At our first reunion in Long Beach at the time of the commissioning of COPELAND, I spoke and began by wondering if others were like me in almost always having a favorite song, a tune that kept coming until replaced by another. I had one that was from a movie I saw on the base here in Norfolk, and it was pretty much the background music for my whole life aboard the ROBERTS, for there was no chance for replacing. I was lucky in my song, for it was by Jerome Kern and became a standard. The sentiment of the song is not relevant but the title WAS even that night for it is “Long Ago and Far Away,” and what we all had in mind was really a long time ago and far away.
And even that highly emotional reunion now seems a long time away, too, and though appropriately then I spoke of Captain Copeland I’d like to now think aloud of our reunions,
They have meant people with whom we have shared one of the most important experiences of our lives or with those having in common memories of those lost in battle. Of those lost in battle I for one think of a signalman who shook my hand with hopeful words as we abandoned the open bridge, who went on to really help others in the water hut did not survive himself.
Another grouping of shipmates are those that survived but we did not find or who had died before getting together. To pick one I remember there, is a man who had written the most powerful letter I had to censor, written home on learning of his brother’s death in the war. That sailor and I part of the first night in the water alternated semicircling each other on the edge of the net to give the safe rest we needed. We searched for him but could not find him.
There is no way I would dare example the shipmates who have made our reunions so successful. There have been so many, and even among them we have lost more than a few to join the others in our memories.
There is also that group of relatives and friends of our shipmates or those tied to us through our reunion experiences with the FFG’s, and there I WILL give an example. On my way home from San Francisco, by arrangement, between flights in Dallas I met with a family, including a probably 14-year old brother of our shipmate, to tell them that they should find no hope in “missing in action.” How hard it must have been on him I don’t know, but he has come to make a great contribution to our reunions.
Whit and Jack gave a superb historical account of our reunions last year in San Antonio, but I’m not sure you would know from that just why our reunions have been great and meaningful to all of us.
We have not descended to being just a social club. We have always met at places with appropriate connections to us, We have always included the military and of course especially the Navy in our activities and ceremonies. And in our memorial services we have remembered those now lost but not forgotten.
The final and most important thing our reunions have done is kept alive the spirit that is in the St. Crispins speech from Henry the Fifth. Shakespeare wrote of a very important and decisive battle in European history that was fought on St. Crispins Day as ours was. I read it all in Long Beach, but will only lift phrases now. “On St, Crispins Day, though old men forget, we remember with advantages what feats we did that day.” And though it may not be “to the ending of the world, we shall be remembered,” we can say with Henry that those “that fought with us upon St. Crispins Day” are truly “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…. “