Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A BOND GROWS STRONGER; Air Squadron Leader, Wife Are Brought Together through a Military Family

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A BOND GROWS STRONGER; Air Squadron Leader, Wife Are Brought Together through a Military Family

Article excerpt

Byline: DEIRDRE CONNER

JFK CHRONICLES

The Times-Union asked readers to share their experiences with the Mayport-based aircraft carrier, the USS John F. Kennedy, which will be decommissioned Friday after 39 years of service. These are some of their stories.

GREEN COVE SPRINGS - They always saw the ship as a gift.

Connected for decades by the same Navy air squadron, the Page and Longardt families called the USS John F. Kennedy both nerve-wracking and life-saving, both dangerous and invulnerable.

For a few memorable years, they called it home.

But it was also a guardian, a treasure whose journeys evoke indelible recollections, even after so many years.

"Now that we realize the Kennedy is ending, it brings back a lot of good memories," said Ret. Capt. David Page, who led an air squadron on the aircraft carrier in the 1970s and later became the aviation coordinator at the Pentagon.

Attack Squadron 46 was known as the Clansmen because of the MacDougall tartan that decorated its planes. It lived up to its nickname: The dozen pilots and their wives were a close-knit family, sharing a camaraderie that seemed stronger than usual.

Nancy Longardt Page credits the squadron with bringing her first husband back from the brink of death. When Hodgkin's disease threatened his place flying in the squadron, other members fought to keep him in the squadron.

He fought, too, eventually returning to the pilot's seat.

They always stuck together, keeping in touch even now, for the highs - such as meeting the head of the MacDougall Clan in Scotland on a 1977 tour - and for the lows, including the Kennedy's collision with the USS Belknap in the Mediterranean Sea during the 1975-76 deployment.

David Page remembers both vividly.

He was aboard when the Belknap and Kennedy collided. He had the strange experience of watching on on-board televisions the firefighters extinguish the blaze on his own ship. The Belknap fared far worse, and eight sailors were lost that day.

By the time the ship went to Scotland, David Page was squadron commander when the captain's own gig brought Coline MacDougall aboard for a tour of the Kennedy. …

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