PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - Every person who works at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula is answering a higher calling. They build warships for the Navy, but some go above and beyond. They are called master shipbuilders. To achieve that status, they must spend four decades on the job.
Freddie O'Brien has come to work at Ingalls for 42 years. He has overseen the construction of dozens of ships. It's work that makes him proud.
"We're not just building a great big grey thing here at the shipyard. We're building something that can defend our country. While providing incomes for several thousand families. While providing tuition for kids to go to school," O'Brien said.
Tommy Eldridge is an engineer, designing the ships that are built in the yard. Forty years is a long time, but he wouldn't have it any other way.
"I actually love shipbuilding. Shipbuilding is a huge part of my life. It's given me the opportunity to stay in the county which is my home," Eldridge said.
Some of the masters, like painter Edna Finklea, never thought this day would come.
"I never pictured myself doing this at all, but I came out for a summer job and it interested me so I stayed," Finklea recalled.
For all of the master shipbuilders here at Ingalls, perhaps the one thing that brings them the most pride, the one thing that makes them happiest over all these years, is the fact that they are helping to protect America.
"I too am contributing to building America. This is my time in the service, although I'm not in the actual military. But, we do supply the military because these are military ships," said Finklea.
"Without these ships that we build here at Ingalls, the country, or the world is not going to be as safe as it has been," said Eldridge.
The best times come when the ships are done, according to O'Brien.
"I love seeing a ship go out the channel for the last time. I'm not afraid to admit that I shed a tear every time one goes out," said O'Brien.
You can be sure lots of tears have been shed for the past 40 years, with more to come.
Currently, there are 329 master shipbuilders working at Ingalls. Thursday evening, all of them will be treated to a private dinner at the Biloxi Community Center.