Sunday, September 17, 2006
One cold, rain-swept night in 1979, tethered to the deck of the nuclear attack submarine USS Birmingham (SSN-695) entering Hampton Roads Harbor, sonar technician Jeff Harris was hit by a wind-whipped wave that snatched his ship's ball cap. Months later, while walking along Chesapeake Boulevard beach in Hampton, Will Miller, a Vietnam veteran and Navy commander, happened upon Harris' cap, half-buried in the sand. Knowing how important a ship's cap is to its owner, Miller salvaged the hat, hoping one day to find its owner. The cap was packed away for years but recently resurfaced at Miller's Florida home. "It suddenly fell out of a box onto my computer keyboard, right in front of me," said Miller. "I guess it was telling me, 'It's time to get me home."An extensive Internet search led Miller to a USS Birmingham Web site and finally to Harris. The two sent e-mails back and forth, and one night Miller's phone rang. "This is Jeff Harris," the voice on the phone said. "You have my hat!" The two sailors talked for almost half an hour, exchanging sea stories, the common bond between mariners. "Most non-seagoing folks wouldn't appreciate how attached a sailor gets to his hat," Miller said. "Your hat protects you from sun, wind, salt and cold, and when you lose it, especially one with your ship's name on it, it's a big thing. I'm delighted to get it back to Jeff."