EMPORIA (KSNT) – Growing up as a farm boy in Emporia, Dave Welch had never seen the ocean before joining the Navy. While traveling around the globe, he would engage in anti-submarine warfare and meet out-of-this-world heroes along the way.

Dave kicked off his boot camp experience in San Diego with quite the memorable sight.

“The first ship I’ve ever seen in my life was the U.S.S. Ranger,” Welch said. “I was on the second floor of our barracks, and I tell you what, it was the biggest thing I ever saw. It was like three city blocks. I was really impressed. It was a view I’d never forget.” 

The “Machinist Mate” says will never forget one of his most exciting times at sea when he helped successfully chase down a Russian submarine after months of hunting.

“They ran out of food, broke down and they surfaced,” Welch said. “As far as I know, we’re one of the first anti-submarine warfare carriers to do ever that. We chased them with airplanes and helicopters. It was quite a thrill.” 

In addition to submarine hunting, Dave played another unique role for the military: picking up astronauts once they touched back down from their time off planet.

“It was such a prestigious thing. There are only a few astronauts in the whole world,” Welch said. “We got to meet the Navy seals and talk to them. The Marines guarded the space capsule we had up in the hangar bay. We had CBS, NBC, all the major networks on there. It was a really big deal. As we picked those up, the whole world watched.”

Being on that team led him to quite a memorable dinner one day.

“I was down on the mess decks on the main aircraft carrier’s galley,” Welch said. “I was sitting by myself and the two astronauts came down and sat with me — Buzz Aldrin and James Lovell. Buzz Aldrin later walked on the moon and had a lot of great adventures.” 

These days, Dave is staying landlocked. He’s retired in Emporia where he volunteers at Newman Hospital and serves as a member of the color guard for the local American Legion.