Navy center lowers final flag Sunday

Saturday, September 8, 2007

John Wesemann is spending this weekend drilling at the U.S. Navy Reserve Center in Cape Girardeau for the last time.

On Sunday, the U.S. flag will be lowered at 4 p.m., marking the closure of the 91-year-old center at 2530 Maria Louise Lane.

"It's going to be a sad weekend," Wesemann said. He arrived in December 1972 after two tours of Vietnam duty, one in Saigon. He earned education degrees on the GI Bill at Southeast Missouri State University, using his $50 monthly reserve duty paycheck to cover his apartment rent.

Once the flag is down and folded into a neat triangle, Master Chief Petty Officer Mike Morgan, who may be better known from his full-time job as Cape Girardeau's fire marshal, will hand it over to Wesemann, a senior chief yeoman.

The center was ordered closed by the 2005 Base Realignment and Closing Commission. The U.S. Army will reopen the building for its reserves next year.

Morgan, attached to the center since December 1982, will now attend drill weekends in Millington, Tenn. But Wesemann, who lives in Poplar Bluff, Mo., said he will drill in Springfield, Mo.

Immediately following the flag ceremony will be a small private retirement party for Chief Boatswain's Mate Russell Methany. And, as he leaves the building, the bell will sound and a voice will call out, "Boatswain's Mate Chief Russell Methany is departing."

Morgan said the tradition is called "ringing over the side" and is used on ships to indicate when someone departs or retires.

Wesemann, 58, is pleased to get the flag but a little nostalgic about that bell.

"Every ship has their bell. They announce significant things that go on daily. They try to do that at the reserve center," said the retired teacher.

However, the bell won't be going with Wesemann. "That belongs to the government. It will be shipped off to somewhere," he said.

The bell is prominent among his memories of the center, along with people, stories and smells. The sound of the bell is one of "those things that bring back memories, like when you go back to your house that you grew up in. When the screen door slams, it sounds like home."

It would be fitting, Wesemann said, for Sunday to end with someone calling out, "'The U.S. Naval Reserve Center in Cape Girardeau is departing.' And ding the bell, and that would be it."

pmcnichol@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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