The Southside Times is recognizing two honorable and loyal Navy veterans in our Faces of Freedom issue – Sandy Marion and Barry Whetstine. On Independence Day, please take a moment to remember those who are fighting or have fought for our country and thank those who currently serve or veterans for their service.
By Sherri Coner
As Sandy Marion’s senior year of high school rushed toward graduation in 1969, she and a couple of high school friends decided to join the Navy.
“My daddy took it a little hard,” Marion said.
This petite young woman insisted that she was ready to leave home.
Privately, she also hoped for at least a little bit of adventure.
From her home state of Michigan, Marion was off to Bainbridge, Md. to complete several weeks of not-fun-at-all basic training.
“In boot camp, I was the American flag carrier,” she said. “I was a little short thing, marching and carrying that flag. I did it, though.”
From there, Marion was stationed in Pensacola, Fla. where she shared a crowded space on base with two other women.
“All the girls were good,” she said.
After six months, each of the women had the opportunity to live alone.
However, just because women finally earned privacy, they were not exempt from “the white glove test,” Marion said with a laugh. “If anything is out of place, you got to redo it all.”
After undergoing secretarial training, Marion was to serve as the secretary for six Naval officers.
“Some of them were good,” she said.
When Marion was 20, fell in love with 22-year-old Jerry.
“His family had moved from California to Tampa, (Fla.) and he joined the Navy,” she said.
After dating for two years, they were married.
Then Marion discovered that she was pregnant.
At the same time, her young husband learned that he was shipping out for Vietnam.
“I left the Navy, since I was pregnant,” Marion said. “He went to Vietnam, and I went home to Michigan.”
While her husband served nearly a year in Vietnam, Marion gave birth to a daughter she named Carolyn, surrounded by her family.
When Jerry returned from the war, Marion and the baby traveled from Michigan back to Florida where the three of them finally lived as a family.
A son named Brian was also added to the family.
After a few more years, the marriage ended.
Though both of her children remain in Florida, Marion remarried in 2008 and moved to New Whiteland.
Her husband, Bill Marion, has a lot of family in Indiana.
Also, Indiana is much closer to her family in Michigan, Marion said.
As a young, immature girl when she joined the Navy, learning important life lessons through that experience was important in her life.
“They taught us respect and to work hard at everything we did,” Marion said. “The Navy helped me to that.”
Being the children of a mother who served in the Navy wasn’t exactly fun for Carolyn and Brian, though.
“They used to say, ‘Mom, you are so perfect, always saying ‘clean this and clean that,’” Marion said with a laugh. “That’s the Navy.”
Fresh from the graduating class of 1963 in Franklin, Barry Whetstine enlisted in the United States Navy.
But there was no time to sow even one wild oat.
“I was recruited to the Nuclear Submarine Program,” he said. “And I went to school and studied 55 to 60 hours every week for three years.”
Whestine has very few photos of himself as a young soldier in uniform.
At the time, the Navy prioritized a quiet and unassuming presence in various locations where work was being conducted in nuclear plants.
“We lived in towns but didn’t wear our uniforms,” Whetstine said. “A lot of times people in the town weren’t even aware of a nuclear plant being in their area. That was a real intense thing.”
As Whetstine learned and perfected new skills, he found himself boarding a submarine in Charleston, with 110 other men.
“It was a nuclear-powered mission submarine,” Whetstine said. “That meant half of the crew was working on the engineering aspect and the other half was in navigation.”
Long 18-hour shifts were being worked under that water, Whetstine said.
“Along with the regular work we were taught to do, we had drills and training and maintenance work to do on the sub. If you didn’t have anything else to do, you took a nap.”
As Whetstine moved up in rank, he was stationed in different areas of the country.
“I was stationed in Hawaii for a year,” he said. “But I only spent a total of two months on the land there.”
From Hawaii, the Navy sent Whetstine to Norfolk, Va.
The new assignment was a bit of a letdown until Whetstine noticed the pretty young woman across the street from where he would be living for a while.
Her name was Beverly. She didn’t seem bothered at all by her beau’s odd schedule.
When the year passed and it was time for Whetstine to move on again, he asked Beverly if she might want to join him on this confidential journey.
She said “yes,” and they were married in 1974.
Next month, the Whetstines celebrate 50 years of bliss.
“I was gone 60% to 70% of the time,” Whetstine said. “I tell people we have been married for 50 years but we have only lived together for about 25% of the time.”
Looking back, Whetstine knows the sacrifices and strength that Beverly gave to the marriage.
She left family and friends in Virginia and was solely responsible for home maintenance, schooling and medical needs of their children, servicing the family vehicles and so much more.
“Beverly managed by herself,” Whetstine said.
Thirteen years in, Whetstine pursued undergraduate degrees in engineering and nuclear science.
From there, he earned a master’s degree in industrial management.
“Then I was sent back to the sea for four years,” Whetstone said.
This time the secretive mission was significantly elevated.
“It’s like a spy ship,” he said of the craft. “We were going places you’ve never heard of and doing things you probably wouldn’t believe.”