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McCowns watch U.S. Navy in action

Kyle McCown will remember last week his entire life – it’s the week the Ironton Middle Schooler became a sailor.

Friday, September 21, 2001

Kyle McCown will remember last week his entire life – it’s the week the Ironton Middle Schooler became a sailor.

"We went up on the bridge, and they showed us where everything was," Kyle said, telling about the night after eating dinner with the Captain.

Then, the helmsman asked Kyle if he wanted to take the wheel.

"You drive it like a car I just turned it a little."

But the 10-year-old kept the USS Cleveland on course – steered the 570-feet long, 16,500 tons displaced U.S. Navy vessel through blue Pacific waters.

Kyle and his grandfather, Ironton attorney and ex-Navy man David McCown, were guests of the executive officer onboard the landing transport dock (LPD) ship, sailing from Hawaii to San Diego, Calif.

Lt. Cmdr. David Hogsten is McCown’s niece’s husband. The Navy allows what’s called "Tiger cruises" with family members.

The trip was no Caribbean cruise with midnight buffets, either, McCown said.

Both were up at 6 a.m., ate Navy chow with the sailors, had to learn fire safety procedures and visited each section of the ship, for example.

"We got a compartment built for six for four of us," he said. "That’s damn good for the Navy."

During his Navy days in the 1950s, crewmen slept in berths, or bunks, stacked four high.

And, although the two received officers’ privileges because they were guests of an officer, they filled their days with learning how the ship worked, from boiler room to bridge.

"If you wanted your certificate you had to fill up a booklet, Personal Qualifications Standards, with everybody’s initials," McCown said, adding the booklet also tested ship’s knowledge.

They enjoyed an ice cream social one night, and watched a movie – "Pearl Harbor" – shown on the flight deck. Other times, they walked with Marines, looking at their armed transports.

Kyle said he liked watching the exercises, too. Marines practiced rescues and took target practice. Navy gunners fired their weapons and practiced with the Phalanx CIWS, a radar-guided gun that fires 4,500 rounds per minute.

"I didn’t know they had that many guns on board I didn’t think the ship would be all that big," he said.

Then, there was the day, Sept. 11, that the USS Cleveland unloaded the dummy rounds from its guns and armed them with live ammunition.

Kyle and his grandfather will remember that for a long time, too.

"The captain would come on the intercom two or three times a day with the latest news they had," McCown said, adding that satellite reception was infrequent.

"We went to what they call Threat Con Delta," he said. "It was what they had been on in the last six months in the (Persian) Gulf."

That lasted only about a day after the terrorist attacks, but the two watched hundreds of sailors and hundreds of Marines as they became instantly ready to protect America.

"I’ve said it before, if that ship is any indication about the rest of the fleet, we’re well prepared," McCown said. "The men were dedicated and ready they didn’t hesitate when a condition of war was set.

"Everybody we talked to on the ship were ready to go do their job."

Kyle felt safe then, and he still feels safe – even as the president declares war on terrorism.

The country’s safe, he said, meaning his first-hand look at the troops last week impressed him. He smiles, with no worries on his face.

"I felt like when he went to sea he was a boy, and he came back a young man," his grandfather said.

The two arrived at San Diego on Sept. 14, watching as the crew lined the deck and hundreds of family members cheered form shore.

They took home with them memories of their tours of Honolulu, Pearl Harbor memorials, luaus memories of U.S. Navy life, sounds of war weapons and the comfort of knowing America’s fighting men and women are on the job.