June 14, 2011
Admiral Matt Nathan is commanding officer of the Naval Hospital at Bethesda. Its an important position, but no more important to him than his role as husband and father. He got a chance to demonstrate his devotion to his country and his family recently when he spoke at his wifes retirement from the Navy.
The admiral looked out at his wife, Captain Tammy Nathan, and their 13-year old daughter. And he surveyed the hundreds of guests who flocked to this event. My wife, a retired Navy captain, had helped Tammy make her decision to stay in the Navy nearly twenty years ago.
Matt Nathan began by recalling the memorial inscription to Sir Christopher Wren that he and his family had seen outside of St. Pauls Cathedral. It says of the great 17th century English architect: If you seek his monument, look around you. The hundreds of family members and guests at Tammys retirement were indeed a fitting monument to her and to her selfless work.
This petite and feisty lady had grown up in a trailer in a small town in West Virginia with her mother and sister. They had no phone, no TV. She joined the army first to get money for college. Then, she transferred to the Navy. In her most recent assignments, Tammy Nathan has made helping wounded warriors her mission. She does it with great dedication. Many of the wounded were among the crowd celebrating her career.
Matt Nathan told the assembled guests about one special evening with Tammy and her boys. It was a special outing for some of those hard-hit by wars cruel edge. Everything went well for the first hour or so. But as the evening wore on, one young Marine in his dress blues had a few beers. It may have been his first time out of the hospital setting. He had lost both his legs to an I.E.D. in Afghanistan. Generals and admirals noticed the young Marine sobbing. Everyone froze. No one knew quite what to do.
Tammy knew. She walked over and knelt down next to the Marine and embraced him. You are the best looking young man in the room tonight, she said soothingly. He sat up and smiled.
Tammy has that effect on many. Matt would go on to tell the folks why theirs was such a happy marriage. Tammy, of course, believes that hers is the family God wanted her to have and she publicly acknowledges her gratitude to Him for it.
And, too, Tammy knows everybody. The admiral spoke of copying down messages from their phone one night. Tammys manicurist had left a voice mail. Yes, she could give Tammy a manicure the following week. Thanks, Tammy, Lorena.
Whos this Lorena, Matt asked Tammy when she got home. Oh, thats my friend, Lorena Bobbitt. The crowd stirred as they remembered the world-wide notice Mrs. Bobbitt got some years back. She had separated her unfaithful husband from his unfaithful part as he slept. You see, she really does know everybody, Matt said.
The ceremony concluded, as so many of these military retirements do, with the folding of the American flag. Its an elaborate ritual, with each fold given meaning. The Blue Star Mothers of Northern Virginia website tells us about this ritual and why it means so much to us.
In Captain Tammy Nathans case, there was something special in this ritual. Her flag had been flown in her honor over the post office in her little mountain town and over the state capitol of West Virginia in Charleston.
Normally, the flag is folded by succeeding ranks of officers, starting with an ensign or second lieutenant, and going all the way up to captain or admiral. Then, the last, highest ranking officer hands the folded flag to the retiree or, in the case of a military funeral, to the next of kin. But this time, the American flag was handed to Tammy Nathan by a wounded warrior, an army Captain whom she had consoled and cared for. This young officer had been blinded by a terrorist.
His act of devotion should remind all of us who are gifted with sight of the honor due our flag, the symbol of our country. It represents their sacrifices. Lets remember this scene today, on Flag Day, and the next time we sing: O Say Can you See?