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Reunion May 1998 – Norfolk, Virginia

Reunion Report
Norfolk, Virginia
May 1998

By Dick Rohde

Wednesday, May 13, 1998

Helen and I left for Norfolk and spent the first night at a place called “South of the Border” which is at the South Carolina/North Carolina border. Anyone who travels on Interstate 95 is familiar with the place as it is well advertised with billboards for at least 100 miles from either direction. Clever billboards I might add. Now that we have stayed there once, we probably won’t do it again although we did have a good steak dinner at Peddlers Restaurant.

Thursday, May 14, 1998

We arrived at Lake Wright Quality Inn at about 2:30 p.m. The weather was in the high 60’s, sunny and beautiful. We learned that this was the first nice day they had had for quite some time. It had been cold and rainy for weeks. I took the credit for the weather, claiming that we had brought it from Florida. After checking in, I went to meet Donna Faison who is the Director of Sales and Marketing and the person with whom I had been in touch for the past 8 months or so. She showed me around and make me feel that I had chosen the right spot.

Helen and I tested the “Lounge” as a service to those attending and then went into the Dining Room for dinner. We had just ordered when Dudley Moylan showed up. He had been looking for us and left messages and notes but somehow we had missed them. Had a very enjoyable dinner and spent time discussing business. Dudley agreed to serve as the nominating person, notice that I do not say Chairman of the Nominating Committee, nor do I capitalize it.

Friday, May 15, 1998

Bright and early on Friday morning, Dudley, Leotha, Helen and I set off to find a Wal-Mart to purchase some necessary supplies. I needed some duct tape, pins and etc. while Dudley was searching for some elusive ball point pens with erasers attached. Didn’t find them there, but Dudley chased them down later at a Target store. The pens were very important for the finalization of Dudley’s talk. Helen and Leotha made some all-important purchases which meant that they would not have to spend time in the laundry room. I leave the rest to your imagination.

After that shopping trip, we drove to the Naval Base, which was only about 15 minutes away. We drove on to the base, which, surprisingly had absolutely no security at any of the gates. We drove through most of the base and found the USS SAMUEL B ROBERTS (FFG 58) at Pier 20. She had just returned from deployment in the Persian Gulf. A huge Welcome Home Lei was hanging from the bow, almost to the water. What a sight! To our surprise and delight, we found that the USS CARR (FFG 52) was at the same pier. Then, to cap it all off, the USS LEYTE GULF was at the next pier. The Navy sure went all out to make us feel welcome.

After touring the base a bit more, we found the chapel that Dudley had been seeking, which featured a stained glass window which depicted The Madonna holding a DE in Her arms. In speaking with a Chaplain, Dudley learned that the window had been a bit controversial and had been removed. We then went to the Package Store to purchase some supplies for the Hospitality Room. Leotha was our sponsor and we thank her for that.

That evening, Sam Stewart, Leotha, Dudley, Helen and I went to a steakhouse called the Aberdeen Barn, which Sam recommended. He had been there often when he was in sales and Norfolk was in his territory. We had a nice time reminiscing and returned to the hotel.

During the day, I was in touch with Captain Chris Wode of the FFG 58, the Tour company, the Officers Club, and the hotel.

Saturday, May 16, 1998

This was the official opening of the Hospitality Room and it was great to welcome all arrivals to the reunion. Our keynote speaker, CAPT Will Rogers along with his wife Dee, his niece Lisa Rowe, and Father, W.A. Rogers arrived and entered into all of our activities. CAPT Rogers father is a nephew of shipmate, James Gregory. The Hospitality Room was well used on Saturday, morning, noon and night.

Shipmate Ed Wheaton called from the bus station and Sam Stewart and I went to pick him up. We received excellent directions on the best route from Judy Bruce who is the daughter of Norbert Brady – another shipmate. Traveling along Granby Street brought back some old memories for me – returning to the Naval Base on the trolley after sampling the beer in the local taverns – but that is another story. We also were delighted to meet Nancy Heales Couch who is the daughter of shipmate Howard Heales. Nancy was accompanied by her husband George, her mother Louise Heales, and her two brothers Jerry and Kenneth. We were happy to welcome back Leona Harden’s brother John Montgomery and his wife Shirley. Bud and Lil Comet had Marlys and Sam Harpole from Arkansas as their guests.

That evening, we all went our many ways for dinner. I went with Jack, Vince and Fran, Sam and others to a delightful seafood restaurant called The Ships Cabin and enjoyed the local fruits of the sea. I really enjoyed my soft-shelled crabs.

Sunday, May 17, 1998

8:30 a.m. and another beautiful day. A bit hot perhaps but better than rain and cold certainly. We boarded the buses for our trip to Colonial Williamsburg. Our guide on the bus was Tom Martin who gave us a lot of information about present-day Norfolk. The co-pilot on the bus was, guess who? Leotha – of course. We would never arrive at any of our destinations without Leotha. Upon our arrival in Williamsburg we broke down into two groups and each of us had our own Williamsburg guide. Since neither Helen nor I had been there before, we found it to be a fascinating place. Others certainly felt the same. There was quite a bit of walking involved but everyone made it, despite the high heat and humidity. In a graveyard of a church, George and Walt Bray found the tombs of some of their ancestors who must have been well-to-do judging by the size and ornateness of the tombs.

We then drove to a very nice restaurant for a delicious buffet luncheon which was a challenge for some to try to sample everything including the desserts. We then returned to Williamsburg and spent a few hours exploring the many shops and purchasing some souvenirs and gifts. That portion of the day reminded me of a game that we used to play as children, sometimes called “Going to Jerusalem” and other times “Musical Chairs”. There would be just enough chairs for everyone and when the piano played all stood up and walked around the chairs, but one had been removed. When the music stopped, you sat down -but- one person was without a chair and was “out”. There were a limited number of benches throughout the shopping area and most seemed to be taken up by our group. As one group got up to move on, another group of us would immediately sit in the newly vacated spot. Are we getting old? Never!

We spent the evening in the Hospitality Room and groups came and went as the urge for dinner was satisfied. The room was open well into the evening, but not like years ago. Guess we are learning our limitations.

Monday, May 18, 1998

Again the weather favored us with a beautiful sunny day with a breeze blowing. Warm, yes, but very acceptable.

Jack Yusen and I drove to a local florist shop to make the final arrangements for the wreath to be used later that day and to order the long stemmed roses for the evening of the banquet. We then headed to the Navy Yard to visit the ship and go over final arrangements for the Memorial Service. I made good use of the magnetic signs reading “USS SAMUEL B ROBERTS on my car and we parked alongside the ship. Although I had communicated with Capt. Chris Wode all the time that the ship was on deployment in the Persian Gulf, and had spoken to him on the telephone before and after the deployment, this was my first time to meet him personally. I will never be able to express the admiration that I have for him and his crew for the way we were treated. He did everything I had asked and more.

Jack and I had luncheon in the wardroom with Capt. Wode and several of his officers. We were joined also by Judy Bruce who had met Capt. Wode the year before when an “Open House” was held. Since the USS CARR (FFG 52) was at the same pier, the Carr sisters, Peggy, Juanita and Irene and their families were entertained royally by the Captain of the USS Carr.

The Memorial Service was a beautiful one. The Executive Officer, LCDR Jeff McAloon served as MC. He introduced the Chaplain, LT Richard Vidrine, who gave the invocation. Then CDR Chris Wode was introduced and said a few words of welcome. Our own Jack Yusen gave a very meaningful prayer and it was then time to commit the wreath to the waters. Helen Rohde and Fran Goodrich performed this ritual with dignity and grace. They were accompanied by the youngest enlisted man aboard who served as Honor Guard.

There is, as always, a 50/50 chance that the wreath will land with the flower side up but this was not to be the case today. When all was said and done, however, we all agreed that with the flowers facing toward the deep, our departed ones were being honored. A Navy Bugler sounded Taps and then Father Vidrine gave a benediction.

Capt. Wode had made certain that noise on the destroyer across the pier was held to a minimum during the ceremony. Refreshments were then offered and the ship was open for inspection. The Ship’s Store was opened for anyone who wished to make a purchase. I would be remiss if I did not thank the Chaplain, Father Richard Vidrine who worked with Capt. Wode in setting up the ceremony. Captain Wode also had his photographer video the ceremony and this will become available to us. Thanks also go to Command Master Chief John Slate who made sure that everything went like clockwork.

Looming in the background during the ceremony, at the next pier over, was the USS LEYTE GULF. Another reminder of the heritage of the USS SAMUEL B ROBERTS (DE 413).

Back on the buses again, and off to the hotel for the Hospitality Room or perhaps a nap.

At 5:00 p.m. the bus left for our dinner sail aboard the stern wheeler, “Carrie B”. The weather was cool, the seas were calm and we were the only group aboard the ship. We had a most informative narration describing all the ships that were in the Naval Base which included three Aircraft Carriers, submarines and you name it, they were there. This trip was fascinating and much enjoyed by all. With the closing of the Charleston Navy Yard, Norfolk is a very busy Navy facility. We had an informal buffet dinner with fried chicken, barbecue beef, beans, potato salad, rolls and beverage. Seems like there was also a bar aboard the “Carrie B”.

Back we went to the Hospitality Room and got a bit better acquainted with the Heales family, the Rogers family. Judy Bruce had brought a scrapbook along, which included letters that her father, shipmate Norbert Brady, had written to her before she was just one year old. One was written about two weeks before our ship went down and she lost her father. Interestingly enough, her mother remarried – a survivor from the USS GAMBIER BAY. He told her in later years that her father and his ship had watched over the Gambier Bay, and he would return that by watching over her. Hard to type with tears in your eyes.

One of Howard Heales sons read a very touching letter that he had written. It was beautifully done and from the heart.

Tuesday, May 19, 1998

Another gorgeous morning and at 8:45 we were off on a tour of Norfolk and the Naval Base by land. Between Vince and Mel Harden, we saw where our barracks had been, where we had our meals and where we sat, and sat, and sat – waiting, waiting for what we did not know. After touring the Naval Base and the Air Base, we left for a bit of a tour of Norfolk with a stop at a small drive-in which has the first ice cream cone maker in the world. We were treated to an ice cream cone with the cones made on that machine. Delicious, and the treat came at a good time; we were ready for a break.

Off then to the MacArthur Museum. I’ll try to quote Vince Goodrich correctly – I believe that he said that the only person he hated more that Gen. MacArthur was Admiral Bull Halsey. Two of my favorites also, I might add. The museum is housed in the old City Hall of Norfolk and has a lot of memorabilia about “Dugout Doug”. When we first arrived, we were ushered into a theater for a short film. The room was full of Asians who we presumed to be Japanese, but we learned later were Koreans. Back on the buses, after scouring the museum and a nearby gift shop, and we returned to the hotel.

Our business meeting was scheduled for 2:30 p.m. and we decided to close this meeting to survivors only, as we had what could have been a controversial topic and thought it best to hash it out among ourselves. As it turned out, there was nothing that we could not have shared with all, but we didn’t know it at the time.

BUSINESS MEETING

At 5:30 p.m., the bus arrived for the trip to the Naval Amphibious Base and the Snug Harbor Officers’ Club. In addition to the bus, two cars also made the trip. There was just a bit of excitement on this leg of the trip. No one knew just where the Officers Club was, including the bus driver. Capt. Rogers was driving his family in his car and I was driving my car, following Capt. Will Rogers who was following the bus. The driver of the bus finally stopped for directions to the Club and then proceeded on his way. The only problem was that he drove on the wrong side of the median at one point and had oncoming traffic scurrying to get out of his way. At that point, I had been thinking how everything had gone well and now this. He did get back on the right side, and found the Club and all went well from there on.

The Club’s facilities were excellent and the meal lived up to all expectations, at least so far as I was concerned. Leotha was happy that she got her roast beef rare and even had horseradish sauce, although she would rather just have had horseradish. The tables of eight were covered with white cloths. There was a raised stage with podium and p.a. system. Our banner was back on the wall as usual. Mel has certainly been an excellent steward of our banners.
Guests of honor for the evening included:
From the USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58)
Commanding Officer CDR Christopher Wode and his wife, Laura
Exec. Officer LCDR Jeffrey McAloon
Command Master Chief John L. Slate and his wife, Debbie
Youngest Enlisted Man, Seaman Second Class Trevor Lucas
Chaplain DESRON, Lt. Richard Vidrine
From the USS Carr (FFG 52)
Commanding Officer CDR Michael Reedy

President Dick Rohde asked Father Vidrine to give the Invocation. Bill Wilson then led the group in the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag. Following the dinner, Dick welcomed all and introduced Jack Yusen as the Master of Ceremonies. Jack was up to form and did his usual excellent job of seeing that the program went smoothly and on time. Jack introduced the guests and then introduced Dudley Moylan who gave an excellent talk about our association -some of its history and why, he feels, that we have remained so strong. (I trust that you have a copy of Dudley’s talk. I’m not giving him proper credit.)

Captain Chris Wode was introduced and he gave an excellent talk about the relationship of this present ship with our DE 413. He told how every crew member was instructed about the heritage of the ship and about our ship.

Red Harrington did a wonderful job in presenting a painting done by Don Young of the five ships. The painting was presented by Jack and Bud to Captain Wode and he informed us that he has a specific place where he plans to hang it. Congratulations to Don Young and to Red for spearheading this effort.

CAPT Will Rogers gave a most interesting talk about the present day Navy and what was happening to it. His job is to find the funding to keep our present day Navy in a position of strength in times when this is not necessarily the most popular thing to do. He closed his talk with a salute to the survivors. Again, a very stirring event.

In a slight change from previous years, the ladies paraded by the podium and each received the traditional red rose.

Following the banquet, it was back to the Hospitality Room for that final gathering. Tom Stevenson had a few Irish stories to tell that may have sounded familiar to some but are always well received. He also gave his famous rendition of “Skin” and “The Muffin Man”. Lil and Bud Comet had the foresight to make up some song sheets of all the old favorites. Tom Stevenson, Morrie Dadd (husband of Madeline Hinken Dadd), and Dick Rohde kept the group going singing all of the old songs. Great fun and a great way to wind up the reunion.

Throughout the whole reunion, Bill Katsur and his wife Dorothy were busily recording everything on videotape. My thanks to them for their efforts. I am anxious to see the results.

Wednesday, May 20, 1998

The end of another reunion. Hugs and kisses in the dining room, the hallways and the parking lot. Oh for the Kleenex concession. As the years roll by, so quickly, one has to wonder who’ll be there for the next reunion. We all hope to be there but know that there will be some missing. I do think that we would all agree that this was a great reunion, and if we do not make the next one, so be it.

Thanks for the opportunity to serve as President for the past two years and my best wishes to Jack for the coming years.

I know that there are many blanks in this narrative and I’m afraid some errors of omission. That is always a problem. The only thing that kept this from being a really great reunion was that Whit, Leah, and Ruth were not there physically. We know that you were there in spirit.

List of shipmates present

George Bray
Bud Comet
Elbert Gentry
Vince Goodrich
Mel Harden
Red Harrington
Bill Katsur
John Macko
Dudley Moylan
Jim Myers
Dick Rohde
Ken Saunders
Tom Stevenson
Ed Wheaton
Bill Wilson
Jack Yusen

Reunion attendees

Address of J. Dudley Moylan, May 19, 1998