S.S. United States

We were on our way back to the United States. In 1956, Dad had been assigned to Chateauroux Air Force Station, France, where I was born four years later.

Though I have vague memories of the trip, I do have several pieces of memorabilia saved from the crossing of the Atlantic. These include a menu, a post card and several photos snapped by the cruise ship staff to sell to the passengers as souvenirs.

The ship we boarded was the S.S. United States. Built in 1952, it broke the transatlantic speed record on July 4 of that year, held by the Queen Mary for the previous 14 years.

The S.S. United States is now docked at Pier 82 on the Delaware River in Philadelphia. It has been offered up for sale to several scrap yards by current owner Norwegian Cruise Lines; however The SS United States Conservancy is trying to come up with funding to purchase the ship.

An important supporter of the Conservancy is former President Bill Clinton. He has endorsed the rescue efforts to save the ship because he reportedly sailed on the vessel in 1968.

It’s about the only thing the former president and I can agree on.

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Thrill of a New Year’s Eve

The downtown area was packed with a few thousand people for New Year’s eve. I had only been in town for a couple of weeks when I decided to go celebrate the turning of the year.

As I was standing a little east of Virginia Street on Second, I heard a semi-familiar sound. It was series of metal echoes striking the asphalt. I followed the sound as it move towards me.

Suddenly, I saw what was making the “tinking” sounds. It was a pineapple hand grenade, someone had tossed onto the crowded street.

As the grenade came to a rest, people standing nearby continued to party and drink. My response was immediate. I dropped my body over the fragmentary device, expecting it to explode at any second.

However, nothing happened. Then without warning I felt myself being lifted by my belt by a mounted police officer.

“Too drunk to stand on your own, buddy?” the officer asked.

There was no time for me to respond as he saw what was laying beneath me. His response was quick as he chased the crowd away and radioed for more law enforcement.

Soon the bomb squad came and removed the grenade. However the crowd never missed a beat as they continued to yell, scream, laugh and whoop-it-up into the New Year.

As for me, I decided never again to find myself packed into an area with thousands of people. It is safe to say: I’m cured of the crowds.

Fingerprints

It was our final inspection before graduating from a three wee indoctrination course in U.S. Marine Corps history and traditions. A major was completing the review and was giving me the once over.

Having found no outward flaws with my uniform, he grabbed me my web belt, practically jerking me off my feet. He turned it inside out at the buckle.
There he found two dark fingerprints imbedded in the plating. It was the result of accidently and sloppily touching the back of the brass buckle with Brasso still on my finger tips.

He looked me square in the eyes and said, “It’s a good thing you fired expert with that rifle.”

Fortunately, I had used the head before falling out for inspection.

Fresh Meat

Northern Nevada was in the midst of one of the worst droughts in years at the time. And several beavers were starting to dam-up the cause-ways on NAS Fallon. The U.S. Navy decided to kill the animals because the trap and release system they had been using failed.

At the time I was on the air at KBUL and I mentioned the beavers damming up the Navy station by saying: “Maybe the Navy needs to pay attention to the beavers, because it’s obvious they’re trying to tell us something. However, on the other hand, the Marine Corps does need the fresh meat.”

It was meant to be funny. However a couple of days later I was instructed by the stations general manager to write a letter of apology to the base commander for my comment.

Happily I didn’t make an off-color comment involving sailors and the beavers.

The Avocado Snatchers

My brother-in-law and I had jus’ finished making a run to the dump when he pointed out a grove of avocado trees. I lamented that a bunch of the green fruits would be perfect for the evening upcoming meal.

As quick as a flash, he made a u-turn and parked the truck along the side of the road. We were about level with the top of several trees and in order to get to them, we dropped an extension ladder into the branches.

Being the smaller, and thus the lighter of the two, I crawled out on the ladder and started plucking avocados from the tree. As I pulled one, I’d toss it to my brother-in-law who them deposited the fruit into the bed of the truck.

We were about three-minutes into our crime when a San Diego County Sheriff Deputy came driving around the corner towards us. He and I locked eyes as he zipped past us.

Seconds later, we both heard squealing tires as he did his best to make a u-turn in a narrower section of the road. By this time, we had the ladder back in the truck and were leaving behind a trail of dust as we sped away.

My brother-in-law made two left turns off the road and then a right and stopped behind an old trailer. We sat there and watched as the deputy zoomed by and out of sight.

A group of four or five children, none older than eight or nine years old, watched as we took our ill-gotten gain and put it in a burlap bag. Then my brother-in-law took all the back roads he knew in order to get us home without be caught.

It wasn’t until we got home that we discovered our bag of avocados missing. The kids stole them without our realizing it.

Last Captain

It was late summer when my wife’s Uncle Lenny Bell and his wife Ardiss stopped by to visit. They were on their way home to San Diego after visiting their daughter in Yuba City.

Uncle Lenny was retired ship-pilot, who had worked moving ships from lock-to-lock in the Panama Canal. However he kept his license up by piloting ships into the harbor at San Diego from time-to-time.

In March, the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, spilling crude into the water, damaging the coastline and killing wildlife. The crippled vessel arrived outside the port of San Diego in mid-July.

Officials including the Coast Guard were afraid the tanker was on the verge of sinking and refused to allow it into the harbor. It was Uncle Lenny who got the call from the Port Authority to fly out to the ship via helicopter and assess the situation.

After a few hours Uncle Lenny radioed the craft was under his command and he was bringing it in. Where other pilots and ship captains’ said it couldn’t be done safely, Uncle Lenny not only did it safely he also made the inbound trip in record time.

It gave Uncle Lenny great joy to say he was the last Captain of the Exxon Valdez.

Old School, New Buildings

Kyle and I took a weekend trip in 2005 to the north coast of California. I wanted to show him some of my favorite places from my old hometown.

One of those places is Margaret Keating Grade School, which is named after my sister Deirdre’s God-mother.

There we found that two full-scale Yurok buildings had been built-in the field across from the school and still on school grounds. One is a traditional sweat lodge, the other a multi-family home.

As a kid, Sandy Sanderson used to take me up the hill to the old sweat lodge somewhere below the Requa Air Force Station. There, he’d let me participate in the ceremonial practice of sweating, then heading to the Klamath River in order to cool off.

As Kyle and I explored the two structures, it made me wish they had been there back when I was kid going to school.