Rekindling a bond with military brothers
By Annette Tait
Melt Olin recently rediscovered the bond he formed with his shipmates on the USS Decatur, DDG-31, when he and his wife, Sandy, traveled to Branson, Mo., for their first annual Decatur reunion. Melt served four years as a machinist in the U.S. Navy, operating and maintaining the engine room.
“We would make WESTPAC cruises -- Navy acronym for Western Pacific,” Melt explained. “We were a destroyer, and generally ran with aircraft carriers in the South China Sea and Tonkin Gulf.”
The Decatur’s job was protecting the aircraft carriers and “plane guarding” -- giving the pilots a frame of reference to land on the carriers.
“We never had to do it, but another part of the job was picking up pilots if they didn’t make the landing,” Melt said.
Melt recalled the differences and noted similarities in serving in the military between now and when he was onboard ship.
“There was no email and no Internet and all that to communicate, other than letters home,” he said. “These guys depended on each other. We were in our early 20s, some less than that, and we had big jobs to do. I lived over three years of my life with these guys -- it was a family.”
Melt has had good intentions for some time to attend one of the Decatur reunions, but the Olins couldn’t seem to fit the trip into their schedule.
“Just a few old shipmates from the 936 decided to get together about 15 years ago,” he said, “and they’ve been trying to do it ever since.”
This year, the stars aligned, and Melt and Sandy decided this was the year they would go.
Reunions for the Decatur are unique, in that they are open to sailors from three different ships of that name. The first, DD-936, was a destroyer, built around the 1940s. The second, hull number DDG-31, which Melt sailed on, had its home ports on the west coast, in San Diego and Long Beach, Calif.
“The DD-936 crashed into an oiler while they were taking on fuel,” Melt said. “Rather than scrapping it, they rebuilt it as a guided missile destroyer [DDG-31]. We had surface to air missiles and antisubmarine missiles, as well as the 5-inch guns that were on a regular destroyer.”
The DDG-31 was decommissioned in the 1980s, and was sunk as a target ship around 2008.
The third USS Decatur crew invited to the reunion is from the DDG-73, which has been in service for 17 years and is still an active U.S. Navy vessel.