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The Midway Foundation helps fund education programs, organizations, and initiatives that support America’s core values of service and sacrifice in the name of freedom. The Foundation developed the “Pillars of Freedom” granting program to support organizations that support uniformed military members, veterans and first responders.

“Since 2016, the Foundation has granted $2.7 million to 51 organizations,” said Laura White, President of the Midway Foundation. “And we won’t stop there.”

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, speaks at the award breakfast.

Grants have ranged from $5,000 to $90,000 over the past five years and have impacted more than 100,000 individuals. During an award breakfast in November, the 2022 grants totaling $305,000 were presented to 12 local organizations including the San Diego Armed Forces YMCA, the Fallen Officers Fund, Support The Enlisted Project (STEP), and the San Diego USO.

“It’s an extra special partnership we have with the Midway,” said Stan Schwartz, vice chairman of the Fallen Officers Fund. “Our organization supports law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty, helping financially the families of those officers. The Fund has helped more than 100 families cope with the loss of a loved one since 1998. We really appreciate the Midway Foundation for all their support.”

On hand for the grant announcement was Supervisor Nathan Fletcher who is chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors and former U.S. Marine Corps counterintelligence specialist, and Supervisor Joel Anderson, a strong proponent of veteran issues.

“Midway is a world-class destination for millions of folks that showcases the best of San Diego, the best of our service and the best of our culture,” said Nathan. “But what is sometimes lost, is not what the Midway does for its visitors, but how the Museum and its Foundation give back to the community. The Midway Foundation plays a vital role in supporting our community. It’s a story we need to tell more about.”

Another 2022 grantee was Support The Enlisted Project (STEP). STEP’s mission is to assist young military families who find themselves in a financial crisis through counseling, education and grants. The ultimate goal is to have these families build financial self-sufficiency.

STEP boasts an impressive success rate with only four percent of the families they help coming back into the program.

“What we do is only possible through the strong and dedicated support of the community,” said Tony Teravainen, CEO and co-founder of STEP. “I’m forever thankful to the Midway Foundation for their support.”

The Foundation is also building an endowment to support the museum’s education programs in perpetuity. In 2022, the Midway Foundation will take the lead on fundraising for Freedom Park at Navy Pier. To learn more about the Midway Foundation, contact Laura White at lwhite@midway.org.

As the longest-serving aircraft carrier in the 20th Century, the USS Midway has many secrets and hidden treasures that are still being uncovered today. 

While recently working in some ramshackle offices that were once used by the staff of Midway’s battle group commander, members of the museum’s restoration team found an old safe that hadn’t been touched in nearly 30 years. As they pried open the safe’s door, they revealed a handwritten note on the inside that had gone unseen for most of the last three decades.

“It was a fun find,” said Midway’s chief engineer, Len Santiago. “While tracing some low-pressure air lines that support aircraft elevator 1, our ship restoration volunteers, Harlan Lippincott and D.A. Walters, discovered the special message written on the inside of the safe’s door.”

It read, “SN Cosby was here from Nov. 17, 1989 to (Aug-April) 1992. Boy it was hell! But I guess I will miss this old rust bucket!”

But who was SN Cosby? The investigation began. 

Seaman Steven Cosby was stationed aboard Midway from 1989-1992.

Midway’s research library team jumped on the case and immediately began digging through old cruise books and reviewing its ever-growing database of former crewmembers.

In short order, they came up with their first lead.

“Steven James Cosby visited the library and filled out a former Midway crewmember sheet,” said Bonnie Brown, one of Midway’s lead librarians who found his name in the crew file. “Unfortunately, he did not leave an email address or a phone number.”

The pursuit continued. Troy Prince, another of Midway research librarians and the founder of MidwaySailor.com, went fishing by posting a series of messages on several Midway-related social media sites. Within a few days, contact with Steven Cosby had been made.

“The Midway research library would love to talk to you,” said an excited Troy in a follow-up Facebook note to Steven.

Steven, equally excited, reached out to Midway.

The Norwalk, Calif. native joined the Navy directly out of high school and arrived on Midway shortly before the start of Operation Desert Storm in late 1989. He stayed with the ship from the war, through its decommissioning and ultimately to her transfer to the Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility’s ghost fleet at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Wash. in summer 1992.

“I don’t even remember doing it,” said Steven, who currently works for the U.S. Army’s Aviation Supply Command Los Alamitos. “I guess I wanted to leave something behind, a piece of me. I think a part of me was going to miss the Midway and experiences that I had on board.”

While the search for Steven was underway, his photo was found in the ship’s 1989-1990 cruise book, which listed him as airman working in Midway’s air department. However, the note he left on the safe door in 1992 indicated that he was a seaman.

“We worked really hard chalking and chaining, and moving aircraft around,” said Steven, who, as an airman, was assigned to Midway’s V-3 hangar-deck division when he first got to the ship. “One day I met a fella who worked for the ship’s post office and he told me that they were short-handed and could use the help. I started going there on my time off and helping out. I got to know everyone and they suggested that I transfer.”

Shortly after transferring, Steven passed his exam and went from an airman to a seaman postal clerk.

“We built strong bonds of brotherhood on sweat and tears. We would die for one another if we had to. We would die for Midway.”

“I started out by sorting the mail and holding the ship’s mail call,” said Steven, who lives in Stanton, Calif. “I would wait for the C-2 Greyhound cargo plane to land and offload the mail. I would hold mail call every day, sometimes multiple times a day.”

Although he doesn’t recall writing the note, even after 30 years, he can reflect on why he wrote “boy it was hell” and “I will miss this old rust bucket” on the door of the safe.

“I think that I was referring the hard work and jobs that we all had to endure during our time there, and the Desert Storm war had most of us working 12 to 16-hours shifts,” said Steven. “But I made many friends during my time there and we all went through the same things together. We built strong bonds of brotherhood on sweat and tears. We would die for one another if we had to. We would die for Midway.”

After leaving Midway, Steven spent his final year in the Navy at Naval Base San Diego. He then spent four years in the California Army National Guard.

Steven Cosby today with his son Steven Jr.

Steven still has fond memories of his time on Midway and stays in contact with many of his former shipmates. In fact, it was one of his old Midway buddies that let him know the museum’s library staff was trying to find him. His greatest treasure, however, from his time on Midway is still with him today.

“I met my wife of 30 years in Yokosuka, Japan, which was Midway’s homeport from 1973 to 1992,” said Steven, who has visited Midway twice since it became a floating naval ship museum. “I am very proud to have been part of the Midway Magic and her crew. I am forever grateful to the United States Navy and its leadership for transforming me into the man I am today.”

As the USS Midway Museum continues its emergence from the pangs of COVID-19, the museum owes much of its success, as it did pre-pandemic, to the tremendous efforts of our volunteers. From safety, to restoration, to docents, and everything in between, our volunteers are the face of and muscle behind Midway being San Diego’s top attraction.

The gradual return to normalcy has also allowed for the resumption of the Volunteers of Month accolades. As it has been over the history of the museum, volunteers continue to shine across the board.

“I am constantly inspired and in awe of the skills and values that Midway volunteers bring to the team and our culture,” said Laurie Switzer, director of volunteer programs. “So many are deserving of this recognition.”

With great celebration, we give a big Midway shout-out to the performances of six stellar volunteers from the second half of 2021.

Liza Aguirre-Oviedo, Library – June 2021

Liza has been an inspiration for Midway since joining the team in 2016.

As the museum navigated an uncertain course through the pandemic, Liza was a constant beacon of hope, keeping her library teammates connected through a weekly program of continuing education Zoom meetings. Organizing a diverse series of presenters from all over the country, she created a unique and exciting forum for discussion and learning.

A primary focus for Liza has been her contributions to the Proceedings project, which is a long-term effort by the library to digitize the contents of Proceedings magazine, an important monthly publication of the U.S. Naval Institute. Over the course of the past several years, nearly 12,500 articles from more than 1,300 Proceedings issues have been digitized. Liza, who has contributed more than 1,400 volunteer hours, is fascinated with the Proceedings project because of its historic significance.

“Liza is an extraordinary volunteer, as she is the most enthusiastic and cheerful member of our team,” said Dave Hanson, Midway’s curator. “She has been the leader of our children’s book drive, our holiday decorating, and been involved in many other library projects. Liza inspires all of us to go the extra mile.”

Liza is gracious, warm and welcoming, and continues to be instrumental in maintaining library team spirit.

Vicki Peyton, Safety Department – July 2021

The question isn’t what does Vicki Peyton do, it’s what DOESN’T she do. A volunteer since 2015, Vicki has more than 2,000 volunteer hours. Long known as a weekend warrior, she’s a safety lead as well as a member of the Midway’s outreach team. She does all this and still holds down a full-time job as a paralegal.

As one of the safety department’s training officers, she has also assisted in training new members of the safety team.

Vicki is always looking for new opportunities to contribute. From assisting with crowd management during events to supporting our education department with the museum’s youth overnight programs, she can always be counted on to step to the plate.

“Vicki’s leadership skills led her to become a safety training officer, then a safety lead, where she now serves for the Sunday safety team and as an event’s safety lead,” said Dominick Boccia, Midway’s safety director. “Her warm and vibrant personality is infectious and adds to her role as a leader for daily operations and special events.”

Vicki is a big reason behind the success and safe operation of the museum.

Tom Herskowitz, Docent – August 2021

With 200 combat missions over the skies of Vietnam and a graduate of the Navy’s Top Gun strike-fighter instructor program, Tom Herskowitz is a docent who loves sharing his fascinating Navy experiences with guests. 

A docent since 2017 with nearly 5,000 volunteer hours, Tom stands out because of his ability to see what needs to be done and his willingness to do it. There’s no more perfect example of how Tom supported Midway than when the museum’s operations were shut down due to COVID-19.

To maintain morale and keep communication flowing amongst docent corps, Tom began facilitating a continuing education program with regular Zoom seminars and meetings. These sessions became a critical lifeline that allowed those volunteers who were unable to return to the ship the opportunity to remain connected with each other.

“Tom is our go-to expert in all things Zoom,” said Jim Reily, director of docent programs. “He has guided hundreds of volunteers, many of whom are uneasy with technology, in using Zoom for meetings and for socializing. His tireless efforts during the COVID shutdown not only kept our docent team engaged and motivated, but ensured they were once again ready to inspire, educate and entertain our guests when they returned to Midway.”

Many Midway volunteers wanted to maintain their camaraderie during the lock-down and Tom was the conduit that kept the docent esprit de corps alive and well.

Felix Zamora, Photographer – September 2021

Felix is always there. Describing his support of Midway as proactive would be an understatement. Not only can Felix, who has more than 1,600 volunteer hours, be relied on to provide photographic services for all marketing-related events, but he routinely photographs membership, military and special events, as well as volunteer and staff activities. 

The quality of his work is consistently outstanding. You only have to read Currents each quarter to get a glimpse of Felix’s photographic prowess. 

Coupled with his photography skills is his contagious positive demeanor. His outstanding personality and attitude resonates with staff, volunteers, guests and clients. A volunteer since 2012, he continues to be one of Midway’s finest ambassadors.

“We are extremely fortunate to have Felix as a priceless member of the Midway family,” said David Koontz, the museum’s marketing director. “He’s a wonderful photographer who is always ready to help. On top of that, he just an all-around great guy.”

To ensure the best quality imagery, he also keeps ahead of the curve on the latest photographic technology. Rain or shine, Felix never misses a beat for Midway.

Mike Bojanowski, Safety Department – October 2021

New to Midway, Mike joined the museum in April 2021. Within in a few weeks, however, he was taking a leadership role on the safety team. A retired Navy hospital corpsman, he immediately began to enhance the museum’s first aid and CPR training program.

Over the past several months, Mike has worked tirelessly at getting his teaching certifications and setting up a program for Midway through the Red Cross. Mike is currently in the process of getting the safety staff certified through an on-line training program. He then provides additional hands-on training on the ship.

“Mike jumped in and resuscitated our Red Cross training program after we lost our longtime certified lead trainer,” said Steve Suslik, Midway’s safety operations specialist and volunteer coordinator. “His positive can-do attitude helped him overcome numerous hurdles imposed due to the pandemic as well as a lot of red tape with the Red Cross. We knew he had the skills and experience for the task, but his persistence and knowledge of the Red Cross system has paid off in a big way.”

Mike also continues to volunteer as a registered nurse for the Red Cross, but we’re delighted he’s now part of the Midway team.

John & Joyce Sunde, Knot Team – November 2021

John and Joyce Sunde are the dynamic duo of Midway’s Knot Team. John joined the museum as a docent in 2005 and his wife Joyce came on board in 2016. Together, they’ve amassed more than 7,000 hours of volunteer time and for the past five years have been a driving force behind the success of the Knot Team.

They regularly work at the knot tables on the weekends collecting donations and making custom order bracelets for guests. They also work diligently at home producing knotted items for the museum and over the last six months have produced approximately 2,000 bracelets with a value of more than $15,000. 

“We are very grateful that John and Joyce are so generous with their time and talents,” said Katie Andersen, Midway’s guest service manager who helps oversee the Knot Team. “Not only can they be regularly found on board sharing the story of the Knot Team with our guests, but the number of bracelets they continually make has resulted in significant contributions to our scholarship fund. Their support of Midway and our BZ scholarship fund is truly inspiring.”

Their dedicated and passionate efforts have contributed significantly to Midway Magic.

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Actually, it was lemurs and eagles and gators, oh boy!

Midway’s family night rang loudly with squeals, caws and purrs as some of the world most amazing exotic animals took over the ship’s hangar deck.

“Having the opportunity to be so close to exotic animals allows you to get a sense of their personality and see what makes them special,” said Katie Anderson, Midway’s guest service manager. “Getting to feel an alligator’s skin and admire a bald eagle’s stature from just feet away gives you a greater appreciation for the animal kingdom.”

More than 300 Midway staff, volunteers and their families had the unique opportunity to meet animals that most people would ever have the chance to see in the wild.

Conservation Ambassadors, a rescue zoo and animal sanctuary in Paso Robles, provides a permanent, loving home for displaced, abused, abandoned or permanently injured wild and exotic animals. Their educational outreach programs connect the public to these animals which helps inspire them to protect the planet.

“This was the first time we’ve ever done one of our animal conservation presentations on a naval ship,” said David Jackson, founder and CEO of Conservation Ambassadors. “What a treat it was to meet everyone on the Midway. It was the best time we’ve all had in years and years.”

Midway curator David Hanson and his new best-friend-forever, Bicari, a ring-tailed lemur.

David and his team presented a wide array of animals including a ring-tailed lemur named Bicari; Spike, an eight-foot American alligator; a bald eagle named Glory; Sophia, a regal-looking Eurasian eagle-owl; and Tarzan, a playful seven-month-old red kangaroo. David also had special animal guest named Route, a tiny seven-week-old capuchin monkey that he and his team rescued and are now hand-raising.

“Having the lemur encounter was especially great, as they are a favorite animal of mine ever since I took a course in primatology from the San Diego Zoo back when I was in high school,” said David Hanson, the museum’s curator. “I love lemurs because they are like a cross between a cat and a monkey.”

Over the past 25 years, Conservation Ambassadors has educated more than 1 million students and others all over the country through animal presentations from California to Florida to Texas. Their presentation on Midway heavily emphasized animal conservation and environmental protection.

“We’re all connected in our world, so sharing our animals with as many people as possible, especially kids, is essential,” said Lisa Jackson, Conservation Ambassadors’ assistant director. “The folks from the Midway, and their kids, had a great time learning about how critical taking care of the environment is to the survival of these important animal species. This is what it’s all about.”

“The presentation showed me that rehabilitation and conservation works,” said Emily Duncan, one of Midway’s event sales and service managers. “Humans sometimes go to extremes to save our wildlife, but these efforts work and this is why we are able to have these incredible animals with us today.”

Any educator will tell you the best way to learn is to have fun. Family night not only brought out perpetual smiles but also drew the Midway crew closer together.

“Our front-line staff and volunteers work year-round to bring Midway Magic to our guests,” said Katie. “It was rewarding to see them bring their friends and family to an event that allowed them unique access to animals. All of the happy faces that evening were proof that animals are a great source of joy and comfort.”

Midway event sales and service manager Emily Duncan with Tarzan, a red kangaroo.

“Having this opportunity to come together to enjoy each other’s presence, meet our families, and learn about some of the world’s most incredible animals made for a wonderful evening,” said Emily.

Bob and Curt Dosé enjoying an outing in San Diego after both had retired from the Navy.

He and his flight lead went supersonic in a high-g dive and pulled in behind two enemy MiGs as they lifted off from the runway at Kép Air Base 40 miles northeast of Hanoi. The MiGs broke hard left on takeoff, but the Navy F-4 Phantoms remained in close pursuit flying at tree-top level at more than 700 miles per hour. He fired a Sidewinder at the right-hand wingman, but it malfunctioned. He launched a second sidewinder. This one exploded in the MiG’s tailpipe. The plane destroyed. Its pilot killed.

Lt. Curt Dosé had just shot down a MiG-21 flow by Nguyen Van Ngai. His aerial kill turned out to be the start of the bloodiest day of air combat during the Vietnam War. On May 10, 1972, U.S. Navy and Air Force pilots shot down 11 MiGs in the skies over North Vietnam.

Low on fuel and out of missiles, Curt and his flight lead headed home to their aircraft carrier on Dixie Station in the South China Sea.

“We went back and did the traditional victory roll entering the break on the USS Constellation and came around and landed,” said Curt, a Phantom pilot with Fighter Squadron 92 (VF-92). “The ship was pretty excited.”

The shoot-down of an enemy aircraft in combat is the highest achievement for any military fighter pilot, but for Curt, his MiG kill put him into the most exclusive club he shares with no others.

“A friend of my dad, who was watching the Navy message traffic, saw my MiG kill announced and immediately called him at home in the middle of the night,” said Curt, a 1967 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. “Such a phone call with a son in combat would have scared me to death. Instead the caller said, ‘Your son Curt just bagged a MiG-21!’”

On that day in May 1972, Curt and his dad became the only father and son to both record aerial enemy kills in combat as fighter pilots.

Retired Navy Capt. Bob Dosé became a naval aviator 35 years earlier in 1937, and flew combat missions in the South Pacific from 1943 to 1944. From Rabaul to Bougainville and Tarawa to the Gilbert Islands, Bob was no stranger at dueling with enemy fighters as allied forces move westward towards Japan. During one of his many combat flights, he shot down a Japanese Zero.

For Bob, being a Navy pilot was the best job he ever had, but like so many World War II veterans, he rarely spoke of his combat experiences.

“Dad was very proud of his fighter squadron, VF-12, never losing a plane to enemy fighters,” said Curt, reflecting on his father’s career. “Interestingly enough, my Vietnam squadron, VF-92, also didn’t lose any attack planes to the MiGs. But we actually never talked much about his Zero kill. He was quiet about World War II.”

Bob Dosé served another 23 years following the end of the Second World War. One of his career highlights was becoming the 20th commanding officer of the USS Midway in 1961.

“My father was a legendary naval aviator, with many important commands,” said Curt, who ultimately became a Navy test pilot. “He loved the USS Midway. I remember him talking about how he brought the Midway to right off the Solana Beach kelp beds one day. We lived on the cliffs above Solana Beach.”

Curt retired from the Navy in 1979 ending more than 40 years of combined naval service by the Dosé family. His combat missions became quiet memories until 2016 when he was asked, along with several other Vietnam War veterans, to return to Hanoi to meet some of the pilots he had flown against more than four decades earlier.

“I was invited to go back to Vietnam with several Navy pilot friends, so this was comfortable,” said Curt. “Hey, we’d been there before.”

Introductions to former North Vietnamese pilots, tour of the war museum, great food and reliving old memories. All was going well.

Lt. Cmdr. Bob Dosé in 1942 during World War II.

“It went as expected until the TV interview,” said Curt, who flew for FedEx for nearly 30 years. “I was told that some of Ngai’s family wanted to meet me.”

For Curt, being introduced to the family of the pilot of the MiG he shot down was an emotional moment. The television crew took him to Ngai’s home where he met his entire family. He also visited Ngai’s grave and later ate dinner with his family complete with vodka toasts.

“It was special meeting Ngai’s sister,” remembered Curt. “She was very kind and understanding. The family uncle said, ‘We were proud of Ngai flying MiG-21s, but now we have a new fighter pilot – Curt Dosé. We hope he will come back and stay with us.’”

Before he left Vietnam, Curt was told that the road to the Ngai house would be renamed Dosé-Ngai Way.

“Vietnam is a beautiful place, especially the south,” said Curt. “They have no memory of the war. It’s young and moving fast. I feel like I had a hand in this.”

Now retired, Curt often reflects on both his and his father’s naval aviation careers.

“It is so interesting to see the progress from dad’s first biplane torpedo bomber to my F-4 and F-14,” said Curt, who flew more than 20 different aircraft while in the Navy. “It is fascinating to review our flight logbooks and see the difference between World War II and Vietnam flying.”

The more than 30 perfectly harmonized voices captivated the audience as they delivered an emotionally powerful rendition of “Sounds of the Sidewalk.” This was not the first time the Voices of Our City Choir has wowed the crowd.

Singing before hundreds of Midway members and guests on the USS Midway Museum during San Diego’s 50th annual Parade of Lights, the choir was as inspirational as they were entertaining.

Voices of Our City is not your run-of-the-mill choir. Co-founded in 2016 by Steph Johnson and Nina Deering, the choir is made up predominantly of people experiencing homelessness, including many unsheltered military veterans, as well as those who are living far below the poverty line where life remains a tremendous struggle.

“For me, our mission is our goal,” said Steph, a San Diego native who taught herself to play the guitar at age 20. “I want to change the perception and experience of homelessness through the healing power of music, individualized case management and advocacy.”

Voices of Our City Choir performs on board the USS Midway Museum.

The non-profit organization serves as a safe space for assistance and community building for the homeless. The choir has already helped more than 70 of its unsheltered members get into temporary or permanent housing.

A grateful success story belongs to a military veteran who was homeless for seven years.

Mark Kaleimamahu has confronted many obstacles in his 63 years. A teenage parent at age 16, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps two years later to provide security for his young family.

“I am a proud Marine veteran and went to boot camp right here in San Diego,” said Mark, who rose to the rank of sergeant. “I love my time in the Corps.”

Even after leaving the service, Mark continued to face challenges over the years that made it difficult raising and supporting a family. Struggles with addiction, health issues and job losses contributed to his eventual homelessness.

Years of despair turned to hope, however, when Mark discovered the choir.

“My life changed by meeting Steph and Nina,” said Mark, a native of Hawaii. “We met weekly and embarked on the journey of music and love that has been like a dream for those experiencing homelessness in San Diego. I was captured by the music and people in the choir who are my family today.”

He is also no longer living on the street. For the past three years, Mark has enjoyed his own apartment in a local veterans’ complex.

“We are dedicated to making lasting change and the only way we will ever have an impact on the homelessness crisis is if we create opportunities where there are none,” said Steph, who has recorded multiple albums prior to starting the choir. “We are a bridge to creativity, to healing and rebuilding one’s self-awareness of their unlimited potential.”

Lorna De La Cruz, who spent 30 years in the Air Force, has also found sanctuary with the choir. While she’s never experienced homelessness, she gravitated strongly to the therapeutic nature of the organization.

“To bring humanity and voice to our unsheltered neighbors resonated powerfully,” said Lorna, the daughter of a Marine Corps veteran. “Voices helps me learn more about the importance of having the basic essentials for every human. I have become more aware, compassionate, and motivated to help others experiencing being unsheltered. Many of my fellow choir members teach me about resilience, courage, and perseverance.”

An unexpected but welcome spotlight was focused on the choir nationally when, in 2020, they made it to the semi-finals of

“America’s Got Talent” on NBC. The appearance on the prime-time network show was not only electrifying for the choir members, but it also brought broader attention to those who are unsheltered.

Voice of Our City Choir competing on “America’s Got Talent” television show in 2020.

“The choir learned so much from the experience and had fun being on the show,” said the 41-year-old Steph. “It also gave us the opportunity to talk about homelessness issues on a national platform, which helped bring greater awareness to many of the problems people are facing today.”

“From the streets to the stage has been the experience of a lifetime for me,” said Mark.

While now well known for their performances, the deeper purpose of the choir continues to be uplifting those who need a helping hand.

“Voices has helped me put real faces and genuine life stories to impersonal statistics and places,” said Lorna, who is currently working on her Ph. D. in education. “Our choir focuses on dignity and humanity.”

For Steph, there is no separation between herself and the people she meets, and her spirit remains centered in kindness.

“We are one heartbeat, sharing the experience of life,” said Steph, an award-winning recording artist whose music is a blend of jazz, soul, funk and blues. “I want the choir members to be better connected to self-care and love. We have become a family and every day I wake up in joy. I have found my purpose and I am grateful.”

A San Diego native, Gary Chapman grew up in Navy town. As a boy, he watched with fascination naval ships steaming in San Diego Bay as well as military aircraft flying from Naval Air Station North Island. So it was no surprise what his future held.

“Sailing in the bay growing up, watching the ships and seeing the seaplanes take off and land, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion the Navy would be my branch of service,” said Gary, who graduated from Point Loma High School in 1962.

After graduating from the University of Utah on a Navy ROTC scholarship, Gary was commissioned an ensign and assigned to the destroyer USS Ault (DD-698). Later, as the gunnery officer on the destroyer USS Rogers (DD-876), his ship came under attack off the coast of North Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin during Operation Sea Dragon in 1967.

Gary Chapman

“The Rogers was bracketed by North Vietnamese artillery on one of our Sea Dragon firing missions,” remembered the 76-year-old Gary. “There was a big splash on the port bow, then a bigger splash off the starboard side aft. We went to right full rudder, all ahead flank, and returned counter-battery. Fortunately, the ship did not take a hit, but it was close.”

Combat operations for Gary didn’t end when he left the Rogers. His next tour kept him in Vietnam and even closer to the action. Assigned to River Assault Flotilla 1 (RAF 1), he spent a year in the Mekong Delta. 

“RAF 1 was a joint Army-Navy task force in the Mekong Delta and I was weapon’s boss on the USS Colleton, one of two mother ships for the RAF,” said Gary. “We had the 9th Army Division assigned to us and their smaller craft would tie up to pontoons we had lashed alongside.”

The Colleton, and another mother ship, would go up the main river channels as far as the Cambodian border. The smaller assault boats would carry Army troops up the smaller channels to seek out the enemy. The boats would return to the anchorage at night and the troops would sleep safely aboard the Colleton.

“The enemy learned quickly that it did not pay to launch rockets or shoot recoilless rifles at us while we were at anchorage as our return fire was devastating,” recalled Gary. “Many people didn’t realize how successful the mobile riverine force was. The enemy was effectively driven out of the area after some hard fighting.”

After leaving the Navy in 1972 and earning his MBA from the University of Southern California, Gary spent the next 20 years in the computer industry as a systems analyst, project manager and product marketing vice president with several national and international companies.

Gary ultimately started his own multimedia production company called Imagix Studios before retiring in 2006.

It wasn’t long into his retirement when some friends suggested that he consider volunteering for the USS Midway Museum.

“I was interested, but was already heavily involved in another volunteer group, so I kept putting off going to check out the Midway,” said Gary. “But one day, I figured I might as well go visit the ship. I thought I would spend an hour or two aboard, but was blown away and didn’t leave the museum until it closed. I knew then how I would spend the rest of my retirement.”

He began volunteering on Midway in 2009 and has amassed more than 10,000 volunteer hours as a docent over the last 12 years.

Gary on deployment to the Western Pacific in 1967.

“It’s best job I’ve ever had,” said Gary. “It’s lots of fun and you feel like you are doing something really meaningful. The museum is a unique organization and the people you meet are incredible, from all over the world.”

On top of being a docent interacting with Midway guests and telling Navy and Midway stories, Gary is also an instructor for new docents, and produces training and continuing education videos for the volunteers. He also built the docent information website.

“Gary immediately took a leadership role in the daily operations of the museum after becoming a docent,” said Jim Reily, Midway’s director of docent programs. “During COVID, his efforts were largely responsible for the ship having more than 90 percent of our pre-pandemic volunteers return to the museum to continue inspiring and educating our guests.”

“Both my Navy service as a young man and serving in my retirement as a docent on the Midway are two very formative periods of my life,” said Gary. “I’ve learned a lot during both periods, and found both to be worthwhile and significant.”

Information on volunteer opportunities at the USS Midway Museum can be found at www.midway.org/give-join/volunteers.