Saying Goodbye to Ned

 

                      -The best thing we ever did

On 10 August 2000 our classmate and friend Ned Walsh died of cancer at his home in Canton, Mississippi after a long fight. Ned had contracted the disease a number of years prior, and had fought it into remission. When he and his wife Lucy attended our 35th class reunion in 1998 the cancer had returned and he was again fighting it; for the last time as it turned out…but he was there to be with the guys who had gone through the U.S. Naval Academy and graduated with him in June 1963. To grasp the significance of this story you must understand the relationship between classmates of USNA’s 6th Company, Class of ’63. We are and always have been a very closely knit group. The experience of surviving Plebe Year at USNA, and then completing the remaining three years in that pressure cooker environment bonds you together for life. For some reason the 6th Company seems to have held onto the bonds developed as Midshipmen a little more tightly than other companies of our class. I’ve previously written of our recent 45th reunion. Reading that story may give you insight into this. (See http://www.mofack.com/6th_company_musters_annapolis.htm )

 

                     Ned Walsh. 6th Company, U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 1963-R.I.P.

In any case, as Ned neared the end of life, we wanted to do something, so on an early Saturday morning in late July 2000 nine of us boarded a Southwest Airlines plane at Baltimore Washington International airport and flew to Jackson, Mississippi. We were joined by three other classmates who came from different locations. Those 6th Company members in attendance were Bill and Dottie Hughes, Dick and Julie Arvedlund, Lionel Banda, Bruce Allit, Tony DeSantis, Dick Williams, Bob Borlet, Frank Gregory, Jim Carter and yours truly. We arrived mid morning and rented enough cars to get us to Canton, which is about 20 some miles northeast of Jackson. Lionel suggested that we stop at a grocery store and pick up some beer in accordance with 6th Company tradition, so we did just that. It turned out that wasn’t necessary because upon arrival at Ned’s house we discovered that numerous cases had already been put on ice in anticipation of our arrival. We just added our stash to the reserve pile of cases.

So we spent the day with Ned and Lucy. Ned was in pretty bad shape. He could walk with assistance, and his speech was slightly slurred, undoubtedly from pain medications, but he held court from an easy chair in his living room or on his screened in back porch. He could not drink alcoholic beverages, but encouraged us to do so, and the beer and wine flowed. Stories from Midshipman days and active duty days crisscrossed the room. There were a lot of laughs and a few tears as we relived our past glories. About mid afternoon Lucy rang the dinner bell and we all proceeded to the dining room for a sumptuous meal that she had prepared. The stories continued as we ate and laughter filled the room.

As evening approached we finally had to depart to catch our flight back to Baltimore. We said our tearful goodbyes knowing that this would be the last time we would see Ned. The flight back was a somber one with each of us lost in our own thoughts…memories of Ned. After an hour’s drive from Baltimore we arrived home at around 2200-2300…can’t remember exactly. It had been an extremely long and tiring day, but a day well worth the effort.

During the several weekends after our visit, four other 6th Company mates visited Ned. They were Clyde Van Arsdall, Austin Seay, Chuck Maclin and Mike Lents. On the last Saturday night Ned ignored doctor’s orders and shared wine with his classmates. He died on the following day.

When we leave this life the most important thing is to be surrounded by immediate family, and when Ned left us that was the case. But we were also able to surround Ned with others who were important to him…his buddies from Navy days. For there is a special love that exists between those who have worn the Navy blue and who "On Severn’s shores, learned Navy’s stern call", as the song says. We made ourselves available to Ned during his last days. Some of his last living memories were of his buds from the Naval Academy. I cannot imagine a better way to go out than to be surrounded by family and by those who became warriors with you when you were young. We went to Ned when he most needed to be around those who mattered, and like the title of this story says…it was the best thing we ever did.

Rest in peace, Ned. You were a good man and a good friend and are missed by us all. You are always remembered at 6th Company reunions…always. We are all better men for having known you.

Semper Fi

Dirck Praeger sends