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Blue Star Voices

Portsmouth, Virginia

A Day with My Military Family at the Naval Shipyard Museum and PORTSMOUTH Lightship Museum


Designated a national historic landmark in 1989, the lightship PORTSMOUTH was built in 1915 and served for 48 years off the coasts of Virginia, Delaware, and Massachusetts. Photo by Heather Faulkner

Another weekend was approaching. The weather was too stifling for outdoor activities, and we were already waterlogged from trips to the pool during the week. My kids proclaimed that their mountains of toys were boring, and the television was running almost as frequently as our air conditioner. I needed to plan a family outing. However, with my husband away on travel, just the thought of taking my two energetic young children out in public by myself exhausted me. But thanks to Blue Star Families and the National Endowment for the Arts, I had the opportunity to plan an excursion with a different kind of family: my military family.

My best friend is a military spouse as well. Our children are the same ages, and our husbands were both MIA for the weekend. So we packed up the kids and caravanned to Portsmouth, Virginia, to visit the Naval Shipyard Museum and PORTSMOUTH Lightship Museum, both participants in the Blue Star Museums program offering military families free admission throughout the summer.

The moms juggled cameras as the kids explored the inside of the Lightship PORTSMOUTH. We watched as they asked the tour guide questions and then wandered off before hearing the answers because they had discovered something else that was “really cool.” Whether they were envisioning themselves sleeping in the cramped sleeping quarters, shining a flashlight up to the top of the hollow mast, or designing their own lightship at the table with coloring sheets, the kids’ imaginations were running wild.

Founded in 1767 as the Gosport Shipyard, the  Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia, is the nation's oldest and largest shipyard. Photo by Heather Faulkner

Next we ventured down the road to the Naval Shipyard Museum, where we admired model ships and other exhibits and artifacts. I snapped pictures with pride as my son saluted a screen before viewing a video on the history of the lightship and my daughter decorated a coloring sheet of Rosie the Riveter. And before leaving, I gave in to my children’s requests to purchase the Lightship PORTSMOUTH coloring book that was autographed by the artist/tour guide who kindly took no offense when his young audience went AWOL during his speeches.

Our children may have been too young to fully comprehend the significance of what they had seen, but in my eyes, the day was more than simply a history lesson. It reminded me that one of the best parts of being a military spouse is my extended family. As military families, we all endure a unique and challenging lifestyle. But we don’t live in a vacuum. We hold each other’s hands through the tough times, we celebrate the joyous occasions together, and we use each other to fill in the gaps caused by our absent service members.

Our museum visits also reminded me how important the support of other military families is for our children. Sometimes it takes a conversation with other “military brats” to help them realize they aren’t the only kids coping with the hardships of military life. I was eavesdropping on one such conversation when my friend’s son asked my daughter where her daddy was. “He’s on a trip,” she replied with a tone of sadness I always hear when my husband is gone. But her face lit up when her buddy said, “Mine is too!” The discussion may have been brief, but its impact was lasting. And as they continued to enjoy the rest of the day together, I don’t think they even noticed their daddies were missing.

So thank you to Blue Star Museums for giving us this special day with our military family.


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