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Researcher's naval aviation art personalizes mail sent to his son (11/4/98)

Sometimes love comes in small packages. For Ethan Eddy of the U.S. Navy, it even comes on the covers of envelopes. Eddy, an Aviation Boatswain's Mate stationed aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, is the 23-year-old son of Carlton Eddy, PhD, associate professor of obstetrics & gynecology at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Every week without fail, Dr. Eddy sends his sailor son a letter adorned with hand-drawn scenes of naval aviation.

For the elder Eddy, it's a cathartic experience--a way to show how he misses and worries about his son. He tells this story in an essay in the September/October issue of Naval Aviation News. The artwork also evidences Dr. Eddy's keen interest in what his son is doing.

"When a son or daughter joins the Navy, not only does that individual enlist, but in a real sense the entire family goes Navy," he writes. "To the family at home, a sailor on an aircraft carrier is engaged in a little-understood—yet poignant—mixture of daily duty, far-away ports and ship-borne international peacekeeping and diplomacy."

The gap between ship and home is bridged at mail call. The stylized letters are addressed to Ethan A. Eddy ABE3, U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72), Air/V-2 (Bow), FPO AP 96612-2872. "The aircraft carrier flight deck during flight operations represents a veritable smorgasbord of artistic opportunities," says Dr. Eddy, who has visited his son on the carrier a number of times. "It's an ever-changing scene of drama and excitement in which man and machine are locked in a complex ballet of incredible precision and bone-numbing brawn amidst jet blast, whirling props, flying debris, heat, swirling steam, winds over the deck and ear-splitting noise.

"Capturing these images on envelopes expresses a father's pride in a son who proudly serves his country," he says. "It celebrates the dedication, hard work and professionalism of those who work the flight deck, portrays the drama of carrier flight operations and maintains family ties across miles of ocean."

Ethan Eddy is aboard one of two carriers projecting American foreign policy in the Persian Gulf. He is qualified to perform the numerous functions required during the aircraft launch cycle. In this environment, precision and speed are elements that can work against each other. If something goes wrong, crew members face an 85-foot drop to the ocean, 35-mph winds, jet blast from the engines, suction from air intakes and whirling propellers. "It is a very dangerous job and I am amazed that people remain healthy month to month," Dr. Eddy says. "I end each letter by telling my son to stay well and safe. Stay scared, I tell him, because if you stay scared you'll be more careful."

Complacency aboard aircraft carriers is dangerous to say the least. The artwork depicts the many on-deck activities required to take a 40-ton airplane and propel it off the deck at 160 mph in two seconds. "More than 160 different hand signals must be relayed and understood," Dr. Eddy says. "A moment's inattention can mean death or mangling."

Though a civilian, Dr. Eddy has a great deal of understanding about carrier operations. He is considering a Navy cartoon strip that would emphasize safety. "It would jar people into thinking safety and would fight against complacency."

A day aboard the Abe Lincoln typically starts at 4:30 in the morning and ends at 11 at night. Sailors on the flight deck are chronically sleep deprived. "At least 90 percent of the crew has an average age of 19 years and they are away from home for the first time," Dr. Eddy says. "A very high percentage of pilots have just earned their wings, and here they are flying off carriers."

Dr. Eddy was never in the Navy himself, but grew up in a career Navy family. His father logged 33 years in this branch of the service. "I never saw him in civilian clothes," Dr. Eddy says. "We were raised in the Navy, we used Navy jargon and on weekends we awoke to reveille sounded by my father and the call, ‘All hands on deck!' I'm not kidding."

Dr. Eddy says the similarities between his father and Ethan are astounding. "My son is my father incarnate," he quips.

Ethan, the second of four children, joined the Navy two years ago. "When he went into the Navy it seemed like a good idea, but then the impact of him leaving was much greater than I really anticipated," Dr. Eddy says. "I more or less stumbled on the idea of enhancing the weekly letters with artwork, to celebrate what he does in the Navy."

An accomplished artist for years, Dr. Eddy and several family members mounted an exhibition in the Health Science Center auditorium foyer in 1997. Dr. Eddy regularly paints for the Navy and on commission for private buyers.

The other sailors enjoy his artwork, too, flocking to mail call to see Ethan's latest envelope. A new one comes every week. "Before I go to bed at night, I often work on an envelope," Dr. Eddy says. "It's a good way to relax at the end of the day and connect with a son who's so far away. Truth be known, for a while I was really mad at the Navy for taking him away. But he's so patriotic and enjoys what he's doing so much, it has become a celebration."

Contact: Will Sansom