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Sailor Says Bittersweet Farewell to His Boat

A U.S. Navy warship plucked Richard Van Pham, a 62-year-old Vietnamese immigrant, from the waters off Costa Rica on September 17, 2002. He was 2,500 miles from his home in Long Beach, California, where he began what he thought would be a 25 mile trek to Catalina Island.

Van Pham had drifted in his disabled 26-foot sailboat "Sea Breeze" for nearly four months before being spotted by a U.S. Navy plane doing drug traffic reconnaissance.

Limited to a diet of fish, sea turtle, seagulls and rainwater, Van Pham lost forty pounds in the ordeal but was in relatively good health when plucked from the blue waters of the Pacific by the USS McClusky.

Pham, a refugee from Vietnam who came to the United States in 1976, was never reported missing because he told his rescuers that he had no family and had been living aboard his boat at Long Beach harbor.

Each day he drifted at sea, Van Pham said, he looked for any sign of life, any sign of land. ''I see nothing,'' he said. ''Then one day, I see a plane. I know I'm close to people. They tip their wings to say hello. Two hours later, a ship comes to my boat. I am very, very happy.''

But leaving the "Sea Breeze" was bittersweet for Van Pham. When Navy officials determined they were unable to fix the sailboat, Van Pham reluctantly approved crewmembers setting fire to the 26-foot boat that had carried him so many miles and been his earthly home. It sank in 8,700 feet of water.

''He waved goodbye to his sailboat,'' said Petty Officer 3rd Class Joseph Slaight of the McClusky. ''He was upsetÂ…and said he was going to miss it.''

We may view the death of our physical body in a similar way. Even for the believer, facing death is a bittersweet experience. We are forced to say goodbye to the earthly vessel we have grown to love. At the same time, we celebrate that death means being rescued by our Savior.

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