The last time Dick Hanley walked aboard a destroyer was in 1966, when he commanded the World War II-era USS Storms.
More than 53 years later, he had no problem scrambling up ladders and making his way past patches of ice when the Navy invited him on another ship Dec. 19 to meet with its crew.
Dressed in a jacket, tie and USS Stout ball cap, Hanley marveled at the technological advances warships have made since he retired from the Navy as the Stout’s crew gave him a personal tour aboard the ship while it was moored at Naval Station Norfolk.
“It’s been overwhelming to see all this,” Hanley, now 94, said while looking around the Stout’s bridge.
Hanley was invited aboard after a chance meeting with Rear Adm. Charles “Chip” Rock, commander of Navy Region Mid-Atlantic, at a Williamsburg-Yorktown Navy League event.
Hanley lives in Williamsburg and mentioned how he’d like to see a modern warship. Rock put the wheels in motion to make it happen as a way to honor those who have served before.
“What a great American and example of our Navy veterans here in Hampton Roads,” Rock said in a statement to The Virginian-Pilot. “He is still so quick that he beat me to the punch in bringing up a ship visit. I am glad we could make it happen for one of America’s greatest generation, and I know our sailors enjoyed the visit even more than he did.”
As Hanley stepped aboard the Stout, he was honored with the ringing of four bells and the announcement that a retired commander was arriving.
The Stout is an Arleigh Burke class destroyer, capable of operating independently or as part of an aircraft carrier strike group. It returned from its last deployment to Europe and the Middle East in 2016.
Hanley was drafted into the Navy at the tail end of World War II and served for more than two decades. As he chatted with the Stout’s all-volunteer crew, he praised their professionalism and noted how much faster they have to react due to the advances adversaries are making.
“Things are moving a lot faster. Airplanes are moving faster, so we have to have weapons systems that can compete with the airplanes. If they’re attacking us we want to get rid of them before they get here,” he said. “And they come pretty damn fast.”
Hanley said he enjoyed having lunch with the crew, asking younger sailors how they do their jobs today and seeing the combat information center and bridge, where he spent much of his career.
“Just a great, great bunch of people,” he said. “And I’m sure that this is typical of what we have in the Navy today.”