Stennis Legacy Lives On

About 25 sailors from the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Stennis arrived in Pearlington, a hurricane-ravaged community of 1,500 residents in Mississippi's far southwest corner.

The sailors came all the way from Bremerton, Wash., where the Stennis is based, to do a desperately needed job, remove hundreds of refrigerators and freezers filled with rotting meat and other perishables.

Forty-eight days after electricity last flowed in Pearlington, the sailors were in for a sickening but rewarding job.

The Department of Defense response was coordinated by the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), based on needs identified by local and state entities.

Moving a refrigerator is hard work. Carrying one out of a badly damaged house makes it even harder. Seventy-two-year-old Morland Cagle marveled at the work ethic displayed by the young men and women as they struggled to remove a heavy white monolith from what was left of his kitchen.

"I really appreciate that," Cagle said. "I used to be with the Navy, four years activity duty in the early 50's. I love seeing those young sailors out here."

A few houses down, Charles Coote was just as thankful for the unexpected military help.

"There's no way to say thanks to all the people that are helping us. I don't know what folks here would do without it," he said.

Residents sealed the refrigerators shut the best they could by wrapping them with duct tape. But grappling these cumbersome opponents out of tight, damaged spaces caused a few of the refrigerator doors to suddenly fly open, unleashing sights and smells so rancid, some sailors lost their breakfast. Despite such nausea-inducing hazards, the sailors find rewards in the backbreaking, stomach-turning work.

"Everyone is so friendly and so thankful. They are bringing us drinks and they don't even own anything anymore," said Lt. J.G. Gabriel Owens.

"This is the home state of John Stennis," said Navy fireman Roman Linder. "We represent his name and we are here to let his people know that even though he has passed, his ship is still here and helping to take care of his people."

Like everyone else arriving on the Gulf Coast, the Stennis sailors are shocked by the extent of the devastation. Like most everyone else, they were glued to televisions in the days after Katrina struck, but nothing prepared them for what the damage they are witnessing in person, seven weeks after the storm.

"It's overwhelming what you see out here," said Petty Officer 1st Class Chris Beverley, a native of Mobile, Ala. "It's surreal, it really is."

After loading the refrigerators and freezers onto trucks, the sailors haul them to a collection point outside of town. From here, disposal trucks will pick them up and carry them away for good. By removing the sources of so many horrible smells, the sailors of the U.S.S. Stennis have helped make the Pearlington relief effort a little more bearable for everyone involved.

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