ROCKLAND, Maine — Although Coast Guard Seaman Jayna Nakamura spent Thanksgiving thousands of miles away from her home in Micronesia, she felt that she was among family.
“I’m away from home, but I have a lot of support from the station. They’re family,” she said Thursday afternoon while eating her share of the holiday feast at Coast Guard Station Rockland.
And that family feeling seemed to be shared by everyone in the mess hall, no matter how far away they were from their homes. Thanksgiving at the station was special this year for the nine men and women on duty, said Curtis Barthel, their commanding officer. The servicemen and women were joined in the mess hall by several of their wives, children and even a mother-in-law for a meal, which featured turkeys, ham, pies and a lot of love.
Samantha Bailey has been in Rockland for just over a year, ever since her husband, Petty Officer Justin Bailey of Mobile, Ala., was stationed there. She made the stuffing, brought rolls and made dessert, and said that she was glad to be part of a larger gathering.
“The Coast Guard is interesting and it’s fun,” she said. “The hardest part is being away from family. It gets hard at the holidays.”
Her husband, who was busy carving the ham, said he had shot one of the turkeys on the opening weekend of that hunting season. Back home, he hunts deer and said he always wanted to try his luck with a turkey.
“I lucked out,” he said, adding that the holiday has “been really good.”
Once the meal was ready, the crew and their families tucked into the meal with little fanfare — except to make sure to set a place at the “missing man table.” That place is set at every meal at the station, Barthel said, and a plaque above explained why.
“We call them comrades,” it read. “They are unable to be with their loved ones and families, so we join together to pay humble tribute to them, and to bear witness to their continued absence.”
It was a solemn reminder — even during a holiday celebration — that the work of servicemen and women often places them in harm’s way.
The station has had a busy season, said Barthel, who was hoping that Thanksgiving would remain quiet. The Rockland station averages 50 calls a year but this year that number was increased by about 25 percent, he said.
Karen Worrell of Oak Hill, Va., took some time to learn about the tradition of the Missing Man Table. She is the mother-in-law of a petty officer and has spent about a month visiting her daughter’s family — and on Wednesday peeled 20 pounds of potatoes, made two pumpkin pies and an apple pie for Thanksgiving.
“It was fun to just be here and be part of the military family,” Worrell said. “So many of them are away from home … it’s made it really nice.”
Barthel agreed, looking at the 17 people talking, laughing and enjoying their meal at the tables covered in festive red paper.
“Family’s a relative term,” he said. “To take a mixed group of people who don’t know each other — this becomes their family.”