Tribute To A Hero

The Change of Command and Retirement Ceremony of Commodore Dennis A. Schulz

Finally, the day arrived to depart for our long-awaited, highly anticipated trip to San Diego where we were to attend the Change of Command and Retirement ceremony for our dear friend, Commodore Dennis A. Schulz. This auspicious affair took place aboard the deck of the USS Midway, serving her final mission as a spectacular Aircraft Museum in downtown San Diego’s Navy Pier. Majestically draped in red, white and blue for the occasion, this magical ship took my breath away as Brian and I approached to come aboard for this rich, traditional naval ceremony. From the moment we gathered with other guests to await an official arm of escort to our seats on the flight deck, we drew in the history we were experiencing first-hand and felt deeply honored to be Dennis and Karla’s friends.

Our personal history with the Schulz’s dates back to the 6th grade where Karla and I met in Mr. Wiesler’s band room at Franklin Middle School in our hometown of Shawano Wisconsin. We went our separate ways after high school when she went to college in Oshkosh and I played music and traveled. It was in college that she met Dennis, a young, handsome military man with a heart set on a brilliant Navy career. They had two beautiful sons, Douglas and Dennis, early in their marriage as they traveled the world per the Navy’s orders. I always marveled at Karla’s commitment to Dennis’ career, especially when it left her alone with her little ones in places like Japan for many months at a time when Dennis was on deployment to who knew where. She was so dedicated, brave and strong, an equal counterpart in every one of Dennis’ heroic exploits. Karla always understood the value of Dennis’ difficult work, and she and Dennis raised their boys to understand it, too. The Schulz’s are one of America’s best examples of what makes our military great, our country strong, our families safe, secure and free!

So that brings us to this very special day on the deck of the USS Midway, where the sun beamed bright over 200 invited guests and meandering museum visitors who were about to witness one of our Navy’s most formal, awe-inspiring traditions fraught with pomp and flair. I tried to pay close attention to all the sights and sounds going on around me, most of which I didn’t even understand the significance of, but knew were in keeping with the strong Navy tradition of this Change of Command and Retirement Ceremony. The dress was bright service whites and swords; the flags lining the back of the platform whipped in the wind, the Navy Band played; the Side Boys proudly formed their human passageway; the boatswain’s or bosun’s pipe whistled; a brass bell tolled; the Colors were paraded by a High School Naval Training Corp. I sang Duty Calls before the official ceremony began. Brian sang, beautifully, the National Anthem. Rear Admiral John R. Hines, Jr., Deputy Commander of the Third Fleet, spoke eloquently and with great wit, honoring Dennis’ 27-year stellar Naval service, his eyes reflecting great admiration for this highly decorated hero. Well-deserved Awards were presented by Admiral Hines to Karla for her tireless support of Dennis throughout her 24 year marriage to her Navy man. Preceding the heart of the whole ceremony, which is the formal reading of official orders by the relieving officer and the officer to be relieved, Dennis gave a brilliantly crafted speech that, to the word, perfectly reflected his giant personality as a celebrated Officer, a dutiful husband, a doting dad, a loving son and brother, an awesome boss, a funny friend, a wild-hearted surfer, a faithful Neil Young fan, and all around wonderful guy. There were few dry eyes after that one! The breaking of Dennis’ Pennant and the hoisting of the new guy’s Pennant on a distant flagpole towering high over the Midway’s historic flight deck marked the official Change of Command of Tactical Air Control Group ONE at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado in San Diego. More pageantry followed as Dennis was presented with the traditional Shadowbox filled with mementos of his career, as well as his Command Pennant. Then a glorious reading of the heart-stirring poem Olde Glory was read as a tightly-folded American flag was passed in slow motion from one uniformed service member to the next, as each performed perfect, deliberate about faces and crisp salutes, until it reached the honored retiree at the poem’s end. Dennis, then, proudly delivered Old Glory to the lap of his lovely bride with a kiss. Awesome! The ceremony concluded with a Benediction given by the Chaplain who married Dennis and Karla, retired Commander Gary Simons. Finally, Commodore Dennis A. Schulz was “piped over the side” for the last time. Dennis broke with tradition in this last detail in that instead of enjoying the honor of the Side Boys’ final salute and whistle of the Bosun’s pipe alone, he departed through the honored Side Boys pathway with his beautiful “other half,” Karla, on his arm and their handsome sons, Dennis and Douglas and their lovely girlfriends, Andrea and Tiffany, close behind. How perfectly fitting!

The tears welling up in Karla, Douglas and Dennis’ eyes during the ceremony confirmed what everyone already knew, that they believed that all of their sacrifices were well worth it! Russ (US Navy, Retired) and Marilyn Schulz’s tears said that their son had filled his father’s footsteps very well, indeed. The misty eyes of Dennis’ two elementary teachers who flew in from HAWAII made clear their belief in his greatness all along. The tears of all of us who had the privilege of being in attendance at this hero’s military farewell shouted a resounding “Well done!!!” to this really great guy who had his heart set on a brilliant Navy career. We salute you, Dennis. Long may YOU run!!

A lovely reception on the ship’s Elevator Deck followed the ceremony, where we all got to relax and visit, sharing stories of how our acquaintance with the Schulz family had fortuitously landed us all on the USS Midway on that beautiful, sunny day. Now as if that weren’t enough celebrating…What would a Schulz Change of Command and Retirement Ceremony be without a grand party to top it all off? Those of us who know Karla, know that when she throws a party, its top shelf all the way. This celebration, the day after, took place poolside, in Dennis and Karla’s back yard, and was certainly the best ever. Fully catered, staged and decorated, everything was perfect from the fabulous food and almost-too-beautiful-to-eat-cakes, to the party band, the easy-going, laughter-filled conversations, to the romantic sight of Dennis holding Karla in a slow dance.

We wouldn’t have missed this event for anything. As we drove away from their home that night, we were honored with a “Schulz Family Salute” from the curb. How precious is that? How lucky are we?

Please click on the photos to view images of Dennis’ 27 years:
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