It was October of 1966 and, I had just turned 21. I was newly married, ready for adventure and excited about my upcoming life in Japan.
It was a bright sunny day as I stood in the National Cemetery at Pt. Loma with my husband of less than a year, Dennis Baird Gleason, overlooking the beautiful sky blue waters of San Diego Bay. We were within a few weeks of leaving for Travis AFB in northern California where we would fly to Japan, and Dennis would take a new assignment with the VQ-1 Squadron at Atsugi NAS. We were sightseeing before we left, camping out in the national parks, and working our way up to northern California.
I’ll never forget the moment as long as I live. I looked out to sea on that amazingly beautiful day, looked at the exquisite white markers against the backdrop of liquid blue and turned back to face my husband. I said, “Dennis, isn’t this the most beautiful place to be buried?” He didn’t answer me. There was a long pause, and he gazed out at the brilliant blue waters and said, “Oh, no Stef! If anything EVER happens, don’t let anyone see me after I’ve died. Bury me at sea.”
My very own daddy recruited Dennis into the Navy. My dad knew Dennis wanted sea duty! But that was not to be. The U.S. Navy sent him to flight school, and eventually he was hand selected to be in an elite group. He was one of the “spies in the sky” who were involved in Cold War Activity along the coast of North Korea and USSR. On April 15, 1969 he was on a training mission in the Sea of Japan helping prepare another electronics warfare officer and crew when the unthinkable happened and two MIGS flown by North Korean pilots shot down the unarmed reconnaissance plane. It was on the emperor’s birthday. Dennis, whose obsession with the sea never left him, was only three months from getting out of the Navy and going back to work on his masters and doctorate in Oceanography. We had already written the letters of application for graduate school. We had a six month old daughter, and we had made such wonderful plans for our future and our growing family!
As we wives waited to see if there were survivors, we soon learned two bodies out of the 31 men had been recovered by the Soviets and turned over to the United States military. At that moment I remembered Dennis’s request when we were at the cemetery in Point Loma, and I prayed, “Don’t let Dennis’s body be found. Grant his wish, Lord! Let him be buried at sea. Let no man touch him. Let him rest in peace.”
While the U.S. Navy did not grant Dennis’s request for sea duty, our merciful God granted this good man’s wish, and Dennis’s body was never found; he remained ONE WITH HIS BELOVED SEA! A year and a half ago when Dan and I were sailing in the Sea of Japan, we scattered edelweiss and rose petals in the water in Dennis’s memory.
August 11th, 2015 my daughter, Susan, my husband Dan and our family and friends traveled to Arlington National Cemetery to participate in a memorial celebration honoring a great American, Dennis Baird Gleason, who gave his all for his country. The spies in the sky receive little recognition. But those who love him and the other men who died that day, will NEVER FORGET. His memorial marker is inscribed, Dennis Baird Gleason, 11/18/43-4/15/69, One With the Sea.
By Dr. Stefanie S.Gall, the widow of LT Dennis Gleason