The commander of the U.S. Navy's Military Sealift Command stood solemnly in front of the elementary school students yesterday and thanked them for their support during the Persian Gulf war.
Vice Adm. Francis R. Donovan told the students at Pot Spring Elementary School in Baltimore County how much their letters meant to the personnel aboard a cargo ship stationed in the gulf. "I can tell you first-hand they are very, very fond of you," Admiral Donovan said of the merchant marine seamen who received letters from the students.
How students from the Timonium school came to form a partnership with the SS Cape Archway and, in turn, receive a personal thank youfrom the head of the Navy's Military Sealift Command is an unusual story. The SS Cape Archway is a Navy cargo ship that was based at a port in Sunny Point, N.C. The ship, which carries ammunition and is staffed by the merchant marine, was activated for Operation Desert Storm on Sept. 3, 1990.
A short time after the ship was activated, Admiral Donovan was visiting it in the Persian Gulf when he stepped out of the officers' salon and noticed a picture of schoolchildren on the bulkhead.
"When you have eight children, you get used to looking at school pictures," the admiral said. "I walked away, and it suddenly occurred to me that it would have been impossible for a school to adopt that ship in that short a time period."
So the admiral went back for a closer look at the photo. The caption on the photo showed a picture of teacher Elizabeth Wise's then fifth-grade class at Pot Spring Elementary school dated October 1978.
It was 13 years ago when that fifth-grade class adopted the ship when it was a U.S. flag commercial ship called the SS African Neptune. The U.S. government purchased the African Neptune from Farrell Lines in 1980 for its force of ships to be held in reserve in case of a war.
Its name was changed at the time of purchase, and it remained anchored at the North Carolina port for 11 years. That photograph of Mrs. Wise's fifth-grade class never moved from its spot on the ship's bulkhead.
Admiral Donovan asked a member of his staff to see if the current Pot Spring fifth-graders would be interested in adopting the ship during the crisis in the Persian Gulf.
Mrs. Wise was still teaching fifth grade at the school and, when contacted, she responded with an enthusiastic "Yes!"
At the request of the admiral, she has also contacted 10 students from that first fifth-grade class. "They are writing to Admiral Donovan to let him know what adopting a ship meant to them," Mrs. Wise said.
The students in Mrs. Wise current fifth-grade class thought the whole idea was pretty special.
"I think it's neat because the admiral saw the old stories and wrote us," said 11-year-old Steve Basham.
Peter Rinehart, 11, said he had a special request in the letter he wrote to the merchant marine seamen.
"When the whole ordeal is over, I want to know if we can come tour the ship," Peter said.