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Ralph Waite tribute marathon airs today at 4 p.m. (EST) on USA Network

Ralph Waite tribute marathon on USA Network, Feb. 19, 2014, starts at 3:00 p.m. (CST).
Ralph Waite tribute marathon on USA Network, Feb. 19, 2014, starts at 3:00 p.m. (CST).
West Communications, used with permission

Although there was no press release or even advance notice of today’s (Feb. 19th) special event, regular viewers of the USA Network know that Wednesdays are (usually) “NCIS” days on USA. If you were lucky enough to be watching the channel until 11 a.m. today (Feb. 19), you saw the brief commercial that announced this afternoon’s programming would show all of Ralph Waite’s episodes on “NCIS” broadcast back-to-back on the USA Network. It’s a hurry-up response to the actor’s passing on Thursday, Feb. 13, at age 85.

But first up, it’s the third quarterfinal of men’s hockey, live from Sochi, Russia. But at 3 p.m. (CST) and 4 p.m. (EST), it’s time to watch the episodes of “NCIS” where Ralph Waite created and forever will be remembered as Jackson Gibbs, father or NCIS Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon). Viewers are presently posting their appreciation on the USA Network Facebook page to the network for the opportunity to see all eight episodes in sequence today and tonight.

Longtime “NCIS” devotees can already name all eight episodes where Waite appeared but just in case, here’s the list:

Heartland (2008), Season 6, Episode 4, directed by Tony Wharmby
Silent Night (2008), Season 6, Episode 11, directed by Tony Wharmby
Faith (2009), Season 7, Episode 10, directed by Arvin Brown
Rule Fifty-One (2010), Season 7, Episode 24, directed by Dennis Smith
Spider and the Fly (2010), Season 8, Episode 1, directed by Dennis Smith
Life Before His Eyes (2012), Season 9, Episode 14, directed by Tony Wharmby
The Namesake (2012), Season 10, Episode 5, directed by Arvin Brown
Better Angels (2013), Season 11, Episode 7, directed by Tony Wharmby

In the 11 seasons of “NCIS,” it took six years until viewers had a chance to see the character that show creator Donald Bellisario had in mind as Gibbs’ father, and it took five years to resolve many of the differences between the characters of Jackson and Jethro.

The most poignant episode in this series may well be “Better Angels,” where Jackson is insisting that he needs Jethro to drive him to see “someone who saved his life during the war.” Dare any fan to watch that episode to its conclusion and not have eyes filled with tears for the reason behind what it was that was so important for Jackson to say (indirectly) to Jethro. There was closure in that episode, between father and son, so if Ralph Waite’s journey on earth was over, there was indeed closure on Nov. 5, 2013, when Episode 7 of Season 11 was first broadcast.

Throughout each of the eight episodes of the Ralph Waite Tribute, the best messages and acting between Harmon and Waite...the men who have the matching silver hair and fluid light blue eyes say more with their looks and stares than any of the brilliant dialogue written for them to say.

An engaging character, a dynamic actor, and an unforgettable man—Ralph Waite as Jackson Gibbs taught his son at least one final lesson in life. From Season 7, “Rule 51,” came the revelation of one new Gibbs rule: “Sometimes You’re Wrong.” Set your DVRs.

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