During the first night of our Reno 2016 Reunion, we were all overwhelmed by the sudden deluge of old familiar faces before we slipped naturally into what would become an amazing 3 1/2 day reunion program choreographed by shipmate and Reno resident Rich Crombie. Just checking into the hotel, I found myself in line with Chief Ric May, my first sonar chief on Bremerton.
The 30+ year reunion talk goes back a few years to Tom Canter and Jeff Marcey eating hot dogs somewhere along a southern beach in Oahu under the tropical sun. The foundation of building a network of shipmates originates with Jeff’s sleuth-like and determined effort to connecting with his old shipmates online and offline. Tracking down people on Facebook, despite his hectic schedule serving the submarine force as a government sponsored master tech, has been one of his favorite past-times.
During the first night’s dinner, held in a private room of the Grand Sierra Resort, we had an opportunity to share something about ourselves, an ice-breaker of sorts to help others catch-up with all shipmates in attendance.
Before we started this “short program” of introductions, after enjoying our fine buffet dinner, we took some time to formally recognize our shipmates who have since passed on from this life. We recognized our most recent loss, John Bryson, one of Bremerton’s Torpedomen. We recalled as many names of our Bremerton brethren who we knew have died and then we honored them with a moment of silence.
The room filled with submariners, spouses, friends, children, attending waiters and others, all standing on the mezzanine floor of a Reno casino, a place that had just before been a bustle of light-hearted talk, politically incorrect jokes, and the clinking of dinnerware fell silent.
It was powerfully silent.
As if every earthly sound was suspended by a master switch.
After the moment of honoring our departed friends and shipmates, we continued our program with the introductions. It was meant to be a series of one-minute vignettes, but reality transformed this talk into a maverick sensation. Not surprising though, as we realized a reunion of once close cohorts lends itself to the long answer rather than the short. Yet, as it turned out, we were a willingly captive audience who listened with respect and appreciation.
This is where the third member of our organizing team rose to his strike zone. Rich and I have been communicating publicly for months about getting the word out, organizing and putting a public face on our event and as a result had largely been given credit for organizing this reunion. In private, Jeff helped provide some alternate views in our debates in regards to organizing. Now it’s Jeff turn to rise to the occasion in public. They say a triangle is a very strong structure and it hold true with organizing people and events.
You have to have someone who thinks out of the box, in this case, someone who thinks outside of the box as well as being able to connect face to face with almost anyone who runs across his bow. When it was Jeff’s turn to speak, he pretty much configured his talk to speak about what this reunion meant to him rather than what has happened to him in the last 30 years or what his favorite story from his days aboard the boat.
That’s what he did, he spoke about the extraordinary circumstances which led to some very important people to gather together, especially the sonar chiefs, Patrick May and Bill Brehler, two sailors who had never met before and who many of us sonarmen served under between 1983 and 1986. For this group of people to be able to come together to be in the same room again after 30-plus years defies random chance.
It took some love.
What it meant to Jeff, who was one of the best technicians the boat has ever seen but a rebel to status quo, was to be able to express his gratitude as one who benefitted from the chiefs’ leadership responsibility, influence and mentorship. It was something beyond measure and Jeff did well to pack it into a short oratory.
Jeff was speaking in a clear mind not only for himself but, quite probably, albeit without knowing, for all of us in sonar, if not the whole boat which garnered the awards due to Bremerton’s ASW excellence.
Between all the shots of adult beverages, underwater operations, and ingenious pranks stands the influence of leaders, from our beloved commanding officers to the lowest qualified petty officer – all those who have had to work in the difficult to fathom undersea world of the Silent Service.
Although this was not a “sonar reunion”, though Rich, Jeff and myself are sonarmen, there was a good representation of engineering nucs and other ratings and even a submarine IC-man, Dave Withers, who later became an Air Force captain directing aerial combat from AWACS.
By the way, we love our Nucs, no matter how many freaky things you guys do in the engine room. A submarine is a clandestine operation to begin with, but various departments have their little areas of operations that are infrequently traveled by other shipmates and each of those areas generate their own fantastic stories. For example, Sonar, in our day, had its own shack across from the Captain’s Stateroom. Radio is isolated. The MM/nucs have engine room lower level forward and what would we do without you when we need to move those torpedoes from place to place, fast, and, not to mention, help generate fresh water for hollywood showers?
Everyone who attended, no matter what their Navy job or professional background, had their expectations blown away. The organizers had their expectations blown away – that was weird. A fun and enjoyable time for virtually every minute from start to finish. Even veteran reunion goers, beautiful people like Master Chief Steve Everett and his wife Chrissy graded this to be the best reunion they ever attended.
This reunion was organized with several activities with opportunity to interact with everyone. We limited it to 3 nights and, despite even my own anxiety about what would happen, turned out to be a truly beautiful time. The weather (except for a few incoming flights) and road traffic stayed clear for the benefit of all.
(If you’d like to see our itinerary, go to www.BremertonReunion.com and see if it is still online).
Great great memories. Including the unexpected Battle at the Casino’s Mexican Restaurant. Tom Struckman (who sent his regrets being unable to attend) was right, the [restaurant] needed to rig from Battle Stations before a group of submariners show up. Even though there was a near nuclear meltdown of epic proportions, Jeff, of all people, the once consummate rebel, was playing peacekeeper. Astonishing.
It was a very dynamic situation, with several players involved, including Dave Cortese, a Reactor Operator turned into a successful interior designer, putting tactful pressure on the restaurant manager.
It’s important to note that Rich had nothing to do with this dinner, the one event he didn’t plan, otherwise, I’m sure it would have been a smooth operation. In the end, I think everyone enjoyed a little conflict. Certainly gave Chiefs Brehler, Everett and May good reasons to rip management a new belly button.
If you want the whole story, you’ll have to ask an eye-witness in person. As Jeff spoofed in a FB comment, “What happens in Reno, stays in Reno.”
You can also ask about the locally administered power outage at Reno’s prestigious auto museum and the Bremerton Family Tree Service at the hotel bar, helping surviving family members find information about their recently deceased grandfather who served in the Navy as a CO of a SS (Diesel) boat and a Navy oiler.
If you get this group together, they are guaranteed to create more memories.
The Bremerton as we knew her was not only a hot-running boat, but it had, as Captain Wright remarked in a letter to the reunion, “a remarkable team that brought great honor to the ship” and as Master Chief Everett often explains, “We are a family.”
As individuals, we had our differences, yes, but in peacetime we may lose touch that there’s a greater mission that brought us submariners together and forged that family. We were part of the means that helped manifest the personal conviction of Bremerton’s 2nd CO, Captain Doug Wright, “…to make Bremerton the best warfighter it could be.”
All these influences made for a great reunion.
We’re already planning the next one.
USS Bremerton, the longest serving submarine in the United States Navy, is home ported in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and is tentatively scheduled for decommissioning in 2019.
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