Farragut government officials, Town businesses and area residents rolled out the “Navy blue” carpet last week, welcoming 49 U.S. Navy veterans who served on a USS Farragut ship to the birthplace of their ships’ namesake, Admiral David Glasgow Farragut.
Farragut Ships Association Inc. members arrived for what the group refers to as “Homecomings,” which span a few days at a selected site of relevance to Admiral Farragut nationwide every two years. In fact, FSA celebrated its 11th anniversary Friday, Oct. 15 — and was a special day in their visit for another reason.
Representing service from 1960 to 1989 on USS Farragut DDG 37, on which most of these visiting veterans served, or on USS Farragut DLG 6 in the case of roughly a half-dozen, they were first welcomed with gift bags prepared by Town Tourism coordinator Karen Tindal when they began arriving at Staybridge Suites Wednesday, Oct. 13.
“Between the restaurants we’ve been to and the hospitality we’ve gotten from everybody — the Mayor (Ron Williams), Karen Tindal … the Park & Recreation lady (Sue Stuhl, director) and the (people) at the newspaper, we couldn’t have asked for better than what we’ve had here,” said veteran Randy Campbell, a retired U.S. Navy chief and FSA secretary from Bossier City, Louisiana.
“We’ve all enjoyed our time here, believe me,” he added. “… They’ve been out shopping. … We’ve been to Admiral’s Pub. We’ve been all around the city.”
While the senior FSA member, 100-year-old Don Fisher, could not attend, the veterans on hand last week represented diverse skills aboard the USS Farragut.
“We have everyone from the engineering department to the weapons department. We have a couple of people from supply and a lot of people from operations department here tonight,” Campbell said, adding those on hand came “from as far north as New Hampshire and Massachusetts, from as far west as North Dakota and Colorado, and as far south as Florida and Louisiana.”
Mayor Williams and his wife, T.C. Williams, attended the group’s tailgate party on the Farragut High School grass practice field prior to the FHS vs. Bradley Central varsity football game Oct. 15. They were later joined by Vice Mayor Louise Povlin and Alderman Drew Burnette (FHS Class of 1999), as all Board of Mayor and Aldermen reps on hand sat with the veterans and watched the game in a designated area of the stands.
These FSA veterans came to the center of the field at halftime to be formally recognized by the fans.
“We supported the athletic department here, buying a bunch of T-shirts,” Campbell said.
The USS Farragut Anchor, located on the entrance level of Eddie Courtney Stadium, was one site for a group photo (See photo, page 1A). That anchor had once been attached to the very ship on which many of them had served.
FSA president Kurtiss “Zippy” Hullinger of Rhode Island said he presented an official USS Farragut coin to be used for the game’s coin toss.
“We are so glad to be here, me especially, since it was my idea to come here,” Hullinger, who served from May 1978 to October 1983, said during the tailgate party. “I have been here several times, and after I suggested it, everyone voted for it.”
The group, which has been meeting every two years since 2002, was supposed to have come to Farragut in 2020, but COVID forced a year’s delay that seemed to make last week’s five day gathering that much sweeter.
“It’s beautiful here,” Hullinger said. “I’m so glad everyone was able to show up when it was safe to do so. It’s so nice to see faces you haven’t seen in years, and we just pick right back up where we left off.”
“This is a wonderful town,” said Erich Bender of Taneytown, Maryland, also mentioning he had visited a local barbershop earlier in the day, thanks to a recommendation from a Staybridge employee.
“This is the first reunion I’ve been able to attend,” he added, noting it was the first time the Homecoming date didn’t conflict with his work with the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America. “It’s a wonderful area — I had come to Sweetwater in 2017 to see the Eclipse.”
Chuck Buie, 85, was one of the older Navy veterans who attended. “I was in the Navy for 23 years, and was on nine different destroyers,” he said.
Buie and his wife, Flora Buie, of Concord, North Carolina, commented on how “nice and friendly” everyone had been.
“Even at the Cracker Barrel,” Flora said.
“We had a really nice waitress, but she didn’t know anything about Admiral Farragu, or the ships named for him,” Chuck added. “We educated her, and she said she wanted to visit the museum and find out more.”
“I am loving your Town,” said Jack Bonner of Mayo, South Carolina, who attended the Homecoming in honor of his late father, also named Jack.
Adding a local flavor to the veterans’ visit was Henry Patient of Kingston, a retired chief petty officer who served 17 1/2 years in the U.S. Navy and 2 1/2 years in the U.S. Army. He has lived in the metro Knoxville area since 1992.
“The (USS) Farragut was the third out of a series of five ships that I was on,” Patient said. “… Life’s been good; the military’s been great for me. It’s the very thing I needed.
“Everybody seems to be having a good time; they feel welcomed here,” he added.
Also part of the FSA membership are those who have served on USS Farragut DDG 99, “Which is on active duty in Mayport, Florida,” Campbell said.
Other shipmates in FSA are from USS Farragut TB-11, DD-300 and DD-348.
Visiting with the veterans, and part of the Friday activities at FHS, was U.S. Marine Corps veteran Milton Foster, who for more than two decades has portrayed Admiral Farragut at various events and reenactments. He was in full uniform Friday evening.
The South Bend, Indiana, resident said he had been to the Admiral’s birthplace at least three times previously in his role as the Town’s namesake.
The group held its business meeting in Town Hall Saturday morning, Oct. 16, at the invitation of Williams, who addressed the veterans as did Povlin. Members then toured the Farragut Museum, which houses the largest collection of Admiral Farragut memorabilia in the world.
“I just want to thank everyone who showed up,” said Hullinger, who, along with 1st vice president Gordon Wright, Campbell and treasurer Thomas Randall were all re-elected. “Farragut has just been great to us, and I’m so glad y’all voted to come here.”
FSA’s next Homecoming will take place in Jacksonville, Florida, June 8-11 2023, when the USS Farragut DDG-99 will be commissioned.
Editor Alan Sloan contributed to this story.