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Parents hope son's ship comes home on schedule

The USS Kearsarge is scheduled to come home for repairs in mid October. But military plans could change that.

By MELIA BOWIE

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 23, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Greg Hatfield was the last of three children born to the Rev. Rick Hatfield and his wife, Jan.

The St. Petersburg couple's youngest son weighed 12 pounds and arrived on the day his parents had planned a birthday party for their daughter. He was two weeks late and dubbed the "moose" of Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

Now his parents just hope their son, a Navy sailor aboard the USS Kearsarge, comes home in mid October as scheduled.

"I just want to give him the world's longest hug," Jan Hatfield said.

Greg Hatfield serves as an aviation boatswain's mate on the Kearsarge. The ship resembles a tiny aircraft carrier. Its mission is to send Marines into battle by helicopter, landing craft and Hovercraft. It carries helicopters and a few Harrier jump jets to provide air cover for a landing.

He left Florida State University after his freshman year, unsure of what he wanted to do and in need of more money for school. Onboard the Kearsarge, his tasks include everything from putting out fires aboard the ship to sweeping out hangars. But his main job is to drive a tractor to move aircraft around. It is not always the most glamorous role, but it is among the most essential.

As President Bush scrambles the military into position, the Kearsarge could be one of the ships on its way to the battle zone. Although the ship was scheduled to come home for a long repair in dry dock next month, it was last known to be in the Mediterranean Sea near Turkey. It may still come home. It may go to a war zone. His parents don't know, and their son can't tell them.

He sends e-mails at least every week.

Monday, Sept. 17, 2001 3:57 p.m.

Dear Everyone,

I'm doing very well. Today is a great day because I have now assumed the title of "Tractor King!" That's right. ... I am now responsible for driving the tractors that push and pull our aircraft on the hangar bay. ... Being the King also means a lot of paperwork, but it is worth it. I have to go. I will write more tomorrow. I hope you are all doing well. I will talk to you soon.

Love,

King Squid

He always signs his e-mails "Squid." Recent variations have included King Squid because he just became Tractor King; Fried Squid if he just put out a fire; Frozen Squid if his ship is in a cold zone. Squid started as a nasty nickname. He turned it into one of affection.

Here at home, the Rev. Hatfield ministers at Emmanuel Charismatic Episcopal Church in Pinellas Park. He and his wife awake early, anxious to turn on the television news. They are quick to talk about their close-knit family, Greg's childhood, even the attacks that changed a nation. But when it comes to how the United States should respond, the mother and the father pause for a moment.

"I guess I want the government to stop the spread of terrorism," Jan Hatfield said, rubbing her brow. "I hate the thought that service men and women would be killed. ... But they need to stop it."

When Jan Hatfield first heard that her son was interested in joining the Navy, he was still at FSU, a member of the school band.

"He called ... and said, 'What would you think of me going into the Navy?' And I said, well, it's peacetime; he'd be safe," she recalled. "Then we got a call two weeks later and he said, 'Mom, Dad, I think I'm in the Navy. ... I think I raised my right hand at the wrong time.' "

In their most recent phone call, on Wednesday, the first one since the attacks, Greg Hatfield could not tell his parents much.

"It was more for my benefit," Jan Hatfield said. "I just didn't want him to be afraid. I know he's 21 years old, but he's still my baby.

"Our conversation on the phone is very limited because you can't ask him where he is, where he's going. You just can't ask him much of anything, but last we talked he was still coming home in mid October."

The Hatfields are praying that this time, he won't be late.

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