Thursday, October 14, 1999

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Kelly Charles moved here with her sons, Zackary, 5 months,
and Cody, 3. Her husband is due to arrive tomorrow
aboard the USS O'Kane.

Ship’s families
adjust to life
in the isles

Despite misgivings, the
transition has been smooth, O'Kane
sailors and dependents say

Destroyer named for sub commander

By Gregg K. Kakesako


When Navy Petty Officer Michael Florea was single and received orders to report to a new ship, it was a snap: He could pack up his belongings in a couple of suitcases and move within days.

Now married, Florea, a sonar technician, had to sell one of the two cars he owned and needed five crates to move his household goods from San Diego to Hawaii before he could report to Pearl Harbor's newest warship, the USS O'Kane. The Navy only pays to ship one car.

Veronica Gonzales, whose husband, Petty Officer Michael Gonzales, is a sonar technician on the O'Kane, said she was concerned about finding a job and, for her 7-year-old daughter, the right school.

Then there were the stories she had heard about Hawaii's bugs.

Kelly Charles was told that "nobody wore shoes in Hawaii. ... We were also told that there were a lot of bugs, and I was prepared for anything -- even 9-inch millipedes."

"I don't like snakes, and millipedes fall into that same category," said the former Pennsylvania native.

A week to prepare

Yet despite all their initial misgivings, many of the sailors and dependents of the O'Kane said the transition to island living has been smooth.

The O'Kane -- the Navy's newest and most advanced guided-missile destroyer -- will steam into Pearl Harbor tomorrow morning and will be formally piped into official service Oct. 23. It will be only the second ship to be christened at Pearl Harbor. The first was the cruiser USS Lake Erie, commissioned on July 24, 1993.

Florea, 30, is one of the 292 enlisted sailors and 26 officers assigned to the O'Kane, named after a World War II Medal of Honor submariner.

Nearly half of the O'Kane's crew is married, and skipper Cmdr. David C. Hulse gave them the opportunity to fly to the islands to spend about a week to reserve housing and take care of other moving problems.

"We were happy to do that because moving to Hawaii can be very complicated," said Hulse via a satellite telephone interview.

"It was very beneficial, although it was tough to let the sailors go for a week or so at a very crucial time, but it did allow them to see what they were being offered in housing."

Michael Florea
One of the 292 enlisted sailors and 26 officers
assigned to the USS O'Kane, named after a
World War II Medal of Honor submariner.

About 40 of the 140 families connected with the O'Kane have already moved to the islands and will be on the docks at Pearl Harbor eagerly awaiting their spouses and fathers.

Lt. Angelo Vigil, O'Kane's supply officer, noted that "it is very challenging duty building a new ship ... and it is very, very time-consuming."

Vigil, 31, said Hulse wanted to take some of the pressure off the families and the ship's crew by giving them the chance to get an advance peek at their new duty station.

Construction on the O'Kane -- the 27th destroyer in the Navy's Arleigh Burke class -- began May 8, 1997. Still, though many had received orders for the O'Kane and Hawaii nearly a year ago, most of the crew didn't report to the ship at Bath Ironworks in Maine until June.

Kelly Charles was pregnant with the couple's youngest son, Zachary, so she and her husband put their household goods in storage, and she went to live with her parents in Pennsylvania while her husband worked in Maine.

She did fly to Maine on several occasions to visit her husband and timed her visits with the "home-port moving fairs" sponsored by the Navy where information about Hawaii's economy, schools, housing, jobs and recreational activities was made available from representatives sent from the islands.

"I left with a backpack full of brochures and pamphlets," said Charles, whose husband has been in the Navy for 10 years. This was the couple's second move and the longest so far in their marriage.

Schools a concern

Veronica Gonzales, who remained in San Diego, said she talked to many people who were stationed here. "A lot of them liked it," said Gonzales, whose husband has been in the Navy for 12 years and had spent one tour at Pearl Harbor. "Some didn't, so we came here with an open mind."

While in San Diego, Gonzales worked as a teacher's aide in an elementary school. She would like to obtain a degree in education during the two years her husband will be stationed at Pearl Harbor.

Although Gonzales said she had heard from Navy people who were so disappointed in island schools that they chose to send their children to private schools, she decided to give the public school system a try.

Her daughter has been in a public elementary school since August, and "I have no complaints," Gonzales added.

Charles, whose husband serves as a quartermaster and navigator on the O'Kane, had heard about the high cost of quarantining pets in Hawaii.

But that isn't the reason she left behind her two dogs.

"We missed them tremendously," Clark added, "but I would not subject them to a 12-hour flight from the mainland, and also there was the apprehension that they could have been bumped anywhere along the flight."

Clark also said her dogs now live on a farm with her parents where they have much more room.

Pacific Fleet’s new
destroyer named for
sub commander

It cost $900 million to construct the 504-foot Arleigh Burke-class destroyer -- which will be the 12th warship to join the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor tomorrow.

The destroyer is named after Rear Adm. Richard H. O'Kane, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his attack on two Japanese convoys while commanding the submarine Tang in 1944.

Under O'Kane the Tang racked up five war patrols, sinking 31 ships and damaging two other ships, a record unsurpassed by any other U.S. submarine.

During its fifth and final patrol, the Tang sank 13 Japanese ships. In its last battle Tang fired two torpedoes at a crippled transport ship. The first struck its target. The second was faulty. It turned and headed for the Tang. Unable to maneuver to safety, the Tang was hit by its own torpedo.

Only nine crew members survived and were picked up by a Japanese destroyer eight hours later.

O'Kane was first imprisoned on Formosa and later transferred to a secret prison camp near Tokyo, but his whereabouts was never acknowledged by the Japanese until the camp was liberated.

The O'Kane will undergo several shakedown cruises after its commissioning Oct. 23. Much of the training and testing on its new combat systems equipment will be done on the ocean range off the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai.

That will be followed by 18 months of training and preparation for its first Western Pacific deployment sometime between March and July 2000.

Gregg K. Kakesako, Star-Bulletin

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