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Culture & Artsby Fern Shen11:57 amOct 17, 20160

Blue Angels bring thrills, ship triggers immigrant’s memories

Fleet Week spectacles had a powerful effect on some visitors

Above: Torri Randle with mother Debbie Randle (seated left) and caregiver Joyce Harrington watching the Blue Angels perform in Baltimore. (Fern Shen)

For Blue Angels groupies like Debbie Randall and her daughter Torri Randle, who have seen the daredevil Navy aviators perform many times, the moment never gets old.

“Oh, I hear them!” Debbie said yesterday, grabbing Torri’s shoulder.

The high-up hissing sound drew the gaze of the Randles and every passenger on the commercial tour boat “Raven” to the cloudless blue sky above Baltimore.

“There’s your angels, baby!” Debbie Randle said, as the sound swelled to a thundering roar and one of the blue-and-yellow F-18’s streaked across the sky trailing a plume of white behind.

The mother and daughter from Fredericksburg, Va., had come to Baltimore specifically to see the Blue Angels, who performed over the weekend as part of the Maryland Fleet Week & Air Show taking place at the Inner Harbor and elsewhere on the city’s waterfront.

The Blue Angels flying over Baltimore in their famously tight formation. (Fern Shen)

The Blue Angels flying over Baltimore in their famously tight formation. (Fern Shen)

The Blue Angels streak over Fort McHenry. (Fern Shen)

With sonic booms bursting in air, the Blue Angels streak over Fort McHenry. (Fern Shen)

Randle had tried to book a single weekend at a Harborview condo (“I told the woman my daughter is a special needs child who loves the Blue Angels!”), but the deal fell through and they wound up at the Royal Sonesta hotel.

The $57 three-hour boat tour they joined, taking passengers out to a prime view-spot in the harbor just off Fort McHenry, turned out to be perfect for the Randles and Torri’s caregiver Joyce Harrington.

For them, the fun started even before the boat left the dock and the crew played pop tunes and “God Bless the USA.” Torri, sporting a Blue Angels souvenir tee shirt, knew the lyrics and sang along to nearly every song.

Promoting the Navy

The display of billions of dollars worth of U.S. Navy might, skill and technology was expected to draw 500,000 visitors to the the week-long event ending today. Along with the airshows Saturday and Sunday, there were ship tours, meet-and-greets with pilots and other activities.

There was a guided-missile cruiser, an amphibious transport dock and a guided-missile destroyer. Elsewhere in Baltimore a number of other events, including the Baltimore Running Festival, made for a festive weekend across the city, not just at the shiny waterfront.

For Fleet Week organizers, the $4 billion-plus destroyer USS Zumwalt, docked at Locust Point, was clearly the trophy vessel. The odd-shaped, fez-topped warship, designed to confuse enemy radar and escape detection, was commissioned on Saturday in an invitation-only VIP ceremony. A city police boat guarded it Sunday.

For one visitor though, it was a supply ship, also sporting sophisticated design, that grabbed his attention.

The 338-foot-long USNS Carson City – essentially a giant aluminum-clad catamaran designed to rapidly transport 600 tons of cargo and hundreds of troops – was docked at Pier 5.

For Homer Shen, my father, the Carson City made him think of the decommissioned U.S. Navy transport ship that brought him from Shanghai to San Fransisco almost 70 years ago.

fleet week homer shen usns carson city

The Navy’s rapid-transport supply ship Carson City brought back memories: It was 69 years ago that Homer Shen came to America from Shanghai in an older model U.S. Navy supply ship. (Fern Shen)


“It was the USS General M.C. Meigs. The Navy transferred it to the American President Lines,” Shen said, looking at the huge, shiny, modern descendant of the Meigs.

He doesn’t remember too much about the trip in 1947 other than that the boat was pitching and rolling so much his glass of scotch slid back and forth on the bar. But rough seas didn’t stop him from downing his drink.

“Not too many people could do it,” he recalled. “A lot of people were throwing up, right there in front of you.”

I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have done it, though I joined him yesterday.

On the calm waters of Baltimore’s harbor, marveling at the Blue Angels along with our new acquaintances Debbie and Torri, I had a pale ale and Dad knocked back a scotch on the rocks – once again with no problem.

Enjoying yesterday's Blue Angels Airshow (l-r) Joyce Harrington, Debbie Randle and Torri Randle. (Fern Shen)

Enjoying yesterday’s Blue Angels Airshow are (l-r) Joyce Harrington, Debbie Randle and Torri Randle. (Fern Shen)

Homer Shen enjoys a prime view of the Blue Angels' performance over Baltimore. (Fern Shen)

Homer Shen has a prime view of the Blue Angels over Baltimore. (Fern Shen)

Formation flying at yesterday's air show. (Fern Shen)

Formation flying at yesterday’s air show. (Fern Shen)

Aereal skill display during Fleet Week Baltimore. (Fern Shen)

My father watching the show. (Fern Shen)

Sparkling water and blue sky: My father surveys the scene. (Fern Shen)

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