a Navy hovercraft wowed the crowd with plumes of water kicked up by its engines.
Other spectators gathered at the end of Navy and Broadway piers, listening to announcers narrating from the Midway’s VIP reception.
Tourists visiting from Finland happened to stumble upon the parade and watched from the Midway’s bow.
Does Finland do something similar?
“On a very small scale,” said Ahti Vaisanen, chuckling.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer said he sees strong support to keep the ship parade going.
“This is quintessential San Diego,” Faulconer said.
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