All appeared normal from inside the glass-enclosed control tower seven stories above Oceana Naval Air Station.
A fuel truck rumbled along the flight line. A squadron of fighter jets – blinking red dots in an expanse of blue – lined up miles apart for landings. A pair of F/A-18 Hornets rocketed down a runway, lifting off the ground seconds apart.
Then came a disturbing sight. A flash of light, followed by a boom. At 12:04 p.m., James Nairn’s voice crackled over a radio.
“Hey, dash-two just had a huge flame come out the back of his engine,” the 22-year-old air traffic controller said. “You need to let us know what’s going on.”
Petty Officer 2nd Class Nairn sounded surprisingly calm for someone who was watching a $29 million fighter jet and the two aviators inside it falling toward the suburbs.
John Donovan stepped out of a taxi in the Vietnamese city of My Tho in 2008, dropped his bags on the street and squinted through midday sun as he scanned a bustling crowd.
He was searching for a ghost.
More than 40 years had passed since he had seen the local interpreter who guided his American riverboat crew as it navigated the winding and murky waters of South Vietnam during the war. For years, Donovan assumed his old friend was dead.
The retired Navy officer had spent part of an earlier trip to Vietnam searching for the translator, known simply as “Minh” by most of the men who served with him. But with no details about what happened to him after the war – and only his memories to guide him – Donovan didn’t know where to begin.
Then, about six years ago, he came across Minh’s name in a book. That led him to an author who put him in touch with a Vietnamese refugee in Dallas who gave him a phone number. The war buddies recognized each other’s voices almost immediately.
A tattooed Navy SEAL stepped out of his heavy-duty pickup truck, spit out a stream of brown tobacco juice, slung a canvas backpack over one shoulder, then paused to allow a group of giggling girls in black leotards to pass in front of his vehicle.
The bearded commando peered over his sunglasses and raised an eyebrow before following the dancers into the sparkling glass building a few blocks from the Oceanfront.
In the lobby, some of the world’s most lethal combatants lined up for a glance at the latest in modern war fighting gadgetry. On the other side of a black rope, girls wearing neon pink wigs nervously practiced triple pirouettes.
A quirk of scheduling brought together two exclusive and incredibly disparate worlds Thursday at the Virginia Beach Convention Center. It was a bizarre mix of big guns and tutus, camouflage face paint and glittery eyeliner.
Michelle Kirkpatrick climbed out of bed before sunrise, slipped on a red, white and blue T-shirt and drove directly to Norfolk Naval Station.
She wasn’t going to miss her baby – not again.
Her son, Petty Officer 3rd Class Kris Chrisp, was among thousands of sailors who returned Wednesday following a long and complicated year aboard the aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Kirkpatrick and her family – including Chrisp’s grandparents, niece and girlfriend – had driven into town a day earlier. They checked out of the hotel early and arrived at the pier by 8:30 Wednesday morning, a solid six hours before the ship was scheduled to pull into port.