The sea still surges through this sailor's veins

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T.C. Oneyear, a retired Navy master chief, poses alongside a ship's wheel he has on display in his home, on Tuesday, Oct. 25.


By Chris Day
Multimedia Editor

Monday, April 30, 2018

T.C. Oneyear said he joined the Navy because he wanted to see the world. He saw the world and then some.

Oneyear, who retired in 1992 as a master chief boatswain’s mate after serving 30 years in the Navy, grew up in Dubuque, Iowa. He was 18 when he enlisted in 1962. Today, the 72-year-old sailor lives with his wife Cheryl in southern Pasquotank. Their property borders a creek that gives him boating access to the Little River and beyond. It's been 24 years since he retired, but Oneyear still embodies the spirit of one who has spent a life at sea.

He sports a black, wool Greek fisherman's hat. From a silver chain around his neck swings the anchor and two stars —  the insignia of a master chief petty officer. On his chest are tattooed the names of all 13 ships he served aboard and across the fingers of both hands are inked the words, "Hold fast." On his earlobes are cross anchors and a star to signify that he is among the privileged sailors to have crossed the equator at the International Dateline.

Oneyear truly enjoyed being a sailor and he jokingly boasts that he has tattoos from "every tattoo shop in the world," from Japan to Baltimore to Newport, Rhode Island to San Francisco. The door to his garage reads "Bosun locker" and his living room is a private museum of Navy memorabilia and awards he accumulated. On the wall is a clock that plays on the hour the Navy fight song "Anchors Aweigh."

He's a master at tying nautical knots, like the monkey's fist, a knot commonly found on the working end of a heaving line, or a carrick bend, typically used to connect the ends of two lines. He’s sail from Australia to Norway, from the Mediterranean to the South Pacific, plus several trips through the Panama Canal.

"I have a master's degree in life after being in the Navy 30 years," he said. "It's been a wonderful life."

And through it all, the rolling and often turbulent sea never bothered him.

"I never got seasick," he said. "I was very fortunate."

Oneyear, who belongs to several veterans organizations, like Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Fleet Reserve Association and American Legion, is an outspoken proponent for veterans rights and benefits.

"I don't think the veterans are getting a fair shake today," said Oneyear, adding veterans are being overlooked for the work they do. He’s afraid that more and more these days veterans appear to be losing benefits that they once enjoyed. It doesn't matter whether the veteran served two years or retired after 30 years, the time spent in the service was time spent away from family, he said.

"A veteran deserves what they earned," he said. "It's not a give-away, it's what they earned."

When asked what he misses about the Navy he responded: "The camaraderie ... being able to accomplish a job together."

It didn't take long for Oneyear to understand that hard work would lead to a rewarding career.

"I found when I joined the Navy the harder I worked the more I received ... I volunteered for things a lot of people never did," he said. "I loved every minute of it."

Oneyear's career began with basic training in San Diego, and from there he was assigned to a unit in Pensacola, Fla., that was charged with maintaining a fleet of small boats.

"That's where I was at when John F. Kennedy was shot" on Nov. 22, 1963, Oneyear said.

Oneyear went on to serve several tours in Vietnam aboard the ships USS St. Paul, USS Longbeach and the USS Dubuque. He was also assigned to Task Force 116 as a participant in Operation Game Warden, a U.S. operation that kicked off in 1965 designed to deny the Viet Cong waterway access to the Mekong Delta. Oneyear has a vest and matching beret he wears as a member of Gamewardens Association Inc., a Vietnam veterans group for participants of Operation Game Warden.

Later in his career, Oneyear worked two tours, 1970 and again in 1976, as a company commander, preparing a total of 17 companies of new recruits for careers in the Navy.

"I loved it," he said, of being a company commander, which is the Navy equivalent of an Army drill sergeant.

Oneyear made master chief in 1980 and a few years later he was assigned to the USS Iowa, where he assisted in the commissioning for a third time the battleship USS Iowa. When asked which was his favorite ship, he replied both the St. Paul and the Iowa.

"They were the Cadillacs of the fleet," he said. "Spit and polish, a lot of tradition going on."

He said he loved to be involved in the commissioning of ships. It was a role in which Oneyear helped ensure the boat was brought into full working order, taking it from its raw state to a machine bristling with all its new equipment and components, and making sure its crew is qualified in its new watch bills, GQ stations, among other tasks.

"Outfitting a new ship is fun," he said. "You've got this hunk of steel and you've got to bring it to life."

After the USS Iowa, Oneyear completed assignments as command master chief with Assault Craft Unit 2 in Little Creek, Virginia Beach, then aboard the USS Ponce, and again with ACU 2, from which he retired in 1992.

Oneyear spent another 12 years as a civilian sailor with the Merchant Marines. In July 2001 he was serving aboard the SSG Edward A. Carter, which at the time was under charter of the Military Sealift Command and at its mooring in Southport. The Carter suffered a fire in its engine room and two crew members died, Oneyear said.

In 2005, Oneyear and his family moved to Pasquotank County where he's been active in area veterans organizations, such as VFW Post 6060 and the Fleet Reserve Association. He also played a role in the establishment of a Veterans Administration annex in Elizabeth City.

He and his wife Cheryl have two daughters, Christine and Capris.