S O S = Save Our Ships

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November 12, 2009

By John G. Denham

No matter what is preserved or kept safe, it costs money! In my past life I shared my useful abilities with the U.S. Merchant Marine and the U.S. Navy. I shipped in 12 merchant ships and served in 7 navy ships, commanding 3. In each I came away with lessons that today I share in VOX OCEANUS articles, a dozen published pieces and three novels. What little wealth I acquired is from my retirement from the Navy, the California Maritime Academy, employment as a pilot, consulting, and wise investments thereafter. So, I ask myself, who do I owe?

Recently I joined the Navy League, Merchant Marine Chapter; became a life member of the Tin Can Sailor Inc., and the Military Officers’ Association for reasons I do not recall. Any writing I do is gratis; I get pittance from my books, but my personal communications has increased; some is favorable. But mostly I am targeted to help support worthy causes, and, there are many of them. The dilemma faced is which ones and how much?

Locally, in the San Francisco area including the popular river ports of Sacramento, Stockton, Benicia, Martinez, Vallejo and bay ports of Richmond, Oakland, Alameda and Redwood City there is an abundance of memorial maritime artifacts to which I owe allegiance. Proudly they host a navy aircraft carrier, a submarine, a maritime museum, a liberty ship, a victory ship, a presidential yacht, and I believe in the Reserve Fleet we have a USCG light ship and a battleship seeking a home. At one time or another I served with or had a relationship with these vessels or their enshrined kin. I enjoy their sight, smell and feel. Memories abound when I step aboard. As a mate, I recall the vertical ladders in cargo holds, the hours in pilot houses standing watches, thinking, checking the magnetic compass, winding the chronometers, the morning coffee, the call to Fore & Aft, and landing cumbersome gangways. I often wake at 0330 for watch.

My navy days constantly remind me of years of learning, it never stopped regardless of duty, rank or stations; every day a lesson. And always people needing help, or helping, and a few that just didn’t give a damn, but all shipmates.

How does one preserve memories? The abundance of reminders makes it difficult. But there is a means to help preserve these historical remains of the great ships and memories. In every profession there are organizations, associations, chapters, clubs and groups that frequently meet to celebrate survival. Committees spend great effort to select sites of interest and reasonable places to gather. The maritime brethren (military, naval, marine, nautical all such ilk), if joined together and cooperate and coordinate plans to conduct their reunions and historical celebrations at seagoing memorial sites, such an abundance of funding could significantly provide needed support for the deserving endangered memorials and help the local populations that have undertaken their stewardship. It is a means to a useful end that can care for our sea going heritage before it is scrapped. No craft is so small, vessel too large or crew too old to be without memories.

S O S = Save our ships. John

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