Over Thanksgiving break, fifth-grade twins, Hans and Lars Renlund, went on a very long but very rewarding road trip.
The initial destination of the trip was Norfolk, VA for the retirement ceremony of a former shipmate of the twins’ parents, James and Gretchen, from the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). After a night spent in Savannah, GA, where the family took a historic tour of the town, they arrived in Norfolk at about 1830 at night to go aboard the USS George H. W. Bush (CVN 77). James, the twins’ father, was a Plankowner and the LCPO (Leading Chief Petty Officer) of the #1 nuclear reactor plant on the ship.
The next day they attended their Shipmate’s Master Chief Petty Officer Retirement Ceremony at Joint Expeditionary Base–Little Creek (JEB–LC), formerly known as Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek and commonly called simply Little Creek in Norfolk, Virginia. Kevin Valente retired as MACM (SW/AW).
James and Gretchen are both Navy Plankowners on the USS Ronald Reagan, and at that retirement 11 former USS Ronald Reagan sailors and USS Ronald Reagan Plankowners got to enjoy a mini ship reunion, having not seen each other since 2004.
Though that was the original purpose of the trip, sad news came to James. He had never known his own father and John Lawless became James’ Big Brother from the Big Brother’s Big Sister’s organization when James was only 7 year’s old and stayed active in his life until James left for Navy boot camp when he was 17 years old. His Big Brother, John, was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, and it was progressing quickly. As a result, they knew they needed to visit soon so they got back on the road and drove the 19-hour drive from Williamsburg, VA to Minneapolis, MN.
“The trip was not doom and gloom,” says Gretchen. “It was pretty symbolic to be witness to two important people in our lives transition into new stages in their lives.” The family is optimistic about John’s diagnosis, and John is busy planning the next 30 years of his life.
Hans and Lars loved being able to go all over an aircraft carrier they hadn’t seen since they were 3 years old. They really loved being able to sit in the driver’s seat of a REAL hovercraft.
But they both say getting to play in the tree house at John Lawless’ house was still their favorite part of the trip. John was extremely happy to have them come home to visit him and he loved seeing how happy Hans and Lars were to play in the same tree house he built for his sons.
“It was a great trip,” says Gretchen. “Hans and Lars had an awesome time in spite of the really long car ride.”
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Special thank you to Gretchen for providing the many photos.