Before I pick up on Gene Portner’s 13th Co. story on getting to the Academy let me note that several of you have done what his family pushed him to do and have written your memoirs. A few have sent me copies in book or disc format. I have them available to pick from and will do so at an appropriate time.
Now back to Gene.
To escape that faceless draft, I signed up for the Army Air Corps Cadet program just as my senior year at high school was beginning. I owe the rest of the story to Air Corps Recruiting officer who told me (ordered me) to finish high school first. Meanwhile, secretly, Dad was working behind my limited understanding of what was possible on an appointment for me to the U S Naval Academy. For my part, I finally began to take my schoolwork seriously. I had coasted through my studies in math, science, history, language and literature—your basic college prep requirements, on a get-by, get it over with attitude. Now, I was growing up. I had to make up for lost time. Dad’s reputation, his called in favors, his faith in me were all on the line. In my attic room I stayed up every night and weekends trying to absorb what I had previously glossed over. In the winter of 1944 I took the Naval Academy entrance exam at the Post Office in Colorado Springs. I found out that I had passed---it barely. There was much joy and rejoicing in the entire senior class at that news. They declared me “Most Likely to Succeed.” That was excessive, just an expression of their own somewhat bleak prospects as soldiers or sailors. We were at war and no one knew for how long. And I was going to be a spoiled and pampered pet of Uncle Sam.
The Navy sent me orders to report to Annapolis at a date in late June. This was a fateful and pivotal letter to the son of a hard working blue-collar plumber. His dream was coming true. He was very proud. What I knew that he was best man I would ever know and I could not let him down.
At the Colorado Spring railroad depot I was waved “good bye” by my Mom, Dad, Brother, Sister and Girlfriend. Not to read much into the term. Girlfriend in those days meant a completely chaste relationship consisting of a movie date rarely and someone to take to the Senior Prom
On that train, I carried a cardboard suitcase, which held some socks, underwear, an extra shirt, a sport coat, a toothbrush, and a razor. I tried to plan the trip and expenses carefully. The Navy wasn’t paying for anything. For the daylight portion of the trip to Chicago, I figured to buy a ham sandwich and a couple of candy bars. I had some money left from my summer jobs but most of it was gone on frivolous stuff like a .22 rifle, records, a record player, ice cream, clothes I didn’t need and couldn’t use, and postponed luxuries. Obviously, I slept sitting up in the coach section thinking mostly of breakfast on the diner. I had coffee and a donut. Later that day we arrived at the Burlington railroad station, which was the end of the line for the eastbound trains. It was necessary to get across town to the Baltimore and Ohio station for the next leg to Washington. The weather was good, the suitcase light, and the walk easy. Then I saw and smelled a German restaurant where I was served a stein of beer and a bratwurst sandwich. How good it was! I thought, “What a wonderful city is Chicago, beer for lunch and a no-nonsense hot dog with hot mustard and sauerkraut.
I had another night sitting up and looking out the window at the astoundingly, beautiful and unforgettable view of mile after mile of steel mills and foundries in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. The glowing furnaces and red-hot slag dumps were to me a fiery wonderland. And even more, they were producing millions of tons of steel to win the war. Having this sight right there to see made sleep impossible.
Arriving at Union Station in Washington D.C. began another adventure for a very green young boy. The Capital Dome was the first thing I saw. I was anxious to see more, but first I had to find a hotel. Of course I had no reservations and rooms were few and dear in downtown Washington during the war. I just wandered in to a nice hotel nearby and they had a vacancy. Number one priority for me was room service to pick up my jacket and trousers to be sponged and pressed so I would look presentable the next day, which was going to be my first day at Annapolis. (How was I to know that the first thing they do at the Naval Academy is take away the civilian clothes and issue Navy white works—a light weight cotton, loose fitting, draw string garment.) Next, I needed to find the Bus station so there would be no problem getting on the early morning bus. Then, wide-eyed and wonder struck I walked the Mall. Even in wartime the monuments were lighted. I remember the rush of pride to be an American and the feeling that I truly belonged there. I was an uneducated history buff, but I knew the monuments, roughly where they were, and certainly what they represented. I was very impressed, and my being there was an unforgettable experience. Here I was, in the Nation’s capital, a hick really, from a relatively small town in the West. In fact, I was very nervous thinking of the next day.
I got to the bus station early. On the way I recall how unbelievable the Maryland countryside was on the early summer morning, how green-how sylvan! Whereas Colorado was basically brown, this country was basically green. When the bus pulled into Annapolis it was still morning. I needed some time to unwind. I looked at the historical buildings including the Catholic Church, which I visited to give thanks. Except for the church, everything was different to me. The cobblestone streets, the simple but elegant shops. There was a quiet dignity to the city of Annapolis. Finally, I worked up some courage and boldly walked to the Main Gate. The civilian Guards (Later I learned they were called “Jimmy Legs”) pointed the way to Bancroft Hall where I was to identify myself. What an imposing sight. Bancroft Hall! With her open arms and massive bronze doors. “Mother B” seemed to welcome me as a son. She seemed to say; “Now you can relax. Your trip is done. I’ll take over from here".
Scribe’s note: See Gene’s autobio in the 50Year book.
Since the last column I have learned of the passing of three Classmates and one wife.
22nd Co. Treadwell, K.M.* 3/1/14
13th Co. Patterson, R.F.* 3/2/14
18th Co. Humphrey, H.R. 3/29/14
* See autobio in 50 Year Book
Pauline (Polly) Clegg 9/15/13 Wife of Bill 17th Co. Polly was a Navy Nurse LT stationed in Japan during the Korean War and they met when Bill was in the hospital there. After leaving the service she taught critical care skills at St Vincent School of Nursing in Toledo, OH. She had M. Ed and Ed. S. They have two children both doctors. Truly a life of service.
We extend our condolences to all of the families.
As I believe most of you know we receive a report on our $2M gift periodically. The report for the past fiscal year which ended in June is interesting.
Gift purpose: Established in 1998 to provide funds to support the improvement of Information Technology Programs at the United States Naval Academy.
Financial summary 7/1/12-6/30/13
Market Value 6/30/13 $2,003,433
Support to USNA FY 13 $72,994
For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013, the U.S. Naval Academy Foundation’s main investment portfolio. The Core Portfolio, earned an investment return of 10.9%. This return was well ahead of all of the benchmarks we use. Our trailing three-year average annual return (FY11-FY 13) is 9.5%.
Scribe’s note: Are you doing that well on your investments? I’m not.
At the luncheon on April 11th, Charlie Mertz 13th Co. (our treasurer for the flower/memorial fund) reported that as of 3/31/14 the fund has $7,720.79.
For those of you with computers I recommend that you visit our home page which John Tsiknas 7th Co. put together and maintains for us. There is a lot of Class information there and a lot of pictures, in color, of Class activities. I would like to see a lot more pictures so if you go to a luncheon or whatever where Classmates are involved take pictures, your cell phone now produces very good pictures, and send them to me or to John. For those of you who still have not embraced the digital age get one of your children or grandchildren to bring their laptop or iPad or equivalent and show it to you. The address is 1948.usnaclasses.com.
I just had a call from Bill Borchert 8th Co. He was reading the last column and the item about bridge coats prompted him to call and tell be about his. He said he never liked it because it was so heavy however he missed it when it disappeared from his closet on his second ship. He had to buy the new version of that coat in 1958 for a change of command where overcoats were stipulated as the uniform of the day. Bill recounted the day when he was the last CO of ESO Great Lakes when he was walking and tried to get across a large patch of ice. The wind caught his overcoat and he says “I sailed across that patch of ice expecting to end up damaged but it didn’t happen and I stepped off into the grass on the other side.” I’ll bet if any of his troops happened to see that it became a great story around the office.
Scribe’s note: See Bill’s autobio in the 50 Year Book.
Snail mail from Jim Ruehrmund 13th Co. in Richmond, VA. sending me another picture of the FDR funeral procession. Jim says,
It has been quite a while since I last saw a Classmate for there are few of us in this area. Besides myself we have only Ernie Castle 3rd Co. in Mechanicsville, PA (whom I’ve never met) and non grad John Gaskin in Richmond. I sometimes wonder if I actually went to USNA. Read last issue of Shipmate from cover to cover and encountered not a single name familiar to me. It seems as though all my old friends have departed from these happy hunting grounds.
Sometimes we lose track of people and have to scrounge around searching for them. Such is the case of Frank Knock 13th Co. Anne-Marie Sisson finally found him for me. He is at The Fairfax nursing home and his daughter Lisa Knock tells us that Frank no longer know’s anyone. Too many of us are now, with the help of a spouse and family, faced with working our way through Alzheimer’s. So sad. To each and every one of you, you are in our prayers.
The next column will be the July-August issue with my deadline being May 27, ’14.