Monday, October 08, 2001

Childhood friends on carrier

Wyoming High grads are pilot, crew chief

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        If only their parents could have known, when Ryan McCauley and Laura Holtmeier were kindergarten friends 20 years ago in Wyoming, how far their friendship would take them.

Carol and Denis Holtmeier hold a photograph of their daughter Laura, 26, while Jenni McCauley and her husband Sig Siever hold a photograph of Jenni's son, Ryan, 26, on their porch in Wyoming.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
| ZOOM |
        Halfway across the world to the deck of the USS Carl Vinson in the Arabian Sea, on an aircraft carrier firing some of the first shots in a war against terrorism.

        Maybe their parents would not have wanted to know that back then, when their children's world was all naps on throw-rugs and the “Alphabet Song.”

        “It's a hard thing to know your little boy is over there in the middle of this,” said Jennie McCauley, a Wyoming real estate saleswoman and mother of the 26-year-old Navy lieutenant.

        “But he is strong and good and I know our country is in good hands.”

        They are the hands of a young man that his mother describes as sensitive and confident, who went off to Vanderbilt University after graduating from Wyoming High School eight years ago to study engineering and music.

        He detoured to the ROTC program at Vanderbilt and then to active duty in the U.S. Navy, a decision that led him to his post as head of an eight-man crew in charge of the carrier's Tomahawk missiles, the same cruise missiles that rained down on military targets in Afghanistan Sunday.

        “Ryan is in the middle of it, I'm sure of that,” Mrs. McCauley said, after learning of the U.S. air strikes as she was preparing for a real estate open house. “If Ryan is firing them, those missiles will get where they are supposed to go.”

        And neary Lt. McCauley on the USS Carl Vinson is another young Navy lieutenant, Ms. Holtmeier, his friend since both were toddlers.

        They went their separate ways after graduation from Wyoming High School — Ms. Holtmeier to the Naval Academy in Annapolis. But a stunning and devastating terrorist attack on the country they serve has brought the two together again.

        Mrs. McCauley often talks to the parents of Lt. Holtmeier, Denis and Carol Holtmeier, and the parents of other servicemen and women from the neighborhood because, she says, “it helps to talk to someone who carries the same burden.”

        Mr. Holtmeier agrees. He is proud of and fearful for his daughter, a helicopter pilot.

        “People come up to you and say they are praying for Laura and us and it is very nice,” said Mr. Holtmeier. “But it is especially nice to talk to some people whose kids are in the same situation, who have the same mixture of fear and pride we do.”

        The Holtmeiers have been living with the somber realization that their daughter would inevitably be pulled into the American response to the terrorist attacks; they knew where she was and what she does.

        They communicated fairly regularly by e-mail, but Mr. Holtmeier said the e-mails slowed after Sept. 11 and became more vague.

        “She'd say something like, "the food's no good tonight; I think I'll watch a movie and go to bed,'” Mr. Holtmeier said. “We knew there wasn't much she could say.”

        The Holtmeiers and Mrs. McCauley are not the only Wyoming parents waiting and wondering.

        Shawn Price, a 29-year-old 1990 graduate of Wyoming High School, is an F-14 fighter pilot on the USS Enterprise, another carrier in the region.

        His father, Charles Price, said Shawn had wanted to fly since he was 5 or 6 years old; it was no surprise to his parents that he joined the Navy to become a fighter pilot after going to Ohio State University.

        “He just loves flying off aircraft carriers,” Mr. Price said. “It's not something I would want to do myself, but he loves it.”

        Still, he and his wife Patricia worry.

        “Shawn has always told us that if anything happens to him, we should know that he was doing something he loves, something he believes in,” Mr. Price said. “You can't ask for more than that.”


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