A Vagabond Life

Our view can change when we want it to!

Category: History

End of May and on Our Way

The Vagabonds are heading due north after two months in North Carolina. It was a wonderful two months in the state we’ve started to call our second home. We lived in the Tar Heel State for three years while on active duty in the Marines; two of our children were born in North Carolina and the third just married a special young lady from New Bern. It all adds a little turpentine to the Ferri bloodline.

We were privileged to take care of our new granddaughter for two weeks in May while Nick and Ashley were on their honeymoon hiking the Appalachian Trail. Laini is six years old going on twenty-three. We had many interesting discussions with her about how things work. One concept she brought up was the difference between a woman who is pregnant and a woman who is going to have a baby. The two are quite different according to Laini. We decided to leave that one to her mom.

Virginia Beach was our first stop North. We stayed at an RV park on a Navy base situated on the ocean just south of Virginia Beach proper. Our campsite was on one side of the sand dunes and a beautiful sandy beach on the other. Staying on military bases along the coast is special because it’s restricted. That means the beaches are uncrowded on weekends and often deserted during the week. Angus loved being off his leash to splash around in the water and chase sand crabs.

The next stop was West Point, home of the Army’s military academy. We’ve never been to the academy and were excited to take the tour. The place is awe-inspiring. Words cannot describe how impressed we were. The manicured grounds and majestic granite buildings remind me of an old New England ivy league college.

Pride runs deep at West Point. The fortunate few that are accepted into this and any one of our nation’s military academies have a lot to be proud of, and a lot of responsibility ahead of them.  We were fortunate to meet up with my cousin and his wife and family. Stephen is a 1995 West Point graduate. He provided us with an insider’s view of life as a cadet.

The camping area at West Point is deep in the woods overlooking an idyllic round pond that’s stocked with rainbow trout. A few stone cottages dotting the pond’s perimeter brings out the charm. Some of the tall oaks and elms have been here since Washington’s time. It’s a peaceful and serene place. Who could ask for more?

Well, being an American, of course we want more. There’s no internet access or cable TV. How does the Army expect this Marine to survive?

April Wedding Bells

Nothing can be finer than April in North Carolina for a wedding!

Mr. and Mrs. Richard Ferri are proud to announce the wedding of their son, Nick Ferri, to the vibrant and beautiful Ashely Zaytoun of New Bern, North Carolina, on April 29, 2017. The ceremony took place on Wrightsville Beach and the reception was at the Ironclad Brewery in Wilmington. Family and guests traveled from as far north as Maine, as far south as Florida, and as far west as California.  There was plenty of food and wine and the DJ was outstanding!

The ocean provided a perfect backdrop for the wedding with clear skies and a gentle sea breeze that accentuated the romantic setting. Beachgoers were lounging about adding to the moment with many young woman wearing what passes for a bikini today, and a couple of fellows strolling around and posing briefly for the cameras in their brief Speedos.

Ironclad Brewery was an ideal receptions site for this down-to-Earth couple. The drinks were cold and plentiful and the meal catered by Mission Barbecue was superb.  Frankie Hill from BTA Entertainment was the best DJ we’ve seen at any wedding. She didn’t miss a beat, pardon the pun. We danced and sang and toasted the night away. Everyone had a great time! The adventuresome bride and groom are spending their honeymoon hiking about 70 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

Wilmington is a charming port city situated in the southeastern part of NorthCarolina between the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Fear river. The port was vital to the Confederate States of America and served as a focal point for resupply during the Civil War.

Fort Fisher lays at the mouth of the Cape Fear river and was a Confederate stronghold from 1862 to 1864. The largest sea to land battle of the war took place at Fort Fisher from January 13th 1865 – January 15th 1865. A massive naval bombardment from more than 50 Federal ships lasted for two days followed by the largest sea to land troop assault of the war with over 8,000 Union soldiers and Marines storming the fort and overrunning the Confederates. The siege of Fort Fisher was the beginning of the end for the Confederacy.

Today, the area surrounding Wilmington is a perfect blend of natural and social elements – great geo-physical location, a moderate climate all the year through with clearly distinguishable four seasons, the historic preservation district, annual festivals such as the Azalea festival and numerous other recreational activities, as well as a great place for a spring wedding!

 

March Travel Madness

We’ve been extremely busy of late, traveling through several states, from Texas to Alabama to North Carolina, life on the road couldn’t be finer. The temperature could be a little warmer though, but at least there is no snow, and if we only had bright 80 degree days, we’d probably be soaking up too many rays.

We left Tucson in mid-February and stopped in Texas for a couple of weeks. It was great to see Ashley and Jeremy again. The mother to be is doing fine! We also took the opportunity to drop off winter clothes and picked up more summer stuff. It was interesting to look again at the stuff we decided to keep in storage rather than sell or give away. In retrospect, we kept too much! What were we thinking?

By early March we were back in the Florida panhandle staying at the Blue Angels Recreational Area on Perdido Bay near Pensacola, Florida. This is the former site of Bronson Field used primarily for dive bomber, fighter, and seaplane training during WWII. Baseball great Ted Williams was among those trained at the base. The airfield is still in use today but only for model airplane enthusiasts. One of several seaplane ramps is pictured below.

Our next stop was Panama City, Florida. We camped at NSA Panama City, a US Navy base that supports fleet activities. Among the units on base is the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center where the services conduct experimental deep diving techniques. Did you know this is the 100th anniversary of the Mark V dive helmet and the 40th anniversary of women divers?

Our timing at NSA Panama City coincided with the final round of a unique competition among civilian engineers and scientists who work on base. Participating units receive $15,000 to design and build an improvised explosive device (IED) detector robot that searched for and neutralized IEDs. We were in attendance for the final detect and dig-up competition. The DoD pays about $150,000 for each robot it buys for use in the fleet. The winning team in this competition was able to build two robots for one-tenth the price.

The next stop was on the east coast of Florida near Kennedy Space Center. Again our timing was perfect. We were there for the launch of a SpaceX rocket. This was the first rocket launch we’ve seen and it was nothing short of incredible. It was calm and clear when the rocket lifted off at 9 PM. The plumb was so bright it was like a mini sun! We were amazed at how slowly the rocket climbed into space, not Fourth of July fireworks. The rocket plumb remained clearly visible for several minutes until the first stage burned out. If you haven’t experienced this, put it on your bucket list.

Visiting Florida gave us the opportunity to visit with family and friends. The luck of the Irish kept us safe in Boca Raton as we partied-down with my sister Karen and her husband Rick.  Everyone had a great time – and we stayed up past 10 PM!

We’ve recently moved up the east coast to North Carolina where Nick and Ashley’s big day is April 29! It will be lots of fun, and we’ll get to spend time with a lot people we haven’t seen in a long time.

Day 121: The November Blog

We intended to blog more often than once per month. Where does the time go? Here’s what we’ve been up to since leaving Corpus Christi in mid-October.

We first stopped at our old stomping ground in Medina, Texas, where we caught up with friends and attended the wedding of Tim and Gali Showell. It was a gala country wedding with Travis Klaassen performing the ceremony.

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Medina is also building a new fire house and we saw the building being framed. This was a long time coming. I was in the fire department as a board member five years ago when a new fire house was in the wishful thinking stage. Communities like Medina have no local government funding for their departments. All the money comes from the local community and an occasional grant from the forestry service. Kudo’s to Medina!

We headed west after leaving Medina. How far west was still unknown at the time. We needed to decide where to spend the winter.  Wherever we ended up was going to be on US soil, have a reasonably warm climate, and decent shopping. We turned the trailer toward the setting sun and off we rolled!

One of our favorite stops along the route was in Fort Davis, Texas. This mountainous area is a blend of drop-dead gorgeous scenery, frontier military history and recent space-age technology.

Fort Davis was formally a rough-and-tumble boarder settlement originally known as Chihuahua.  The military post of Fort Davis was established on the site of an earlier Indian village called Painted Comanche Camp. The National Park Service calls Fort Davis one of the best surviving examples of an Indian Wars’ frontier military post in the Southwest. From 1854 to 1891, the fort protected emigrants, mail coaches, and freight wagons on the Trans-Pecos portion of the San Antonio-El Paso Road and on the Chihuahua Trail. This road was also used extensively by prospectors heading west seeking their fortune during the California Gold Rush. Now it was our stop west.

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Old becomes new about 20 miles northwest of Camp Davis at the site of the McDonald Observatory. The site is part of the University of Texas at Austin, College of Natural Sciences. Davis Mountains offered some of the darkest skies in the continental United States. The first telescope was erected in the late 1930s and much more has been added since.

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Today, the observatory offers a wide range of state-of-the-art instrumentation for imaging and spectroscopy; the 0.8 m Telescope, the 2.1 m Otto Struve Telescope, the 2.7 m Harlan J. Smith Telescope, and the 10 m Hobby-Eberly Telescope; 1 m node of the globally networked Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope (LCOGT), one of two robotically controlled 1.2 m MOnitoring NEtwork of Telescopes (MONET), a 0.51 m telescope dedicated to optical aeronomy, and one of four globally networked Robotic Optical Transient Search Experiment (ROTSE) telescopes. The observatory also operates one of the first and most productive lunar ranging stations. Don’t ask what any of this means but it’s all very impressive to look at!

Heading west for a few more days and we found ourselves in Tucson, Arizona. There is a lot to see in the area and we were told temperatures rarely get into the 30’s. So, we decided to say here for the winter. That being said, the last two nights have been near freezing!

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Another attraction of Tucson is that Las Vegas is less than a one day drive. The Arizona state highway from Tucson to Vegas goes through beautiful desert and mountainous terrain and the scenery is spectacular.  This makes visiting my parents very easy and we traveled to them over Thanksgiving week. The food alone was worth the trip (just joking of course!). The Care Package my mother gave us to take back only lasted a few days. We plan to bring a bigger cooler next time.

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Day 20: A Short Military History of NAS Pensacola

Naval Air Station Pensacola is known as “The Cradle of Naval Aviation.” It is home to the Navy’s first flight school established in 1914. In keeping with the long tradition, all Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard aviators pass through Pensacola to receive their initial primary flight training. I went through primary here in 1981. NAS Pensacola is also home to the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron – more commonly known as the Blue Angels – and home to the incredibly awesome Naval Aviation Museum.

The areas military importance didn’t begin in 1914 with the establishment of a flight school. It goes back much further and is important to the early history of the nation.

Spanish explorers discovered the strategic importance of Pensacola in early 1500s and established the first colony here in 1559. By 1698, Spain had built fort San Carlos de Austria. The fort changed hands a few times over the hundred years. It was besieged by native Indians in 1707 but not taken. The French took it 1719, and then British colonists took over in 1763 as part of a property exchange with France.

Spain sided with the American rebels during the Revolutionary War and recaptured the area and fort in 1781. They planned to stay for a while and by 1797 had completed San Carlos de Barrancas, a brick fortification. The British took San Carlos de Barrancas in the War of 1812 after the Spanish left it defenseless.

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Fort Barrancas on NAS Pensacola

The British subsequently abandoned the fortification. General Andrew Jackson found it in ruins in 1814 when he arrived with 4,000 troops. Jackson didn’t stay either. The Spanish returned to the site in 1817 and rebuilt Barrancas bigger and larger than it was before. That structure still stands today on NAS Pensacola property. Spain ceded the fort and all Western Florida to the United States in 1821. Jackson found himself in Pensacola again, this time as the territorial governor of Florida.

The area became a thriving shipbuilding community in 1825 with the opening of the Gulf Coast Navy Yard. This region is home to an abundance of live oaks that were used to build ships. This ultra-dense wood was used to build the USS Constitution, also known as Old Ironsides. No iron was used on the sides of Old Ironsides. The wood is so strong that cannon balls bounced off. The Naval Live Oaks Reservation near Gulf Breeze is a testament to this phenomenal resource. The land was purchased in 1828 by the U.S. government and is the only federal tree farm in existence.

The Civil war put Pensacola back into play in January 1861. Florida did not initially secede from the Union and confederate forces were moving in from the west. Fort Pickens was now the center of military defense for the area. It’s a massive fortification on the barrier island at the mouth of Pensacola Bay. Short on troops, Lieutenant Adam Slemmer spiked the cannons at Fort Barrancas to make them inoperable and consolidated his forces at Fort Pickens. That same day Florida seceded from the Union and Commodore James Armstrong surrendered the Navy Yard to the Confederacy.

Lieutenant Slemmer did not give into the confederates. He instead bombarded the mainland rendering the Navy Yard useless. A truce was put in place for a while, but in October 1861, Confederate forces unsuccessfully attacked Fort Pickens. Union forces seized Pensacola in the spring of 1862 and reinforced the fort. They held it until the end of the war.

The Navy closed the shipyard in 1911.  A hurricane in 1906 destroyed much of the shipyard and naval vessels in port as well as the nearby town of Woolsey where workers lived. Iron had also replaced live oak in shipbuilding by this time.

Pensacola had a resurrection in 1914 as the Pensacola Aeronautic Station. The navy recognized the importance of aircraft in naval warfare and established the base to train aviators. There were 38 naval aviators and 54 airplanes in Pensacola by the outbreak of WWI in 1916. Two years later, the base trained 1,000 aviators and housed hundreds of land based aircraft, seaplanes and balloons. During WWII, the based trained 1,100 aviators per month.

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NAS Pensacola in the 1940s

In June 1981, I arrived in Pensacola as a young Marine 2nd Lieutenant ready for initial flight training. After 18 months and a lot of hard work, Daria pinned on my wings of gold. Nearly 30 years later, Daria and I were privileged to pin those same set of wings on our son, Marine Captain “Nick” Ferri. It’s an honor for our family to be part of the rich heritage surrounding historic NAS Pensacola.

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