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Thread: The Journal

  1. #1
    Cat Person DickZ's Avatar
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    The Journal

    The Journal, Part 1

    “ALL ABOARD!! … ALL ABOARD!!” … The conductor at New York City’s Pennsylvania Station can really bellow it out when he wants to get his train loaded and ready to go. His train is the Broadway Limited, bound for Chicago and it is April 21, 1941. About thirty of the passengers aren’t yet on board. “As long as they are moving towards an open door,” the conductor says to himself, “I won’t be too hard on them.” And all these not-yet-embarked passengers are moving in the right direction on the platform. Nobody is slacking off.

    A dark-haired man in his early thirties is just boarding the fourth Pullman car. He is nice looking, with a dimple in his chin, well built and tan. He is wearing a dark blue civilian suit, because he doesn’t want to advertise that he is a naval officer. He was just relieved yesterday as the Executive Officer of USS GOFF (DD-247), a destroyer, one of the old four-stackers built shortly after the Great War. His name is Benjamin Ghetzler, Lieutenant, United States Navy, and he is on leave, on his way to visit his parents, brothers, and sisters in San Antonio, Texas. He already has his orders to another destroyer which he’ll report to after his visit to San Antonio. He is carrying just one suitcase. Destroyer sailors learn to ‘travel light’ early in their careers, and he has been at it for over sixteen years now, including prior enlisted service.

    The Broadway Limited, like many other trains serving New York City, is pulled by an electric locomotive because of the tunnel they have to traverse when passing under the Hudson River. On a westbound run, when the Broadway Limited reaches Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the electric locomotive will be swapped out for a diesel-powered one. LT Ghetzler notices that the air in the Pennsylvania Station Concourse is much cleaner than it is in some of the other stations he has frequently used over the course of his naval career, a benefit of the electric locomotive. He settles into his seat in his roomette at 5:50 PM, ten minutes before the train is scheduled to depart for Chicago. The Broadway Limited always leaves on time.

    At 5:59 on Ben’s watch, the train starts inching forward smoothly. Its speed creeps up gradually as they leave the station and enter the tunnel to cross beneath the river. The train continues to build its speed over the next three minutes. It is now up to 60 miles per hour. Later when they reach more open territory, they will hit speeds around 90 miles per hour.

    The relaxing ti-ti-to, ti-ti-to, ti-ti-to, ti-ti-to as the wheels hit the junctions of the rails, is accompanied by the gentle rocking of the train from side to side. It is easy to sit and stare out the window watching the countryside pass by, and minutes can easily turn to hours.

    There are telephone wires suspended between poles which run parallel to the tracks. Watching the curvature of the wires from a moving train is hypnotic. The wires start out high on a pole, then sag gently to the low point halfway between two poles, and then rise again to meet the top of the next pole. This up and down motion goes very quickly, of course, as fast as the train happens to be moving.

    Ben watches the rise and fall of the telephone wires for a while, and listens to the mesmerizing ti-ti-to, ti-ti-to, ti-ti-to, ti-ti-to. But he decides he doesn’t want to waste too much time relaxing this trip, because he has finally convinced himself of the value of recording his past adventures for those who follow him later in proceeding down the path of life.

    He pulls out a brand new tan leather journal from his suitcase, and takes his two-year old 1939 Parker Vacumatic Maxima fountain pen from his shirt pocket. He takes his bottle of Parker Quink blue-black ink from his suitcase and fills his pen. He gets up from the seat in his roomette and goes two cars forward to the club car, where he finds an empty seat at a writing desk.

    His mind drifts back to his earlier days in hot and dusty San Antonio, and as he puts his pen to the paper, he feels he is being transported backward in time. The sights and sounds of the train fade into the background as he focuses on his past. His Vacumatic glides smoothly over the pages, and his journal starts to take shape.
    Last edited by DickZ; 04-24-2009 at 09:50 AM.

  2. #2
    Martian King AimusSage's Avatar
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    This is an excellent start.

    Now get to it and post the rest of it!
    There is no darkness, there is no light, there is only Lasagne!

  3. #3
    Cat Person DickZ's Avatar
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    The Journal, Part 2
    THE JOURNAL BEGINS

    My parents had come here from Romania in 1903, aboard RMS Anchoria. The ship left from Glasgow, Scotland, and arrived in New York on April 10. My parents made this journey along with thousands of other Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe that same year. After a brief stay in Chicago, they moved to San Antonio. I was the fourth child of an eventual eleven, and I was the second to be born in the United States. I was also lucky enough to be the first to graduate from high school, as the others had to leave school early to work and help support the family. My father had a photography studio in downtown San Antonio, where he scratched out a modest living taking portraits of the servicemen stationed at Fort Sam Houston. Some civilians came for pictures, too, but they were in the minority because portraits were a luxury that many people couldn’t afford in those days.

    I enlisted in the Navy in 1925, and after boot camp at Great Lakes, I was sent to a destroyer operating out of San Diego. It was an exciting life, as I got to see all kinds of things I wouldn’t have seen living in San Antonio. We got to travel up and down the west coast of the US, so I got to see Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle.

    In San Francisco, I bought similar presents for my sister Sylvia and my brother-in-law Hymie. Hymie is married to my sister Ann. He and Sylvia are the most faithful correspondents I have. While it’s thrilling to travel to all these exotic places, I still can’t forget that my roots are still back in San Antonio. I can always count on at least one letter a week from both Sylvia and Hymie. So I got them each a nice gold-filled Wahl fountain pen. Hymie’s has a pocket clip, and Sylvia’s has a ringtop. Those pens were expensive, but it was worth it to show them how grateful I am that they take the time to write me so often.

    On my destroyer, I was in the Engineering Department - a Water Tender, or WT. We kept the ship supplied with steam, which was generated by our boilers. The steam spun turbines that turn reduction gears, which then turn the propellers that drive the ship through the water. A boiler room was quite literally a hell of a place to work in, as the temperatures were almost always well over 120 degrees, but it was gratifying work. We had the satisfaction of knowing that we made the ship go, and our steam helped produce the electrical power we needed to keep everything lit up and all our equipment running.

    In January, 1927 I learned that I had done well enough in my classes aboard my ship to be admitted to the Naval Academy in Annapolis. Imagine the thrill - the son of immigrants going off to Annapolis. And my family back in San Antonio got really busy working on everybody they could corral long enough to tell them all about it.

    It was the biggest thrill of my life to that point when it came time to take the Sunset Limited from Los Angeles to San Antonio for a quick visit, then onward a few days later via the same train to New Orleans, where I changed to the Crescent Limited bound for Washington, DC. Annapolis is only thirty miles from Washington. I was so excited that I couldn’t sleep for the entire trip. Well, maybe I dozed off for a few minutes at a time, but I never had a good long sleep.

    On June 28, 1927, I walked through the Main Gate of the U.S. Naval Academy for the Class of 1931’s swearing-in ceremony. There were 650 of us reporting and I surprised myself by not being as nervous as I expected. Some of us, such as myself, were wearing Navy or Marine Corps uniforms, having had prior enlisted service. Others had been to a year or two of college already. But more than half were straight out of high school, so it wasn’t like most colleges where almost every freshman is about the same age.

    I quickly found out just how valuable my time in the Navy had been, and each day I found out more. I checked in, learned what company I would be in for the summer, and got some of my Navy equipment. During the course of drawing the gear, one of the Second Class squad leaders (they were like Juniors in a civilian school) told one of my new classmates to go stand near the bulkhead. This classmate started looking around for some sort of machine that looked like it might be called a bulkhead, until I told him that a bulkhead was what he had always called a wall. That was the first indication to that poor guy that joining the Navy would include learning a new language.

    We had our swearing-in ceremony in a large open area called Tecumseh Court, which was named for the Indian whose statue watches over the court in front of him. Tecumseh Court is right in front of Bancroft Hall, a beautiful Beaux Arts building that they finished just over 20 years before, which would be our dormitory for the next four years. While we were still standing in Tecumseh Court, I noticed another guy a few feet from me who was also wearing his Navy whites.

    He introduced himself to me as Al Keller, from Detroit. After talking about our recent experiences in the Navy for a few minutes, and noting that we were assigned to the same company, we decided we should see if we could room together, as everybody had to have roommates. Our request was granted. I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but we would go on to room together for the entire four-year stay there. Another name for roommates at the academy is wives so you can get an idea as to how well you get to know the guy you share your room with.

    Since I was a Jew from San Antonio, Texas, and Al was a Catholic from Detroit, we made for a somewhat diverse mix. We each learned a lot about the other’s religion over the years.

    We commenced the major chore of marking all of our new clothes, towels, and sheets with our names and laundry numbers. After about an hour, everything I owned said ‘B GHETZLER 1206’ and had a distinctive odor from the stencil ink. I can still smell the ink today, 14 years after it dried. Our whiteworks uniforms, before they were washed and shrunk somewhat, were much too large for us. I remember being laughed at by some civilian tourists who saw us in our oversized whiteworks before they were sent to the laundry.

    We were then off to the parade field to receive our first lesson in marching. Here again, Al’s and my prior Navy experience came in handy, as we had already learned how to march. But one thing was new to both of us, and that was the weather. Now San Antonio gets just about as hot as it does anywhere else in the country, so I figured that I would be as well-acclimated to heat as any of my classmates, but marching in the middle of a June day in Annapolis showed me just how wrong I was. While San Antonio temperatures were several degrees higher than those of Annapolis, there was no comparison with regard to humidity. I felt like I was in a steam bath, and the stench of sweat on the stenciled, not-yet-washed whiteworks was an unbelievably foul combination that I’ll never forget.
    Last edited by DickZ; 07-25-2008 at 08:35 AM.

  4. #4
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    The Journal, Part 3
    THE JOURNAL CONTINUES

    Not too long after Plebe Summer had begun, all of the Jewish Plebes were assembled so we could be shown where we would be attending synagogue. We were allowed to leave the Yard, as were the members of the Catholic Church Party, who went to a church in town. The Protestants had their choice of attending the Academy Chapel or going to the denomination of their choice out in town. We were called what I thought was a strange name, the Jewish Church Party, just to maintain consistency with the other Church Parties around.

    The synagogue was an old and small building, which housed an Orthodox congregation. At least we were able to call the building a synagogue rather than a church, regardless of what we had to call our party. Besides the Rabbi there was also a Cantor, and having grown up in a Reform temple, this was another new experience for me. I really enjoyed the services because of the musical aspect, even though they were entirely in Hebrew. Almost everything was chanted, another new experience for me. I also liked the charm of the small and old synagogue, which was located just past a firehouse on East Street. The Jewish contingent of our class was relatively small, as there were only four of us. The Protestant and Catholic Church Parties each had several hundred members.

    We had just a little bit of swimming during Plebe Summer, when I was introduced to the small pool in MacDonough Hall. This building also housed the much larger pool in the Natatorium which I would come to know much better in later years, but for Plebe Summer we only had to contend with the small and shallow pool. I don’t know what kind of concentration of chlorine they had in the pool, but it sure smelled like they overdid it. You could smell the pool as soon as you approached the outside door to the building. I heard years later that other classes had called this the ‘cesspool’ because of all the chlorine.

    One day late in Plebe Summer, some of the Second Class (again, these are Juniors) returned for a short time, enroute from leave to their summer cruises with the Fleet. While I was returning to my room, one of them stopped me. I don’t remember what he wanted, but he seemed to take an instant disliking to me. After a few minutes of harassment, he let me go and warned me that if he ran into me during the upcoming academic year, I was in for trouble. I noticed from his name tag that he was Midshipman Ricketts, Class of 1929. I tried to remember that name and face so I could be wary when the rest of the Brigade returned in early September for the academic year.

    On 2 September, the Brigade started returning to Annapolis from the cruises, summer training, and leave that they had been on for the summer. While I had thought Plebe Summer was difficult, it proved to be nothing in comparison to the academic year when Bancroft Hall was filled with upperclassmen. We didn’t know just how ‘good’ we had had it during the summer with only the Second Class squad leaders around, whom we outnumbered about ten-to-one. When the rest of the Brigade was there, the tables were turned and we Plebes were outnumbered almost three-to-one.

    I immediately started watching out for this guy Ricketts who had threatened to make me regret ever having encountered him during the summer. I figured that the chances of running into a single person out of a 2,200-man group were very slight. I soon learned that the science of probability was quite meaningless when I found out that HE WAS IN A ROOM THREE DOORS DOWN FROM MINE! We met again on the first day as we were moving our gear into our new rooms, and he gave me my first come-around, which I would soon learn to be a miserable visit to an upperclassman’s room.

  5. #5
    Cat Person DickZ's Avatar
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    The Journal, Part 4
    THE JOURNAL HALTS TEMPORARILY

    Ben stops writing now and his mind slowly comes back to the present. He looks at his watch and notices that it is now 3:30 AM, and heís the only passenger still in the club car. A porter is anxiously eyeballing him, hoping that Ben will leave so he can take a breather.

    The train will be arriving in Chicago at 9 AM, so Ben decides that maybe he should get a little rest. He goes back to his roomette, and refills his fountain pen. He undresses, pulls down his bed, and climbs in. He is asleep in ten minutes, being tired from his earlier travels and the emotional drain of recording his recollections. The haunting sound of the wheels hammering out their never-ending refrain of ti-ti-to, ti-ti-to, ti-ti-to, ti-ti-to helps a lot too.

    A porter knocks on Benís door at 8:30 telling him the train is thirty minutes out from Union Station Chicago. Ben thanks him, gets up, uses the tiny sink in his tiny roomette, and gets dressed. He takes his suitcase with him as he goes back to the club car, which is much less confining than the roomette which is really good only for sleeping.

    He decides he will relax for the few remaining minutes he has until the train arrives. They have already reached the outer limits of the railroad yards serving Union Station. Out the right side window, there are now seven sets of rails running parallel for the final dash into the station, and out the left side there seem to be at least ten, but he canít be sure how many more there are beyond those, because there are other trains also racing for the station, blocking the view.

    The train comes to a stop and the passengers get off. His next train, The Southerner which will take him to San Antonio, doesnít leave until 6:50 PM, so he has plenty of time to spare. He decides heíll do a little relaxing in town and see if the Cubs are playing today - heíll resume writing when he gets back on the train. The Southerner takes a little over forty hours to reach San Antonio, so heíll have plenty of time to write when heís back on the train.

    He checks his suitcase in the temporary storage room, and goes to that little delicatessen on Madison a few blocks from the station, the one he discovered the first time he passed through Chicago. That was when he went to boot camp at Great Lakes in 1925. Back then, he had heard something about the Al Capone gang, and was a little worried to be walking around the streets of Chicago. But he never encountered anything related to gang activity, and he knew the little deli had great lox and bagels. They put just the right amount of lox, cream cheese, and onion on the bagel. Some of the other delis skimp a little with the lox and cream cheese.

    He buys a copy of the Tribune to read with his bagel and coffee, and notices in the paper that the Cubs are playing the Cincinnati Reds. Johnny Vander Meer would be pitching for the Reds. He had just thrown two consecutive no-hitters in 1938, but lots of the sports writers said he was helped greatly for one of those two games by the poor illumination of the new lights for night baseball. Knowing that nobody can blame anything on poor lighting at Wrigley Field, where there are no lights at all, he decides to go see the afternoon game played in broad daylight. Ben takes a bus to the nearest red line elevated train station, and rides the el to Addison Station, just a block from the ballpark. For lunch at the ballpark, he gets himself a hot dog with mustard, relish and onions, and a Doctor Brownís black cherry soda.

    Vander Meer doesnít pitch a no-hitter this time, but he pitches well enough to win the game 1-0. Ben comes back on the el to the Union Station area that he is more familiar with, and has an early and leisurely dinner of meat loaf, green beans, and mashed potatoes at 5 PM at a diner on Jackson.

    He then walks around Union Station for a while, marveling at the majesty and power of the building. He loves railroad stations - the big ones like Penn Station and Grand Central in New York, and the Union Stations in Washington, DC and Chicago are his favorites. He agrees with Thomas Wolfe, who seven years earlier said something to the effect that there are only a few buildings vast enough to capture the sound of time, and that most of them are railroad stations.

    But he also likes the three stations in San Antonio which are classics in their own more humble ways. Two of them are shaped to look like the Alamo, that traditional symbol of the city, and one is fashioned after a Spanish mission. He used the Southern Pacific Station most often, sometimes called the Sunset Depot because of the Sunset Limited that runs from New Orleans through San Antonio and on to Los Angeles. Its faÁade is shaped with the Alamoís curvature, as is the old International - Great Northern Station, which is now being operated by Missouri Pacific. The Missouri-Kansas-Texas, or Katy Station, looks like one of the four Spanish missions scattered around San Antonio that date back to the early eighteenth century. Its waiting roomís marvelous interior mosaic tiles are considered a classic design.

    He retrieves his suitcase from the baggage check room and proceeds to the departure gate for The Southerner, and at 6:20 PM, the conductor starts the boarding process. Heís taking the coach for this leg, which is rough because the ride is 40 hours and 15 minutes, and thatís if they make it on time. But he feels that after splurging on the Broadway Limited, he owes it to himself to economize here.

    At 6:55, five minutes late, the train lurches forward with a squeal and begins the long southbound run that will end in San Antonio. He watches until the train has cleared the station, and then he goes aft (he usually uses Navy talk even when heís not on a ship, and going aft means walking in the direction toward the rear) to the parlor car to see if he can find a writing desk. Sure enough, there are two vacant desks, so he sits down at one and takes out his journal. And once again his Vacumatic starts its steady gliding and curling, as his story continues to emerge from the shadows.

    Nailing it all down so someone else can see it - that is the important thing, he has finally come to realize. Seeing it partially there, now for the first time, has made him all the more sure of that.

  6. #6
    Cat Person DickZ's Avatar
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    The Journal, Part 5
    THE JOURNAL RESUMES

    Room inspections were a major event in the lives of a Plebe, and we would spend an entire weekend preparing for a ten-minute visit on Sunday evening by a First Classman inspector. Every surface in the room, whether it be visible or hidden, had to be free of dust. The inspectors would lift mattresses and wipe the bedsprings with their white gloves to make sure that we didn’t clean only those parts of the room which showed. I think Al and I usually did reasonably well on our room inspections.

    Our times in the mess hall were quite memorable, but not because of the unforgettably delicious food. In fact, we Plebes hardly ever got to eat a full meal, we were so busy with all the other business that went on in the mess hall. As soon as our company reached the dining hall, we had to start ‘chopping’ (which was sort of like running fast in place if we couldn’t actually travel fast due to congestion in the mess hall) and we kept on chopping until we got to our table.

    Once we sat down, we had to start passing all the food, which was in trays and bowls, and all the drinks, which were in pitchers. When we weren’t passing food, we were asked professional questions, like ‘Name the battleships on each coast.’ If we didn’t know, we had to say ‘I’LL FIND OUT, SIR!,’ because we were never allowed to say we didn’t know something. Then we had to find out the answer before the next meal. Many answers could be found in books we had in our room (such as Bluejacket’s Manual or Reef Points), or in the library.

    Two of the more grueling punishments served up in the mess hall were clamping on and shoving out. Clamping on required that you plant your elbows firmly on the table top and bring your knees on the lower side of the table up to meet your elbows, and remain suspended like that until being told to come aboard. It was easy for the first thirty seconds or so, but quickly started getting worse after that. Shoving out required that you ‘shove out’ your chair but retain the sitting position with nothing supporting your bottom. This again was easy for a while, but didn’t stay that way for long. We also had to do lots of pushups under the dining tables at the whim of the upperclassmen.

    I was at the same table with the Mr. Ricketts I mentioned earlier who threatened to make my life miserable, and he carried through on his threat. Anyway, he seemed to take great pleasure in having me clamp on or shove out for long periods of time. Sometimes I had to do both at the same meal. If he could have figured out a way to have me do both at the same time, I’m sure he would have been very happy with himself. But I survived - as did most of us. A few dropped out in the early months of Plebe Year. Others dropped out later for academic difficulties.

    Now there were lots of other challenges we had to contend with. Listing them all would probably use up my entire bottle of ink and consume the rest of the pages in my journal, so I’ll just let the clamping on, shoving out, and doing pushups serve as typical examples of what we went through. There were lots of other equally agonizing ordeals.

    While we didn’t see it at the time, the intent of all this was to toughen us up, and to help us learn to perform under pressure. We were supposed to be prepared to go into combat someday. Looking back on Plebe Year, I can see from a distant perspective more easily what it was all about, than I could see while I was doing the clamping on and the shoving out. A raging debate has gone on for years as to whether or not the difficulties that were placed upon us were effective. I won’t solve that dilemma myself, but in my opinion, from what I’ve seen since leaving the academy, it was a good approach. Some of my classmates agree with me; others do not. But that’s how it is in lots of areas where the answers aren’t as black-and-white as we’d like.

    In preparation for our first Army-Navy football game, to be played at the Polo Grounds in New York City, we had a week-long series of spontaneous pep rallies each evening throughout Bancroft Hall and outside. They were started by Plebes who had been ordered to spontaneously run up and down the halls screaming “BEAT ARMY!!!” Army won the game, 14-9. After the game, I went out onto the field to trade cuff links with a West Point Plebe. We would trade one link, so we could each then have one Navy and one Army cuff link. I still have my West Point cuff link in my jewelry box, but haven’t worn it since my Midshipman days.

    We had to take ballroom dance lessons to make sure we could handle the social situations which would later arise during our naval careers, and spent many hours in Memorial Hall learning to waltz and fox trot. We had to dance with each other as there were no women at the academy. After we could move like Fred Astaire, they would import girls from colleges in the area, like Hood and Goucher in Baltimore, for what were known as ‘tea fights’ so we could put our newly-found skills to use in a non-instructional environment, which meant we could dance without having a teacher saying ‘ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three’ all the time. We had to do the counting ourselves.

    To match us up with the females at these tea fights, we would proceed in a line up to a rendezvous point which was also being approached by a line of girls. The worst part of this arrangement was the tendency of us Mids to watch for ‘dogs’ in the girls’ line and then count back in our own line to see who was going to get stuck. For example, as soon as someone noticed that the tenth girl in line might be a problem, you could see the counting in the guys’ line begin, and the tenth guy in line would slowly start to wander backward to take a place farther back in the queue. Well, numbers 11, 12, and 13 didn’t want to be sacrificial lambs either, so they too would edge back, and before you knew it, there was a raging stampede in process. We didn’t have much class or social graces back then, but we eventually mellowed.

    But one great thing came about as a result of these tea fights. My roommate Al met the lady who would later become his wife. Polly was from Baltimore and came to a few of these dances. After she met Al, she would come only for him, which she would do often. I got to know Polly very well, since Al and I were pretty much inseparable. During my Midshipman days, I would take Lucille Silverman, also from Baltimore but whom I met at synagogue, to all the dances. But I wasn’t nearly as close with Lucille as Al was with Polly.

    Graduation of the First Class (the seniors, Class of 1928) was a big event, not that I was particularly interested in the First Class but that it marked the end of our Plebe Year. Graduation was in Dahlgren Hall, our armory, and when the Firsties threw up their caps after their ‘three cheers for those we leave behind,’ we Plebes took off for the Herndon Monument to complete the ceremony of replacing the dixie cup which was sitting atop the greased obelisk surrounded by a moat of quicksand-like mud, with a combination cap. I was positioned halfway up the monument in our human pyramid, full of grease with my face pressed into the stone of the obelisk by other equally-exuberant classmates, but nothing detracted from my elation when we finally finished and Plebe Year was over.

    Our own First Class Year had a few major highlights, the best of which was our sandwich-selling experience. My roommate Al and I noticed that the Plebes were always hungry because they often couldn’t eat in the mess hall due to upper class questions and other kinds of hazing activities. So we thought that if we could sell fresh sandwiches, we could make a killing. We were right! Out in town we spent $2 and bought several loaves of bread, some bologna and some cheese, along with mayonnaise, mustard, lettuce, and tomatoes, and sold out our wares for $4 in a matter of minutes. We offered a great variety of sandwiches, including just bologna, just cheese, or bologna together with cheese. So after selling out so easily, we re-invested our $4 take, doubled our volume, and again sold out quickly, bringing in $8 in the process. We must have figured that at this rate, doubling our money each time, we would be quite wealthy after just a month! And remember, in 1931 a dollar was worth a lot more than it is now in 1941!

    Our third attempt involved so many sandwiches, based on $8 worth of supplies, that we cleared off our double desk and used the whole surface to spread out our bread. Well, while we had the entire working area covered with bread, who should walk in but Lieutenant Aldrich, the Officer of the Watch! We not only had to turn over our entire stock of sandwich makings to the Mess Hall, but we got written up with Class-A offenses as well. We got a lot of demerits for that, and we lost all of our previous profits, since we had always plowed back all these profits into the next and larger volume of sandwiches.

    Service selection came shortly before graduation, and we were called to Memorial Hall to see our respective detailers. I got my choice of USS COLORADO (BB-45), a battleship operating out of San Pedro, California, and was very happy with this selection. Al went into the Marine Corps.

    My sister Ann and brother-in-law Hymie were the only family members from San Antonio who could make it up to Annapolis for our graduation. It was expensive and a tough journey, so my parents didn’t come. Hymie brought along his gold-filled Wahl fountain pen with the pocket clip that I had given him during my enlisted days in San Diego, just to show me that he still used it and treasured it.

    At graduation in Dahlgren Hall, there were 470 of us remaining from the 650 who started four years ago. After we were given three cheers by the remaining classes, we gave our three cheers ‘for those we leave behind’ and up went our caps. I can still see mine going upward with a slight curl to the right as it climbed up and up.

    Our days at the academy were all over, and I was ready to move on to the next phase of my life - on a magnificent battleship in the real Navy.
    Last edited by DickZ; 01-22-2008 at 12:30 PM.

  7. #7
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    The Journal, Part 6
    THE JOURNAL CONTINUES

    In July, 1931, I reported aboard USS COLORADO (BB-45), a battleship that was only eight years old - just old enough to have had all the bugs worked out of her but still young enough to be a modern warship. It was ideal duty, and many of the new Ensigns who had just graduated had similar assignments. I was Assistant Turret Officer for one of the four massive gun turrets. Each one housed a giant pair of 16-inch, 105-ton rifles, which some might call cannons.

    There was nothing more glorious than a battleship back then, or even now, for that matter. Just the sight of ten majestic battlewagons thundering forward in column formation at 500-yard intervals, with smoke bellowing from their stacks while they surge powerfully onward through the water at 20 knots with salt spray coming up over their bows, is enough to send anyoneís pulse racing.

    And since the Great War was only 13 years behind us, there wasnít much in the way of any new war threats at that time. It was a very enjoyable tour and I learned a lot. We conducted endless tests and practice, which was essential for being effective with our 16-inch guns. We anchored in fabulous South Pacific ports of call, and made a cruise to the Far China Station.

    The 16-inch turrets on a battleship make her the most powerful weapon afloat. When both barrels in the turret are fired simultaneously in a salvo, the shock and noise are indescribable with mere words. You just have to be there to feel it so you can understand what itís like. Flames and smoke accompany the projectile fired from each barrel, and the round can hit targets 25 miles away. There are over 150 men in each 16-inch turret who maintain the guns to keep them in working order, and who handle the ammunition, bringing it up from the magazines below with mechanical hoists, and loading it into the breeches of the guns.

    On November 5, 1931 there was a bad explosion in one of our five-inch gun mounts that killed five sailors and injured 23. I guess we were lucky that we never had anything like that in our 16-inch turrets because it would have been a lot worse.

    In February, 1932 we made a cruise to Hawaii, and it was in Honolulu that I got a letter from my academy roommate Al, who was now at Basic School in the Philadelphia Navy Yard, undergoing his Marine Corps training. He told me that he and Polly had scheduled their wedding for the day after his graduation from Basic School. It would be June 18, 1932 at Baltimore, and I was invited to be one of the guys who got to form the arch of swords that he and Polly would go through after the ceremony had been completed.

    On our cruise to China, I picked out a Ďthousand flower bowlí to give them as a wedding present, and I made sure I had permission well in advance to take leave to make it to the wedding. The ship returned to San Pedro just in time for me to make the trip. It was a four-day train ride each way, but for Alís and Pollyís wedding, it was more than worth the ride. I was very careful to wrap the fragile thousand flower bowl well, and I carried it with me the whole trip, rather than trusting it to anybody else.

  8. #8
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    The Journal, Part 7
    THE JOURNAL CONTINUES

    In 1933, I was assigned to be Communications Officer on USS LUZON (PR-7), a gunboat operating on the Yangtze River Patrol on what was called the Far China Station. It was exciting duty, as the Yangtze River was 3,900 miles long, and there were only five other U.S. Navy gunboats operating there. United States naval forces on the river are distributed over its entire length. In those days, the United States exported over $150 million worth of goods to China and imported more than $250 million. At least half of this commerce, and probably more, passed up and down the Yangtze River. Considering all the bandits and pirates, as well as several general uprisings, without the protection of our Navy this commerce would have been practically nonexistent.

    We spent most of our time in defending commercial ships from river pirates and lawless elements, who were holding up and looting steamers and junks, and firing on passing craft. We also helped in restoring order during riots that broke out on occasion.

    LUZON was the flagship of the Yangtze River Patrol. Once we were stationed with one other gunboat near Chungking during a disturbance there, and we had some pretty intense situations. Several times during that disturbance we were able to handle the riots with just our firehoses, but twice it got so unruly that we had to use our machine guns to disperse the rioters. Sometimes more powerful destroyers would join us, but they couldn’t go as far upriver as we in the smaller boats could.

    One day when my gunboat was in Hankow I was shocked to be called to the quarterdeck to greet visitors - it was the Kellers, Al and Polly! Al was also stationed on another gunboat in the area, and Polly got to come out to visit him for just a short while. It was really too dangerous for her to stay on a full-time basis, but short visits were OK.

    In 1935 I received orders to USS OMAHA (CL-4), a cruiser, in which I was assigned a Department Head billet - Chief Engineer - I would be in charge of the propulsion and electrical systems. In this job, my prior enlisted experience as a Water Tender proved to be invaluable.

    I met the guy I was relieving and we went through each of the boiler rooms and engine rooms together, going over the condition of everything in the plant. It concerned me a great deal to see he was shaking like a leaf, and I mean all the time, and not just when he was under pressure from an immediate crisis. I asked some of the other officers what he was like when he first reported aboard - they said he was as steady as a rock back then. It gave me more than a little concern about what I might be in for.

    We had a few engineering casualties, like the time one of our electrical generator turbines shot some blades right through the casing and out into the engine room. We found a couple of these teeth stuck in the insulation of a main steam line up in the overhead; it wasn’t all that comforting to know that bullets like these were flying around the space. Eventually we got new generators, right before I left the ship, but we had to learn to live with the old ones for several months. They were a real nightmare, having come from a 1920s vintage cruiser.

    This was my first East coast ship, so I got to see a whole new round of ports, including Naples, Cannes and Nice, Valencia and Barcelona, Athens and Istanbul. My camera got a real workout in those places.

    And then I had the weekend to remember always - the time in Capri where I met a school teacher from Finland who was there on vacation. We met in La Piazzetta, which is the nickname for Piazza Umberto I, where a large clock tower looks down onto seventy sun-drenched brightly-colored umbrellas, each of which shades a table in the square below.

    We met at about 1 PM on Friday, and spent six hours talking without noticing the time, despite the mammoth clock tower hanging over our heads. She spoke fluent English and was fascinating. When we finally noticed what time it was, we went back to our respective hotels to get washed up and change clothes, and we met for dinner at a restaurant on one of the side streets. After dinner, we danced until the band went home. Then we sat at a table until the proprietor tossed us out and locked his doors.

    She was something else, but I can’t put much detail in here because I don’t know who might read my journal some day. Suffice it to say, despite her perfect command of the English language, she used a lot of Finnish words that weekend, speaking softly but clearly, and I understood her perfectly. We were together until Monday morning, when I had to go back to the ship. I must have had some kind of far-away look on my face while riding the ferryboat back to Naples, because I don’t even remember making the crossing.

    Toward the end of my tour on OMAHA, when we took the boilers off the line that last time, it was a terrible feeling. I was in Main Control when the boiler rooms requested permission to take their boilers off the line after we were safely alongside the pier and on shore power. Realizing that would be the last time I would give permission to take the boilers off the line was more difficult than I would have thought. On my last day, I walked around the ship, which was now ‘cold iron’ with all the boilers and other machinery secured. It was very hard making that last tour of my spaces, because I had become quite attached to the ship and its personnel, especially my Water Tenders and Machinist Mates. They had to put up with incredible hardships - very difficult working conditions in temperatures always exceeding 120 degrees, and lots of long hours making sure all the machinery was kept in good working order. They were the hardest-working guys in the Navy, as far as I was concerned.

  9. #9
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    The Journal, Part 8
    THE JOURNAL CONTINUES

    In May, 1938 I returned to Annapolis for graduate school. It was wonderful to be back in Annapolis without the burden of being a Midshipman. Itís a great little town, but usually the strains of being a Mid offset any advantages. I studied Mechanical Engineering, and got my masterís degree in it. After my enlisted time working with boilers, and having served in gunnery and shipboard engineering billets as an officer, that is where my inclinations were.

    I met a woman out in town named Katy, and we dated pretty seriously for well over a year. Our favorite activities were taking in a movie at one of the three Annapolis theaters that were all within walking distance of the academy, and going to dinner in some nice small restaurants on Maryland Avenue, Main Street, and West Street. There is a scenic marina down at the foot of Main Street. Walking through the streets of Annapolis was something I always enjoyed. The city was made more for walking than for driving. Narrow streets made driving more trouble than it was worth.

    After we had explored just about every place there was to explore in Annapolis, we expanded our adventures to Washington and Baltimore, using her 1938 Ford. As an almost perpetual sailor, I still had not yet bitten the bullet and bought myself a car. It would just turn to rust alongside the pier while we were at sea.

    We Navy types had been watching the world situation very closely for some time now, because things were happening in Asia and Europe, and they werenít all that comforting. Those of us in my class at the academy had entered in peacetime, just a few years following the completion of a major war, and we really didnít envision anything like that happening again too soon. Certainly not in our lifetimes.

    I still wasnít sure about getting too serious with Katy, though, so we just confined our relationship to seeing each other frequently throughout my time at school. Even by the time I had finished school and had gotten my orders to an Executive Officer billet on USS GOFF (DD-247), I was still waiting to see if any bells would go off between Katy and me - they never really did.

    In June, 1940, I packed up my seabag again and it was off to USS GOFF in Norfolk. I was the Executive Officer, which is an uncomfortable billet sandwiched between the great jobs of Commanding Officer above, and the Department Heads below. Itís a necessary step on the way to command, though, so I went into the job with gusto. We operated out of Norfolk, Virginia, so we kept a closer eye on the proceedings in Europe, but that doesnít mean we ignored what was happening across the Pacific. The country seemed bound and determined to stay out of war at any cost, and so far we seemed to be succeeding in staying with that strategy. However, it was beginning to be rather obvious that we couldnít remain out of the fray forever. Our destroyer division deployed to Europe shortly after I reported aboard in June, and we spent most of our time there anchored off Lisbon, Portugal. We kept our flags illuminated at night so the Germans wouldnít mistakenly attack us as a combatant.

    GOFF was a destroyer, much smaller than my battleship and cruiser, but she was considered a real workhorse, along with all her sister destroyers. We participated in exercises with our destroyer division to make sure we kept our seamanship and gunnery skills up to par. So many British merchant ships were being sunk by German submarines that convoys were being implemented to cut down the losses. Our torpedo and depth charge gangs got a real workout during our exercises - there is a tremendous difference between when youíre practicing it for real because you know your life may depend on it, and when youíre doing it just because itís on the schedule. It was beginning to look like our lives might depend on it.

    In September 1940, we returned to Norfolk for a quick refit and then our destroyer division proceeded to the Panama Canal in October, where we remained until February 1941. At that point we were assigned patrol duties in the Caribbean off Puerto Rico and Martinique until May. However, I got set of orders in April transferring me to another destroyer, again as Executive Officer, so I left GOFF before she finished her assignment in the Caribbean. It was with the understanding that after six months, I would assume command of my new ship and be promoted to Lieutenant Commander.

    THE JOURNAL HALTS

    At this point, it is almost noon and The Southerner is pulling into the station in San Antonio. While Ben didnít sit there and write straight through for 40+ hours, the narrator hopes the reader has gotten the idea about the need for occasional breaks from working on the journal, and that discussion of each of those breaks has now become unnecessary.

    Ben stops writing and puts his journal back into his suitcase. He is thrilled to see his parents and some of his brothers and sisters on the platform waiting for him. They couldnít all come, or there wouldnít be room in the car. When the train comes to a stop and the passengers are ready to get off, the usual irritating lady blocks the aisle while she struggles with her baggage - thereís always one, he mutters to himself - but eventually the line starts moving toward the door and heís soon hugging his family on the platform.

    As they drive off to the house in which Ben grew up, everybody in the car is nervously bombarding him with questions about whatís going to happen and are we going to enter the war. Ben assures them that everything will be all right, and advises that they just keep listening to the President, who periodically addresses the nation in his fireside chats. Ben tells them that the Navy is aware of the situation, and that all hands are preparing for the worst, but continuing to hope for the best.

  10. #10
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    The Journal, Part 9
    THE JOURNAL STAYS CLOSED

    As the narrator, I now must say that the journal entry that Ben made as the train was pulling into San Antonio was his final one in the book. When he departed San Antonio to report to his next ship, he left the journal behind at his parentsí home, sitting on an end table next to the sofa in the living room. It could have been inadvertent, and it could have been that he had a premonition that maybe it should stay in a safe place. We just donít know.

    In May, 1941 Ben reported aboard USS REUBEN JAMES (DD-245), as Executive Officer. The Commanding Officer of the ship was Lieutenant Commander Heywood L. Edwards, from San Saba, Texas, U.S. Naval Academy Class of 1926. Edwards had been a star on Navyís wrestling team during his days as a Midshipman and was as tough as they come, as wrestlers always are.

    Two months before Ben reported aboard, REUBEN JAMES had begun serving as one of the escorts of the convoys delivering goods to England. This escort force went from the United States to Iceland, where the convoys were turned over to the Royal Navy who escorted them the rest of the way.

    REUBEN JAMES sailed from Argentia, Newfoundland, October 23, 1941, with four other destroyers to escort eastbound convoy HX-156 to Iceland. At the completion of that convoy run, Ben was scheduled to assume command of the ship and be promoted to Lieutenant Commander. LCDR Edwards, who had been in command for a year and a half, was going to rotate back to the United States for another assignment.

    While escorting that convoy, at 5:25 AM on October 31, 1941, REUBEN JAMES was torpedoed by a German submarine, U-552. Her magazine, where the shipís ammunition was stored, exploded and the ship broke in half. The forward section sank immediately - all the shipís officers were in this section. The after section sank five minutes later. Of the crew, 44 survived and 115 were lost. The survivors were picked up by the NIBLACK and the HILARY P. JONES, other destroyers escorting the convoy.

    Not a single officer was saved. REUBEN JAMES was the first U.S. Navy ship sunk by hostile action in World War II, more than a month before Pearl Harbor.

    I never got to meet my Uncle Ben Ghetzler, because I was born a year after he was lost. But I now feel like I know him almost as well as if I had actually met him - I just wish I had thought to write this story years ago.

    Afterword follows.

  11. #11
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    The Journal, Part 10
    AFTERWORD

    As much as I wish the journal described in this story actually existed, it doesnít. Most people just donít ever seem to get around to writing it all down. All the major milestones are correct, and the names used are real people who were really there. There are as many factual incidents as I could find reflected in the story. For example, USS COLORADO did suffer a five-inch gun mount explosion on November 5, 1931, there was a riot at Chungking in 1934 that the USS LUZON helped to quell, and Johnny Vander Meer did pitch a 1-0 game, defeating the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on April 22, 1941. But to fill in the gaps in the story, to make it something more than my Uncle Ben went from the Naval Academy to the USS COLORADO to the USS LUZON and then to the USS OMAHA, I added incidents along the way that I believe are quite plausible.

    Since I went to the Naval Academy myself, although many years later, and served in the Navy also, Iím sure all the added elements are quite possible and typical of what really happened. The reason Iím so sure of this is that they happened to me, as you have already surmised.

    Both the Navy and the Naval Academy are timeless in many respects, and the bonds that link generations are very strong. While advances in technology steadily change the ships and weapons to some degree over time, the people who operate these ships and weapons are woven from the same fabric as those who went before them. Each year the Naval Academy publishes the Lucky Bag, an annual that gives pictures and short biographies of each graduate, as well as lots of pictures of life around the academy and out in the streets of Annapolis.

    Whenever I compare my Lucky Bag for the Class of 1965 with my Uncle Benís Lucky Bag for the Class of 1931, I am always struck by the fact that the faces and the stories are easily interchangeable from one class to another, across the years. My picture and story would fit perfectly in his 1931 Lucky Bag, and Uncle Benís would fit just as well in my 1965 book. It works equally well for much larger spans of time, including the Class of 2005 that just graduated a few days ago. [Authorís note: Story was written in June 2005.]

    The Naval Academy Alumni Association puts out a magazine called Shipmate, which periodically gives news of all the classes that have graduated. In 1985, I asked the President of the Class of 1931 if he could run a note in his column that my mother was Ben Ghetzlerís sister, and would be interested in hearing from any of his classmates who remembered him. She got several responses, but the best one was from Polly Keller, the wife of Benís roommate Al from academy days. She and my mother exchanged a few letters in 1986, and Pollyís letters gave me the basis for all of the episodes involving Al and Polly. Polly even mentioned the thousand flower bowl that Ben had given them as a wedding present, and said that it still occupied a prominent place in her living room at that time.

    Al Keller served in the Marine Corps and fought in the Pacific Theater during World War II. He retired as a Brigadier General, and died in 1976. Polly died in 1995. Their son is living in Falls Church, Virginia, and provided some information on his father to round out this story.

    And he still has the Chinese thousand flower bowl that my Uncle Ben brought across the Pacific and then hand-carried over the rails from coast to coast to give his parents for their wedding back in 1932. It continues to occupy a prominent place, now in his living room.

    THE END
    11 June 2005

    25 January 2006
    Followup to The Journal

    In June 2005, I wrote a multi-part story called The Journal about the imaginary recollections my uncle jotted down on a train trip from New York City to San Antonio, Texas, in April 1941. It was imaginary because he never did it himself, so I tried to do it for him 64 years after he died.

    In that journal, my uncle wrote a paragraph that read:

    ďIn San Francisco, I bought similar presents for my sister Sylvia and my brother-in-law Hymie. Hymie is married to my sister Ann. He and Sylvia are the most faithful correspondents I have. While itís thrilling to travel to all these exotic places, I canít forget that my roots are still back in San Antonio. I can always count on at least one letter a week from both Sylvia and Hymie. So I got them each a nice gold-filled Wahl fountain pen. Hymieís has a pocket clip, and Sylviaís has a ringtop. Those pens were expensive, but it was worth it to show them how grateful I am that they take the time to write me so often.Ē

    --------------------------------------

    My Aunt Sylvia just died a few months ago at the age of 96. In going through our auntís possessions, my sister found a letter dated November 10, 1941 from a Rear Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Chief of the Bureau of Navigation at that time. The letter was addressed to my uncleís mother, who would of course be my grandmother. The letter expressed condolences about the loss of her son at sea on October 31 when USS REUBEN JAMES was torpedoed more than a month prior to Pearl Harbor.

    My sister also found among my auntís things, several journals that her brother, my uncle, had written on various ships during his career. Upon hearing of these, I almost jumped out of my skin hoping they were discussions of events and feelings and ideas that would replace the imaginary journal I wrote just last year. Unfortunately they were just notations of navigational positions and ship activities like gunnery exercises.

    Well, at least they are in his own handwriting, and are better than nothing, which is what I thought we had before this discovery.
    Last edited by DickZ; 07-21-2008 at 10:53 AM.

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