Thursday night, Jim and Carolyn Duffy shared a bottle of wine and a steak dinner at a Norfolk, Va., restaurant with their youngest son, 27-year-old Brendan.
The next day, they stood on a pier watching the USS Enterprise lumber off to a six-month tour of duty in the Persian Gulf. They returned that night to their Annapolis home, proud to know Brendan is doing what he loves.
Carolyn Duffy had stood many times on such piers, watching her husband deploy to some far-off place. Once, she stood at pier's end with three children and pregnant with Brendan. Jim Duffy returned home just in time for the birth.
From the start, Brendan Duffy was exposed to the highs and lows of the Navy. He was born at a Rhode Island naval station, and later lived at the Naval Academy, where his father taught.
As a boy, Duffy and his two brothers watched from the decks of aircraft carriers as Navy fighter pilots did supersonic pirouettes overhead and landed on the 1,000-foot moving runway. They sometimes slept overnight aboard ship with their dad, whom they called "Sir."
Duffy was also there when his father's friends crashed and burned. He was at their funerals. Navy widows were part of his extended family.
None of that stopped Brendan Duffy from aspiring to be an aviator like his father.
"The young man was extremely proud of what he was doing and felt like he was making a significant contribution to his country," said Brendan's father.
Despite less-than-perfect eyesight that kept him from becoming a pilot, Brendan Duffy graduated from the Naval Academy in 1995, went to flight school in Pensacola, Fla., and became a naval flight officer specializing in "electronic countermeasures."
His plane was the EA-6B Prowler, a four-seater packed with high-tech electronic equipment that jammed enemy radar. Duffy sat beside the pilot.
That's where he was Sunday, as his squadron did training runs before heading across the Atlantic.
Even in peacetime, the deaths of soldiers, sailors and aviators are a fact of military life. Among the riskiest jobs is that of an aviator, and the riskiest maneuver is landing a jet on an aircraft carrier at night.
Sunday, two hours past sunset, Brendan Duffy's plane approached the Enterprise. The seas were choppy, the skies partly cloudy.
The Prowler touched down, but struck another plane on the deck, an S-3 Viking. The two Viking crew members ejected. They shot into the air, and their parachutes popped open. One landed in the water and was rescued. The other's parachute got caught on the ship's radar. He survived.
Duffy, his pilot and two back-seat crew members also ejected. Explosives beneath crew members' seats are designed to rocket them into the air, clear of the wreckage.
It remains unclear what happened to Duffy and his crew mates. Helicopters scoured the area. Three were lost at sea and presumed dead.
Duffy was recovered immediately. He was dead. His body was headed yesterday for Annapolis, where the Duffy house hummed with the recollections and sobs of his extended Navy family.
"He was going to be an admiral, no doubt," said his father. "This was a bright, shining star."
Duffy's funeral will be held at 2 p.m. Friday at the Naval Academy Chapel. He will be interred at the academy's columbarium.
Pub Date: 11/11/98