Painting on the wall of Naval Regional Medical Center, San Diego
I just got back from a visit to San Diego with seven other cartoonists, visiting the Naval Regional Medical Center San Diego (AKA Balboa), the VA Medical Center in La Jolla, and USS BONHOMME RICHARD (LHD 6). As always, we were blown away by the quality and character of our men and women in uniform.
On the trip (in order L to R): Jeff Bacon, Bruce Higdon (Army cartoonist and caricaturist), Jeff Keane (Family Circus), Chad Carpenter (Tundra), Stephen Silver (Kim Possible and caricaturist), Michael Ramirez (two-time Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist for Investors Business Daily), Mason Mastroianni (B.C.), and Greg Evans (Luann).
The veterans at the VA in La Jolla were a great bunch – they chided each other (and us) mercilessly, and the hooting and hollering could probably be heard all through the hospital.
Active duty troops who are hurt in Iraq or Afghanistan and live or work on the west coast are often transferred to San Diego so they can be closer to home, and we were privileged to meet many of them. As usual, their morale was sky high and their attitudes were an inspiration. They were already looking beyond their injuries and getting ready for the next phase in their lives.
Our job was to draw funny pictures, but mostly we just talked and listened. Recovery from wounds can take years, and our task was to put a smile on a few faces and act as a reminder that millions of Americans are thinking about them – and appreciate what they have done on our behalf.
Jeff Keane presents a poster to the troops at Balboa
On Friday USS BONHOMME RICHARD hosted us for a cartooning visit as the mighty ship returned to San Diego after a two week at sea period (read the Navy.mil article here). This was a new experience for the artists, and the crew really made us feel welcome. The ship flew us out by helo.
Flying in a helo with a bunch of cartoonists … well, let’s just say discipline isn’t what it should be.
Michael Ramirez reflects on his flight over the open ocean
(The pad reads, “I wish I hadn’t watched ‘Shark Week’ all last week”)
Condensation fell out of this access port, onto the lap of our Pulitzer Prize winner.
After the short flight out, we set up in the mess decks and drew until our arms fell off. What an inspiration to meet all those young men and women, knowing that they will soon be the tip of the spear in defense of our nation. We’re in darned good hands if you ask me.
The Commanding Officer of BONHOMME RICHARD is Captain John Funk.
Jeff Keane and CAPT Funk
He is an inspirational and enthusiastic skipper, and the mood of the ship reflected his approach to life. He even displays a duplicate of the mug used in “Twelve O’Clock High”, and just like in the movie, it faces outward whenever the ship is underway.
He told us about the history of Bonhomme Richard, and the honor of commanding a ship whose ancestor was commanded by John Paul Jones himself. We all could sense his pride and humility in leading such a superb bunch of Sailors and Marines. We were all ready to join up, except we knew we would never pass the physical.
The Armed Service YMCA and USO representatives, as well as the staff at the VA medical center, were focused on the troops they serve with an intensity you can feel. Many are volunteers and if you ever need a place to spend your time or send your CFC donations, they could use your help.
It was a fantastic experience for us, but in the end we were left with a deep sense of respect for the men and women who serve – and have served – our country in the military. They work hard for us, they bleed for us, and when the going gets rough they fight through the challenges to keep charging forward.
The more troops I meet, the more I am convinced that our future rests securely in their hands, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.