John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

The Saga of the USS Oklahoma

Pearl Harbor, Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, 7:48 am. Church services on board the large ships of the Pacific Fleet were about to begin. Being a Sunday, reveille was relaxed being scheduled for 8 am. Those sailors on duty had already maned their stations. The crew assigned to raise the colors had already assembled by their ship’s flagstaff. The buglers wetted their lips in preparation for the call to duty. The crews’ Sunday routine was about to commence when all hell broke loose.

One of the dreadnaughts moored along battleship row was the USS Oklahoma, manned by over 1,300 officers and crew. As was the navy’s custom, the battle ships were paired along concrete mooring fixtures just off Ford Island. Oklahoma was moored outside of the USS Tennessee. 

The first wave of enemy aircraft struck literally ‘out of the blue. Three hundred and fifty-three Japanese warplanes approached Pearl Harbor in two waves from the southeast. The torpedo bombers attacked battleship row at the most favorable point to give their deadly fish the best chance of scoring a hit. They had two advantages that tilted the odds even more in their favor. Their torpedoes were the most powerful of any nation and they had learned the art of launching them into shallow water by using extra fins, a technique they acquired from the British who used fins to destroy the Italian fleet at anchor in the port of Taranto in November of 1940.

Using these same tactics, the Japanese pilots went after the American battleships lined up,  immobile across the harbor. Unfortunately for the crew of the Oklahoma, their ship happened to become a magnet for these attacking pilots.

“Holes as wide as 40 feet were torn into the hull in the first ten minutes of the fight. Eight torpedoes smashed into the port side, each striking higher on the hull as the battleship began to roll.”

Counter-flooding would not have saved the ship but could have allowed it to sink upright on the bottom thirty-feet below. But this wasn’t possible as the torpedoes struck in rapid succession.  “Oklahoma rolled over and died even as a ninth torpedo slammed home.”

Around the clock rescue efforts began almost immediately, the divers’ goal, to find as many of the members of the crew trapped in the overturned hull.

“ Tapping could be heard as holes were drilled to rescue those trapped inside. Thirty-two souls were delivered from certain death, but most lost their battle in the days and weeks to come. Bulkhead markings would later reveal that, at least some of the doomed survived for as long as seventeen days in the black, upside-down hulk of that ship. The last mark was drawn on Christmas Eve.”

Six of the eight battleships damaged or sunk that day would return to service. Arizona and Oklahoma were the exceptions. Rightfully, the navy made the broken Arizona a memorial to the 1,102 crewmen entombed there. That count doesn’t include the ship’s survivors who included a wish in their last will and testament that their remains be entombed in the wreck after being cremated to spend eternity with their fallen brothers.

Oklahoma was also written off as a total loss and work on removing the ship didn’t begin until March 1943. “Twenty-one giant wooden A-frames were fixed onto the lower part of the exposed hull. Three-inch cables were strung from these A-Frames to 21 towers erected on Ford Island, each equipped with an electric motor capable of pulling 429 tons. Two pull configurations were used over 74 days, the first using the A-frames. Once the listing hull reached 70 degrees, the A-frames were removed, and the cables were attached directly to the ship’s hull and the barbettes.”

Finally, level, the wreck’s main deck was barely above the surface. Large wooden and concrete patches, also known as cofferdams, were constructed to temporarily patch the nine holes in the hull blown away by the torpedoes. In addition, hull plates had taken a beating due to the stresses of rolling over and being salvaged. Divers closed these gaps by stuffing them with kapok as the water was pumped out. The enormity of this work bordered on being insane. Divers spent 2 to 3 years making 1,848 dives that consumed 10,279-man hours. But removing the hulk of the Oklahoma was a priority to clear the harbor.  

“Salvage workers entered the pressurized hull through airlocks wearing masks and protective suits. Bodies were in an advanced stage of decomposition and oil and the chemical -soaked interior was toxic to life. Most victims would never be identified.” One can only imagine how painful, odious, disgusting and revolting this work was to the body, mind and spirit of the sailors who endured this assignment. God bless them for their service.

Oklahoma was dry docked early in 1944 to remove the concrete plugs and wooden cofferdams and seal all remaining leaks to make it seaworthy. When the war ended, any reason for retaining this salvaged wreck disappeared. On December 5, 1946, two days short of the fifth anniversary of its loss, the Moore Drydock Company of Oakland purchased the hulk for scrap.

The buyer had a backlog of work and it wasn’t until the following spring before two ocean-going tugs, the Monarch and the Hercules became available to tow the hull from Pearl Harbor to San Francisco Bay.

I can only imagine the concerns and trepidations of the masters of the two tugs contracted to tow the hulk back to the West Coast. Remember, the last time this compromised hulk had been at sea was 1941 and what was left was truly beaten up.

Aware that their charge was not in the best of health, Captain George Anderson of the Monarch and Kelly Sprague, commanding the Hercules, had both loosened their 1,400-foot tow line so they would release in an emergency.

Late in the evening on the first day out from Pearl, a spotlight from Hercules revealed that the hulk of the former battleship was listing heavily. May day calls were transmitted. The operators in Pearl recommended they return post haste.

The Oklahoma had other plans. Both tugs had turned their charge and were steaming slowly enough in hope of preventing the Oklahoma from sinking. Suddenly, although their engine telegraphs registered, slow ahead: Both tugs stopped dead in the water!

Monarch and Hercules found themselves being dragged astern at 17 knots. Oklahoma was heading for the bottom of the Pacific taking the tugs with it. Monarch’s tow rope broke first, but Hercules’ rope held, and the tug’s death ride continued until the last possible moment when the weight of the sinking battleship broke the rope.

Good ending: Both tugs survived and the USS Oklahoma, died an honorable death.

A COVID-19 Birthday

Last February 22, 2020, I turned 76 years old. Ten out of our family of 11, my wife and I, our son and daughter, their spouses and four of our five grandchildren gathered at the Bryant Park Grill to celebrate our family’s five birthdays that take place in January and February. We picked the Bryant Park Grill in Manhattan as it is one of our favorites. Only Number one Grandson, Drew, away at college at Miami of Ohio couldn’t be there, but, in a way, he was thanks to FaceTime.  

Little did we know that this festive event would be the swan song for everything that  everybody considered normal. Life as we knew it ended less than a month later.

Today the calendar reached February 22, 2021 making me 77 years old. Last Friday, my wife received her second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. I’m scheduled to receive my second dose this Sunday, the last day in February 2021.

President Joseph Biden used the occasion of my birthday to proclaim that February 22, 2021 witnessed the 500,000 death of an American to the COVID-19 virus.

When I was growing up, February 22 was a national holiday celebrating the birth of George Washington. Each year, I considered it my birth right to be off from school. It made me feel special.

Later, the holiday morphed into the generic “Presidents’ Day” celebrated on the third Monday in February. Fortunately for me, this infamnia against the father of our nation didn’t strike until after I came of age.

I still had my unique birthday, 2/22/44 and next year I am looking forward to my 78th falling on 2/22/22!

But I never signed on, nor would I ever want to be part of a new day of infamy where we remember that 500,000 Americans died from this virus.

A sense of melancholy lurked somewhere in my psyche as my birthday approached. Still, it wasn’t until late in the day that the reality of the COVID-19 death toll hit me. My way to relate to sadness like this is to call upon a song. For this downer, I call on Paul Simon and “Have A Good Time:”

Yesterday, it was my birthday

I hung one more year on the line

I should be depressed

My life is a mess

But I’m having a good time

Have a good time

Have a good time

Have a good time

Have a good time

Maybe I’m laughing my way to disaster

Maybe my race has been run

Maybe I’m blind

To the fate of mankind

But what can be done?

So, God bless the goods we were given

God bless the U.S. of A.

God bless our standard of livin’

Let’s keep it that way

And we’ll have a good time

Have a good time

Have a good time

Have a good time

Have a good time

A Caper at the St. James Club

Originally constructed as the library for a Nineteenth Century boys’ boarding school, the bar / lounge at the St. James Club is a warm room that invites patrons to linger over one more drink. Two levels of books line one side of the room paneled in dark wood with a black cast iron spiral staircast leading to a second story grated catwalk running the length of the wall of books. Opposite, several two-story windows open onto the rear garden providing a sense of being in a chateau in the French countryside instead of being tucked away in the Port Dauphin section of central Paris. A rich wooden bar occupies the closed end of the room while oversized chairs and couches, arranged in groups, facilitate conversstions and flirtation.

Scattered about are framed photographs of celebrities who frequent the St. James Club. In our day, Joan Collins, Robin Leach and Madonna graced the crowd with their presence, silently observing the merriment and intrigues at the bar. Almost all these photos were posed on the St. James’ elegant and ornate wooden staircase that descends from the second floor to the center of the handsome lobby.

For a time, one photograph lining the room stood out as an exception from those of the beautiful and powerful people. It was a photograph of three middle-aged men, two in dark blue suits flanking one in a gray suit. Chests out, stomachs sucked in, eyes bright, smiling confidently; the photograph captured them standing on the first step of the hotel’s grand staircase.

Patrons and guests, drinks in hand, would meander about the lounge viewing the photographs commenting on the subjects. Invariably, the three men received a brief look followed by a shrug of minor curiosity or disdain.

I understood their reaction. These men were not celebrities, they were imposters. I know because I am in the photograph. Our customer, Dick Green, took the photo of Jack Camillo, Frank D’Ambrosio and me that we introduced into the bar using stealth while the bartender and waiters were otherwise intent in going about their tasks.

Originally intended as a souvenir of our successful business trip, I asked Dick to take our photograph using a disposable camera I bought for the occasion. A nearby one-hour photo store gave it a new purpose when I realized they sold frames closely matching the hotel’s in color and design. On seeing how professional Dick’s photo looked, I had the shop make a 5 by 7 enlargemant which I placed into the new frame in the security of my room. On Friday night, our last night in Paris, we made our move and placed it among other photos before retiring for the night.

The following morning, as we checked out, Frank was giddy letting us know he had something to tell us once we were in the taxi on our way to Orly Field. Safely on our way, I had to break the silence: “Frank, what is the scoop that you can’t wait to tell us?”

“Well, this morning, after breakfast, I went to see if the bar was open. It was and I observed the cleaning staff tidying up the room.”

“Was our photograph still there?”

“Yes,” Frank replied. “Not only was it still there, but the cleaning staff had also moved it to a new location. Do you know what that means? We are part of their collection.”

We laughed and carried on for the rest of our journey home.

Aftr we returned to the office, we alerted colleagues to look for our photograph whenever one was scheduled to stay in Paris. Several times, they confirmed with admiration, our continued co-existence with the famous and almost famous.

For more than six months our celebrity status endured until a renovation of the bar terminated our fifteen minutes of fame.

(An earlier version of this story appeared in my anthology: “What Ac You Do in New York and Other Stories.”)

Covid Vaccination Anxiety

Thursday, February 4th was the day I was scheduled to receive my first injection of the Pfizer vaccine at 9:45 am. Mary Ann and I would be driving to the Westchester Community Center located in White Plains. We are already familiar with the facility. Mary Ann had made my reservation the previous Thursday evening on January 28th.

After giving the state’s representative all the necessary information to complete my reservation, Mary Ann had asked her: “Do you have a spot for me?”

“Yes, I do if you can make it to White Plains by 10:15 tomorrow morning.”

My wife grabbed it and we made our first journey the next morning. She drove and upon arrival, I asked a cop on duty where I should park. He directed me around a traffic circle and pointed out where the lot was located. I wished Mary Ann, good luck, we kissed and off she went. I started around the circle, but I was distracted by a pinging noise. Looking down I saw a message: “Key fob has been removed from the vehicle.”

Fortunately, I was able to explain my dilemma to the same cop. He asked me: “What does she look like and what is her name?”

 I replied: “Tall, blond, wearing a black down coat and her name is Mary Ann.”

 He bounded up the steps while I called her. He and I reached her at the same time and a few minutes later he returned with the fob. Less than a half-hour later, she was back sporting a band aide on her right upper arm and a sticker that said she’d been vaccinated.

As my daily countdown to the following Thursday progressed, my anxiety increased at the same rate as the number of days remaining decreased. A major snowstorm began on Sunday night that dumped about 15 inches of snow on Long Island before it departed late on Tuesday. This added to my anxiety, although having Wednesday as a clean-up buffer helped.

On V-day, my radio alarm went on at 6:15 am. I was already making my bed and the first sign of trouble came at 6:18 when the WCBS traffic reporter, Tom Karminski, already off the ground and being flown in Chopper 880, began his report with a three-car wreck on the south bound lanes of the Hutchinson River Parkway. All three lanes to traffic were closed at Pelham Parkway. This was bad news as we would be passing that spot going northbound in less than three hours.

Fifteen minutes later, morning host, Scott Shannon, called on reporter Steve Kathan, who was doing a remote report from the Westchester Community Center in White Plains: “Good morning Scott. We expect a crowd to be present here today as the county has announced that people who missed their appointments due to the snowstorm closing the center on Monday and Tuesday can begin to return today to get their vaccinations. George Latimer, the county executives, has asked the folks scheduled for today to practice patience should they encounter crowded conditions”

I do believe I would have freaked if we hadn’t already experienced how smoothly run this facility was the previous Friday. Instead, we consoled ourselves to be patent no matter how chaotic it turned out to be. We left the house at 8:30 with Mary Ann at the wheel of her Jeep. The accident on the Hutch had been cleared and traffic flowed freely allowing us to arrive at the center just about an hour later.

There was a line, but nothing like I feared. It only took me 15 minutes to enter the building. After that, things proceeded like clockwork as I proceeded from station to station until a guide led me to a cubby hole of a room where two women began to process me. In a matter of minutes, one woman filled out a form, rolled up my left sleeve, dabbed a spot with alcohol and injected the Pfizer vaccine.

My first shot was over, just like that. I was directed to a room and told to find a chair. “You can leave at the time written on the sticker I placed on your shirt.”

The sticker said 10:17 and a digital clock read: 10:05. I called Mary Ann and told her I would be out soon. She was both surprised and ecstatic and so was I.

Two more trips to go for our second doses and then this will be in our rearview mirror.

Once Upon a Time in Kingsbridge

This is the replacement for my previous blog post sent earlier today that was incomplete.

By Geoff Jones as told to John Delach

After Judy and I married in 1964, we moved from Westchester to a rental apartment on Webb Avenue in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx. Judy’s prize possession, her 1962 Corvette, accompanied us to our new digs. I understood that my new wife was an ardent automobile aficionado and remains so today.  

We were young and naïve about city living and gave little thought to protecting her Vette from theft or damage. It became my job to deal with alternate side parking by seeking out safe spots. I can’t recall how long I did it, but I remember being frustrated after only a few weeks.

The apartment we rented had a driveway and garage. The building owners were real city people who didn’t have a car, but they had rented their garage to a couple who lived next door. We were free to use the driveway but only when we were home, so we didn’t block their access. I can’t recall that we ever had an issue with the couple who seemed nice and who liked Judy’s car.

One summer Sunday, we drove out to Jones Beach for the day. That evening we arrived home exhausted by the sun, surf and the long drive in crappy traffic. Even so, that was a lucky night as we found a spot in front of our home. We grabbed it making unloading the umbrella, cooler, blankets etc. easier. We sat down after bringing our stuff inside and fell asleep, forgetting we’d left the Corvette’s convertible top down. Sometime before sunrise, I awoke and remembered what I had failed to do. My dread that the car had been stolen was lessened when I saw the keys on the table, but what if it had been vandalized? Fortunately, there it was completely untouched.

You can imagine my relief! I’m not sure if the crime rate in our neighborhood was better than I’d imagined, or if the Vette looked like a setup to catch car thieves. Whatever, this event may have been my motivation to find a garage. The primary impediment to securing garage space was that we didn’t feel we could afford to rent a spot.

One day, though, we noticed a “parking space for rent” sign on a house only a hundred or so feet away. I checked with the building owner who showed me the spot. The garage was an odd space  located beneath their house. It only had one door and already had a car in it. However, it was a long enough to accommodate two cars, one behind the other.

I felt that could only be a problem, but the lady said the spot for rent was not behind that car. There was an open space on the left just inside the garage door that had been her husband’s workshop that he  no longer used. The woman believed a car could be parked there. It was a tight squeeze, but our Vette was shorter and slightly narrower than many normal vehicles. I asked for a tryout and Judy and I found we could maneuver our car in and out without damages. So, we took it.

This strapped our spending but made life bearable as we could stop worrying about leaving our attractive car alone on streets for so many hours at a time.

A year or so later we attended a New Years’ Eve party somewhere we had to travel to by car. We returned to Webb Ave. long after midnight and found a car parked in the street blocking our driveway to the garage. I suppose I could have used our apartment driveway and left a sign on the car telling the couple next door to awaken us regardless of time. But you can guess how loopy I might have been after a New Year’s Eve party. Also, it had snowed leaving a blanket of ankle-deep wet snow to negotiate. I looked in the car, which was one step up from being labeled a “jalopy” and figured it was too old for power steering. I found a brick, hammered a hole in the driver’s side window, unlocked the door and got in. I put the stick shift into neutral, turned the wheels toward the curb, stepped out and, with Judy help, pushed the car back until rear wheels were against the curb. I got back in, turned the wheels out and we got behind the car and pushed it out into the street and  a car length past the driveway. I unlocked the garage, put the “Vette” to bed and we walked home.

Webb was a narrow street and parking was allowed on both sides. Since I had left the vehicle pretty much in the middle of the street, no one could get by. By the time I woke up late on the morning of New Year’s Day, the street had been plowed, and the car was gone. No repercussions and, since the statute of limitations ran out 50 years ago, I guess it’s okay to write about it now.  

Still, if that happened today, even the oldest cars on the road are equipped with power steering, power brakes and alarms guaranteeing my plan would not have worked.

Once Upon a Time in Kingsbridge

By Geoff Jones as told to John Delach

After Judy and I married in 1964, we moved from Westchester to a rental apartment on Webb Avenue in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx. Judy’s prize possession, her 1962 Corvette, accompanied us to our new digs. I understood that my new wife was an ardent automobile aficionado and remains so today.  

We were young and naïve about city living and gave little thought to protecting her Vette from theft or damage. It became my job to deal with alternate side parking by seeking out safe spots. I can’t recall how long I did it, but I remember being frustrated after only a few weeks.

The apartment we rented had a driveway and garage. The building owners were real city people who didn’t have a car, but they had rented their garage to a couple who lived next door. We were free to use the driveway but only when we were home, so we didn’t block their access. I can’t recall that we ever had an issue with the couple who seemed nice and who liked Judy’s car.

One summer Sunday, we drove out to Jones Beach for the day. That evening we arrived home exhausted by the sun, surf and the long drive in crappy traffic. Even so, that was a lucky night as we found a spot in front of our home. We grabbed it making unloading the umbrella, cooler, blankets etc. easier. We sat down after bringing our stuff inside and fell asleep, forgetting we’d left the Corvette’s convertible top down. Sometime before sunrise, I awoke and remembered what I had failed to do. My dread that the car had been stolen was lessened when I saw the keys on the table, but what if it had been vandalized? Fortunately, there it was completely untouched.

You can imagine my relief! I’m not sure if the crime rate in our neighborhood was better than I’d imagined, or if the Vette looked like a setup to catch car thieves. Whatever, this event may have been my motivation to find a garage. The primary impediment to securing garage space was that we didn’t feel we could afford to rent a spot.

One day, though, we noticed a “parking space for rent” sign on a house only a hundred or so feet away. I checked with the building owner who showed me the spot. The garage was an odd space  located beneath their house. It only had one door and already had a car in it. However, it was a long enough to accommodate two cars, one behind the other.

I felt that could only be a problem, but the lady said the spot for rent was not behind that car. There was an open space on the left just inside the garage door that had been her husband’s workshop that he  no longer used. The woman believed a car could be parked there. It was a tight squeeze, but our Vette was shorter and slightly narrower than many normal vehicles. I asked for a tryout and Judy and I found we could maneuver our car in and out without damages. So, we took it.

“Root, Root, Root for the Home Team”

Someone once asked me: “I understand that you have had a season ticket to the New York Football Giants going on 60 years. What kind of an experience has that been like?’

“I’ve witnessed five runs to the super bowl, four of which the Giants won. But overall, I’d have to say that attending games for 60 years has given me the opportunity to see an awful lot of  lousy football.”

I recently heard a long-suffering New York Knicks’ season subscriber reply to a question of how they will do this season: “We’re two-years from being two-years away from being a contender.”

The last time the NFL’s Detroit Lions won a title was 1957. Ike was president, TV was broadcast in black and white on a maximum of 13 channels. All telephones were leased from Bell and you had to dial them. They had alphabetical prefaces like: WH-2-5000. Operators had to assist with long distance calls to most of the other 48 states. The Dodgers played in Brooklyn and the Giants played in Manhattan .

Two lumberjacks from (take your pick) St Clair, Minnesota / Buffalo, New York died and went to hell. After being there a week, Satan stopped by to check on them. To his displeasure, he found them still wearing their winter snow gear. “Aren’t you two suffering in this heat?”

“Not at all, after so many cold and brutal winters, this is still plenty cold for us.”

Satan cranked up the heat several times only to find them slightly warmer. He finally cranked it up all the way, and to his dismay, he found them in shorts and golf shirts. “Hey, Satan, this is more like it, but when will it be summer?”

Thoroughly angry and upset Satan had his engineers lower the temperature to an insanely cold level. When he entered the room, he found the two of them still in shorts and golf shirts drinking beer, dancing and high fiving each other. “Why are you two acting like fools? Why aren’t you miserable?”

“Why? Because the Bills / Vikings won the super bowl.” 

The New York Titans are the ancestors of today’s NY Jets. The original owner was Harry Wismer, a well-known New York sports announcer who amassed a decent fortune through marriage. Harry bought the rights to American Football League’s New York franchise for the AFL’s 1960 inaugural season. He named his team: Titans because Titans were bigger than Giants.

Things didn’t go well for Harry. His team premiered at a time when the rival Football Giants owned New York. Harry tried every trick he could think of to pump up publicity including inflating the game attendance. He announced the paid attendance for one game to be 10,000, a figure that prompted, Dick Young, then a sports scribe with the Daily News to write: “Ten Thousand, huh? If there were 10,000 fans at the game yesterday, 5,000 were cleverly disguised as empty seats.”

Harry’s dreams and his wife’s money dried up during the 1962 season when the Titans ran out of cash in November. The players began a job action over back pay until Lamar Hunt, the Texas oil man and owner of the Dallas Texans guaranteed the players’ salaries.

In 1963, David A. (Sonny) Werblin, led a syndicate of wealthy New Jersey businessmen known as the Monmouth Park Connection. Horse owners all, Monmouth was their home track. Sonny recruited his pals to be limited partners who included the likes of Phil Iselin, Townsend Martin, Don Lillis and Leon Hess.

The few fans who signed on with the Jets in 1963 were forced to endure a final year of play at the doomed Polo Grounds. The Jets moved to Shea Stadium the following year saw the impossible happen in 1969 when Broadway Joe Namath led them to an era changing victory over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

The bad news is the Jets have never returned to the big game. Super Bowl III is now 50 plus years ago. Few of their fan base was alive when this happened. Yet they wait and they hope.  

I’ve been thinking about my worst experience being a Giants fan. My best is easy, being with my son in person in Glendale, Arizona when Big Blue did their version of the impossible dream, defeating the 19-0 New England Patriots, 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII.

There are several defeats that I attended that could qualify as the worst. The obvious loss was the Fumble that allowed the Eagles to win a game they were about to lose with seconds on the clock. But the one that stays with me the most was the 19-13 overtime loss to the Rams in the 1989 NFC Division Playoff Game.

The game went into overtime. The Rams reached the Giants 30-yard line. From there, quarterback, Jim Everett threw a pass down the right sideline that reached his fastest receiver, Flipper Anderson, at the two-yard line. Anderson, had a step on Giants corner back, Mark Collins, who was defending him. Everett’s pass hit flipper in stride for the winning touchdown!

Anderson knew the game was over so, instead of stopping, he ran through the end zone and into the tunnel leading to the locker room still carrying the game winning pass. The rest of us, the fans, the coaches, players, security, writers and photographs stood there in absolute silence. It seemed that our collective brains couldn’t comprehend what had just happened.

Slowly, the occupants on the field and in the stands began to file out of Giants Stadium in complete silence.

A cartoonist could have drawn a full football stadium with an imaginary bubble hanging over the scene that read: “Holy shit, what just happened!”          

Of Fish and Fowl

This story was told to me by my friend and customer, Brian, also known by his initials as, BVD.  who passed away about seven years ago. Brian was an insurance man who worked for Exxon in their Houston office. Like most of Exxon’s insurance professionals, Brian made several trips to Alaska  to administer his share of the many claims for damages brought by local businesses and individuals caused by the stranding of the Exxon Valdez.

George, the owner of the sporting goods store handed me my new annual Alaskan fishing license. “Where are you from?”

            “Houston,” I replied. “I got a job with a contractor to settle insurance claims, so I’ll be up here for thirty-days at a time for six to nine months. I don’t read much; hate television and I don’t want to spend my free time in bars, so I figured I’d try fishing.”

            “Well, you picked a good time to start fishing for pink salmon. They start to run in May, and you can fish as late as you like because it doesn’t get dark until about 2 a.m. I’ll help you pick out the kind of equipment and clothing you’re going to need.”

            George selected a rod and reel, a net, tackle box, wading boots, thermal socks, and long johns. “Why do I need thermal socks and long underwear in June?”

            “The water temperature in Prince William Sound does not get out of the thirties. You’ll be happy to be wearing them when you wade out into the sound. If you don’t have a sweater or light gloves, you should buy them too.”

            I figured he knew what he was talking about, so I kept quiet as my pile kept rising on his counter. When he finished counting and totaling my purchases, he reached behind the counter and opened a wooden box and placed an odd-looking fishing lure in the palm of his hand. A big silver spoon with a big red plastic diamond shaped thingy glued to it, it looked like something that your grandmother used to wear on her chest to church on Sunday.

            “This is the best lure for catching pink salmon. It’s called it a pixie. If I were you, I’d guard it with my life. I’m running out of them and I don’t know when I’ll get new ones in stock.”

            I asked him how many I could have, and he agreed to sell me six for six dollars each. I started asking him about places to fish, but he stopped me and called over a Native Alaskan guy hanging around the store. “Hey, Billy, come tell this guy where to fish.”

            Billy and I got to talking and he agreed to meet me at a camp-ground located on the shoreline the next night. We seemed to hit it off and became regular fishing buddies. Also, it didn’t take long for me to realize just how valuable Billy was to me. The first thing I noticed that night was that when I cast my pixie out into the water, it kept going down and down and down. I asked Billy what was going on.

            “After you walk more than ten feet from the shore the bottom drops 500 to 600 feet. If you wander out too far and take the plunge, you’ll have about five minutes left to live.”

I became a good angler catching five to ten fish each night which I cut loose or gave to people staying in the camp-ground who gathered to watch the master fisherman. I usually traded the fish for a cold beer and a relaxing chat with these tourists and retirees in their trailers, campers or RVs. The fishing alleviated my boredom from the seemingly endless task of settling claims. I only regretted losing my pixies which made me feel badly as my supply dwindled.

            One night while fishing with Billy, I cast out my next to last pixie. It didn’t hit the water and my rod started to jerk away from me pulling skyward. “What the hell…,” I shouted as I looked up. To my astonishment, I realized that I had hooked a sea gull on its butt. People on the bank shouted at me to cut the line, but all I could think of was my six- dollar pixie attached to a bird that was maneuvering like an out-of-control kite. Up and down, it flew screeching like all hell as we continued our struggle. I had to let out line fearing that the tension would break it and the gull would make off with my pixie. Finally, it went straight up then came crashing down onto the bank to the oohs and ahs of the crowd who were watching the show.

            I ran out of the water, grabbed onto this pecking and clawing creature who continued to screech for its mother. In desperation, the gull threw up a regurgitated fish onto my boot, but I managed to get a firm grip on its mangy butt to retrieve my pixie. As I stood up, I heard loud and clear, “They’re not very good to eat.”

            Rather embarrassed, I yanked my pixie out of its butt, released the gull who flew away and gave each of my admirers an exceptionally low bow.

An Ordinary Man Facing a Great Challenge

There are no great men, there are only great challenges that ordinary men are forced by circumstance to meet.

Admiral William F. Halsey Jr.

Jonathon Tennant, known as JT, made his way to the “Georgia docks” in Fancy Bluff Creek just outside of port of Brunswick, Georgia late on the night of September 7, 2019. His mission,  to pilot the MV Golden Ray to the open sea. His charge that night was a car carrier, also known as a ro-ro, that featured vast open internal spaces and ramps that allowed for the rapid loading and discharge of vehicles by “car jockeys” who drove them Grand Prix style on and off the ship. (A young man’s dream.) Ugly by design, car carriers resemble upside down bathtubs.

Car carriers are also not inherently seaworthy as the weight of most of those vehicles is above the waterline. To stabilize the ship, the correct amount of water ballast must be carried in tanks below the waterline. While docked in Brunswick, the car jockeys had unloaded and loaded enough vehicles to require new ballast calculations.

But one report I read stated someone in authority decided that the re-calculation could be put off until the Golden Ray reached its next port, Baltimore. 

JT had dreamed of being a harbor pilot since he first saw the big ships negotiating the St. Simons Channel on their passages between Brunswick and the Atlantic Ocean. The port of Brunswick is relatively unknown to outsiders as it is overshadowed by Savannah to the north and Jacksonville, to the south. But because of its excellent rail connections, by 2019, it had become the sixth largest port in the USA for importing and exporting cars, SUVs and light trucks.

JT graduated from the United States Merchant Marine Academy in 1997 and became an apprentice for the Brunswick Bar Pilots Association in 1998.

Over time, his skills and experience let him achieve the rank of a master pilot. He superseded the captain in navigating the ship until reaches the open sea. JT would then leave his position and descend to a waiting pilot boat that would return him to shore.

That morning, he navigated the twists and turns along the St Simon Channel as he had done hundreds of times before as he proceeded on his outbound journey, He remained in contact with fellow pilot and good friend, Jamie Kavanaugh, who was piloting the inbound MV Emerald Ace, another ro-ro, car carrier.

As JT took the Golden Ray through a hard turn to starboard, (right) the ship assumed a serious list to port (left). Tennant adjusted the turn that seemed to correct the Golden Ray, but only momentarily as the list to port became overwhelming. JT advised Jamie not to pass the Golden Ray. “I‘m losing her,”

Time had run out as the pilot’s training and instinct kicked in; the Golden Ray was rolling over. Tennant turned his charge to starboard (right) taking the ship out of the channel and onto a sand bar, grounding the ship as the Golden Ray quickly capsized.

As the ship went over, JT braced his legs around the vertical compass pedestal, braced his upper body against the windshield and managed to grab a life vest skidding off a shelf in his direction. Later, JT would testify that snagging the vest was Divine Providence, not because it saved him, but rather because it had a radio.

His cries of Mayday, Mayday, were immediately picked-up by a Coast Guard monitoring station in Charleston, South Carolina. That call, together with fellow pilot, Jamie’s calls for help, initiated a rapid response.

JT held fast to his perch on the bridge; once horizontal, now vertical.

Captain Skylar Dionne, skipper of the tug Anne Moran, on station in the harbor awaiting the arrival of the Emerald Ace, understood, Jamie’s urgent message and sped out across the sound “at best possible speed” to reach the Golden Ray. On arrival, he braced his tug against the bottom of wreck and applied the tug’s horsepower to prevent the wreck from slipping back into the channel.

If the Golden Ray had slipped into the shipping channel, it would have been blocked for months, but, more importantly, most of the crew would have drowned in that deeper water.

JT held onto his perch until nearly daylight when the rescue flotilla confirmed that they had picked up 19 of the 23 members of the crew. ( The last four were trapped below deck in an engine room. They were rescued a day and a half later after a hole was bored into the overturned hull.)

Finally, JT made his way to one of the fire hoses the crew had previously lowered to escape and  slid down to safety.

Like most ordinary men, Jonathan Tennant was reluctant to accept the credit he deserved for having the instinct and training to make a split-second decision that carried the day. A religious man, JT summed up that night’s experience:

“Above all, I would like to recognize that each of these individuals, the weather, the capsizing location, the capsizing direction that skid my survival vest with the radio to me (not away); and the successful rescue of every crew member comes down to our merciful God, our Creator.”

And this I know to be true: Captain Jonathon Tennant, Brunswick Bar Pilot No. 6 crossed over that line in the early morning of September 8, 2019 and achieved that thing we call greatness!    

The Snowball Game

Written: May2016, re-edited: January 2021

Mary Ann and I traveled to Connecticut on Christmas Eve morning to spend a COVID 19 socially distanced gathering to exchange Christmas gifts with our son’s family. At one point, Michael asked me: “Hey Dad, do you know what this coming Sunday is?’

“No, I don’t.”

“It’s the 25th anniversary of the snowball game played on December 27, 1995.”

Being a writer of a weekly blog, I am always searching for my next piece and, thanks to Mike, here’s this week’s piece.     

The NFL decided to award the 2014 edition of the Super Bowl to East Rutherford, NJ to be played at Met Life Stadium, the new home of the Giants and Jets, then called New Meadowlands Stadium. To be sure, there is considerable speculation about the wisdom of such a decision given that the game will be subjected to the North East’s winter weather conditions.

Among the cries of doom and gloom, the May 27, 2010 Sports Section of The New York Times carried a tongue-in-cheek article by N.R. Kleinfield entitled: “Meadowlands in February? It’s Not the Cold, It’s the Snowballs.”

Mr. Kleinfield’s piece resurrected my memories from the last game of the 1995 season against the San Diego Chargers. We Giants fans inundated the field with snowballs, ice balls and chunks of ice.

 Now that the statute of limitations has run out on this incident, I feel that I no longer am compelled to reply to any questions like: “Were you involved in throwing snowballs?”

With: “On the advice of counsel, I cannot either confirm or deny that allegation.”

As usual, the NY Times got it wrong. While I have no evidence to prove exactly what precipitated the snowball assault, I am quite certain I know how it began. My son and I sat side by side in our Row 3 seats at old Giants Stadium, our home from 1976 to 2009. Those seats gave us great sight lines, especially when the teams were inside the 30 yard-line at our end of the field. Unfortunately, certain television networks insisted on using a side-line camera that traveled along the sidelines just off the field that was re-positioned as needed to be close to the line-of-scrimmage. If the offense reached the five-yard-line, the camera stopped so that the camera man or woman literally blocked our line-of-sight   reducing our view of the field from spectacular to having an obstructed view of the action.

This had bugged me for a long time, but letters to the Giants and the NFL all went unanswered.

When we arrived inside the stadium on that Sunday afternoon, we encountered several inches of snow beneath our seats as the team or the stadium authority didn’t have the where-with-all to dispatch crews to shovel the snow out of the stands prior to game time.

The Times reported that the Giants took a 17-0 lead in the first half. I am confident that at least one touchdown was scored at our end because it was at that point that my frustration with the obstructed view reached the breaking point. I directed my son, then twenty-four, to throw a snowball at the cameraman. Now Michael had been a fairly good pitcher in his younger days, and he complied, putting a snowball so close to that chap’s ear that it must have sounded like a jet going past.

That was enough for Mister Cameraman who directed his crew to lower him as he declared a personal force majeur and abandoned his post. A cheer arose from the faithful. After that, the Giants game went to hell and, as San Diego overwhelmed the home team. The disgruntled fans took out their boredom and frustration on the field, the teams, officials and other fans.

But that all came later. Let the record show, General Pershing had Sergeant York; I had Michael