''My Life In Review: Have I Been Lucky of What?''
In 1996, Pickens edited and published My Life In Review: Have I Been Lucky of What?, the memoirs of Jack Crandall, professor of history at SUNY Brockport. Here are selecions from the book.
When I began to contemplate writing a Life Review my first inclination was to start with an introduction or preface justifying or rationalizing the palpably egocentric venture. I did recognize that one of my writing foibles is a propensity for protracted preambles and prolonged prolegomena—as well as my addiction to alliteration. Thus, before setting pen to paper I grappled with the problem of defending the undertaking but failed to resolve them to my satisfaction. The result? protracted procrastination. The product? a blank page.
Then, at the end of the first week in May, 1991, I delivered a pinch-hit lecture for Candy on the Late Adulthood topic in her Life Span course. In reviewing her lecture notes I once again confronted the recommendation of gerontologists that persons in that ultimate stage should engage in the healthy and productive exercise of composing a Life Review. The day after that class I sat down at my desk, punched out the word "Ancestry" in capital letters and started to write, not a preface but a simple statement expressing my views on genealogy and presenting some scraps of information I had about my remote progenitors. That didn't take long but it tapped my memory bank and generated a momentum which has carried me through five months of nearly daily sessions at the desk devoted to developing a chronological narrative of my remembered experiences.
I have been amazed at the chain reaction of memories triggered by concentrating my thoughts on a particular period. The old memory bank spewed out a spate of specific mental pictures which had not surfaced for years. My task became a matter of composing verbal descriptions of those images and events. I have access to a few documentary references: Clotilde Blowers' Wilson-Willson and Allied Lines; A Rand McNally Atlas; The World Almanac; Admiral Dan Barby's MacArthur's Amphibious Navy; The Capstan, Yearbook of Notre Dame's Midshipman's School; The Boulder, Houghton College's Yearbooks 1935-1939; My Administrative Files; Collections of my Speeches and Essays; Jill's Journals of Our London sojourn; My Journal of our European Trip and scattered memorabilia—but the overwhelming bulk of material came straight out of my memory bank.
The central question: how reliable are those memories? Certainly they are inevitably selective and are not flawless. I discovered in consultation with Jill some inaccurate dates and mixed-up sequences of events which I have corrected but there must be other inaccuracies. All I can claim is that I have tried to be faithful to the images that have bubbled up into my consciousness. I have not "made up" events or invented situations. In some cases where I have used direct quotations I can't swear that they are exactly verbatim but they do carry the original sentiments expressed as I remember them.
This then is not a documentary history or a strictly scholarly autobiography but a verbal trip down Jack Crandall's memory lane. It is a chronological narrative of my experiences as I perceive them now. It inevitably contains embellishments which stem from the fact that it is an egocentric enterprise and, at times, an urge to be "literary" if not always literal. I have not written fiction. The characterization of persons living or dead applies to real persons and is not coincidental.
If it seems to accentuate the positive it's because there are so many positive things to accentuate. As my writing progressed I began to think that an appropriately accurate subtitle should be "A Series of Fortuitous Developments." Last summer, while conversing with Jill's nephew, Chris Carlson, I told him that this exercise was making me realize how blessed I have been. He startled me by saying, "Would you say that you've lived a charmed life?" (his tone indicated that he thought so). I cannot avoid an affirmative answer to that question.
However, as I have pointed out in the concluding paragraphs of the narrative, to attribute the many good breaks I have had to "luck," "fortuitousness" or "accident" would be to ignore the purposeful impact of my family and friends. I may have been—I was—lucky that Jill came to Houghton College and that I was able to convince her to tie her life to mine but that is not to discount all of the things she has done to make my life happy, yes, and successful. Similarly I was lucky to be the beneficiary of caring and competent parents, ideal in-laws, wonderful daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren but their contributions to my well-being and pleasure have not been accidental. The same is true of my friends Wayne Dedman, Harold Rakov, Gordon Allen, Mike Auleta, Harry Porter, Lowell Fox, Al Brown, Roger Carlson, Jim Ditzler, Dick Johnson, Jim Murray, Dick Ingraham, Wayne Herrick, Bill Vogan, Frank Dunlap, Ed Neveu, Don Wilsher et. al. I am not so much a product of a concatenation of coincidences as a beneficiary of the caring efforts of family and friends. Writing these memoirs has raised that realization to a new level of consciousness.
The conventional point to make in one's memoirs' preface is that they are written to share one's experiences with his descendants to let them know about events in his life that they would otherwise not be aware of and, at some future date they might be interested in having a more complete picture of one of their progenitors than would ordinarily be passed down in the family's oral tradition. That certainly constitutes one of the purposes in grinding out this narrative. In fact, at the outset, it stood out as the principal reason for committing my memories to the typewritten page.
However, as the writing progressed I began to realize that this exercise held intrinsic benefits and values for the writer whether or not anyone else—children, grandchildren, et. al. ever perused these typewritten pages. Such a realization squares with the claims of certain gerontologists who contend that a Life Review has a therapeutic value. I tend to shrink from the notion of equating this activity with therapy since I feel compelled to deny a felt need for therapeutic treatment. Nevertheless I must admit from traveling down memory lane a positive effect on my self-perception, an effect that can best be described as a paradoxical combination of a greater sense of humility and pride, augmented by a sharpened sense of gratitude for the many blessings I have received from family and friends.
As the narrative unfolded and the recounting of events moved along I found much that was satisfying and pleasant to recall, little to regret. I realize that that statement smacks of smugness, but I hasten to add that I do not regard myself as the author of the fulfillments, the happiness and successes that have marked my life. With a different set of families and friends it could have been quite otherwise.
I close this protracted preface by registering the hope that some of my descendants will get some fraction of the pleasure in reading about my life that I have enjoyed in living it—and writing about it.
My ancestors, a fragmentary genealogy
While I am proud of my parents and grandparents I have had little interest in genealogy and exploration of my extended ancestry has been slight. The lack of interest in genealogical matters stems from the fact that as the explorer moves back through successive generations the number of ancestors increases by geometric progression. Thus if I were to trace the eleven generations of Crandalls in America I would be dealing with 2048 male and female progenitors! The problem is compounded by our patrilineal system which forever focuses on the male surname. Therefore to follow only the "Crandall" line of descendant is to ignore most of the persons who have made a genetic and cultural contribution to my heritage. However, I have had some interest in and have acquired a smattering of information on the ethnic origins of the first forbears of both mother and father to come to America.
The first Crandalls to arrive came from Wales and settled in Westerly, Rhode Island in the 1640s. They became followers of that "religious renegade" (from the Puritan point of view), Roger Williams, and the early generations of Crandalls in the colonies produced several Rev. John Crandalls of the Baptist persuasion. One of those Rev. John Crandalls ditched his missionary work in the Massachusetts Bay Colony circa 1670, fleeing to Rhode Island to escape Puritan persecution. It appears he had little interest in becoming a martyr like the Quakers who remained. While, as far as I have determined, the Crandalls were hard-working, God-fearing people of "the middling sort"—farmers, artisans, as well as clergymen—few became historical celebrities. The only one I am sure about is Prudence Crandall, a woman ahead of her time, who braved the wrath of her Connecticut neighbors by admitting blacks to her Female Seminary in the 1830s—She was eventually forced out of town, moving to Iowa, but persisted in championing the rights of Negroes and women until her death at the age of 90.
It really goes without saying that eleven generations have yielded a spate of Crandalls (only God knows how many) and they are scattered around the country if not the world. A considerable number live in the Southern Tier region of Western New York. I have encountered the largest number since moving to Bemus Point; thirty-six Crandalls are listed in the Jamestown Telephone Directory. Their relationship to yours truly remains unidentified.
The account of my earliest years is necessarily based on what I've been told, mostly by my parents. It is safe to assume that their reports are colored by parental bias. I was born about a month early, a product of induced labor because mother's health was endangered by an excessive amount of albumin. It was a cold February (the 9th) in 1919. Dr. Al Lyman came to the house to officiate and the delivery took place in a downstairs bedroom which later became the dining room. Mother always insisted that I weighed ten pounds. Because I was premature that poundage figure may raise the issue of credibility in the reader's mind. It has in my own but I have found no contrary evidence. Thus it seems safe to say that I was a bouncing baby boy, my father's first offspring and the proverbial "apple of his eye." In fact, Mother often said that my head looked like a Northern Spy apple.
At the outset it appeared there would be no problem in naming the infant. Dad had long proclaimed that if he had a son he would call him Jack. However, Dr. Al resisted writing what he regarded as a nickname on the birth certificate and turned to Mother for an appropriate recommendation. She proposed that I be named after my father i.e., Curtis John Crandall Jr. Dr. Al erroneously inscribed John Curtis Jr. on the certificate. That error was not discovered until I enlisted in the Navy twenty three years later. The Navy insisted on a photostat copy from the Bureau of Vital Statistics in Albany. I had earlier occasions to use a birth certificate but the copy was always supplied by the Caneadea Town Clerk. He knew my name was really Curtis John Jr. and so wrote it on the copies furnished. Thus all my legal documents up to the time of my Navy enlistment proclaimed I was Curtis John Jr. For the next four or five years after that I had to sign numerous affidavits declaring that Curtis John Jr. and John Curtis Jr. were one and the same person. In actual practice I have always been known as and called Jack—neither Curtis or John. So Dad won out much to my later satisfaction.
He impressed my name, with certain embellishments, on my consciousness early on. One of the first things he taught me after I had begun to talk was a little spiel designed to impress, even startle, anyone who asked me who I was. My learned response: "I'm roarin' Jack Crandall, the Boy Wonder born in Houghton, New York, Town of Caneadea, Allegany County with proud, but poor parents."
My formal education began in September, 1924 when I entered the first grade in the district elementary school, Caneadea District School #6. The white frame building had two classrooms serving all eight grades. The "little room" contained grades one through four while the "big room" was the setting for grades five through eight. At that time about forty pupils were enrolled averaging five per class. Instruction was provided by one teacher for each room. Each teacher's busy schedule consisted of four subjects per grade. The school day was composed of two three-hour sessions, nine to twelve and one to four with ten minutes for "opening exercises" (a joint session) and two fifteen minute recesses (morning and afternoon).
The third and fourth grade years left no vivid memories of highlight events or incidents, but I continued to enjoy school and the related activities. In fact, I preferred the school year to the summer because there were few playmates and except for the trios with Dad and Mother, little excitement to match that of school days.
The fifth year brought the thrill of moving into the "big room" and having a male teacher, Mr. Fred Byron, one-half of a husband and wife team, for his spouse, Bessie, took charge of the "little room." He was a kind, conscientious man and an effective teacher, especially in English and history. They became my favorite subjects. The titles of my first textbooks in American History were Explorers and Founders of America and Makers and Defenders of America. I also derived much pleasure from the sports activities during the recesses, especially baseball in the fall and spring.
A shocking incident highlighted that year. I have called it the "Big Stoop Story" and have recounted it more than several times in lectures in my college classes. The protagonist or antagonist (victim or villain?) was called "Big Stoop," always behind his back, never to his face. He was fourteen, nearly six feet tall, solidly built, well-muscled, strong and in the fifth grade for the third year. While we were aware that he was considerably less than an intellectual giant we looked up to him literally and figuratively because of his physical attributes and prowess. He was the only boy who could hit a home run on the ball diamond behind the school. If any of us could get the ball over the plate he could hit it over the fence. Thus, in the fall and spring he enjoyed near heroic status. Those Western New York winters were long—so long—and he was out of the spotlight but "on the spot" for his academic deficiencies. For him it was a winter of discontent and he became depressed, restive and surly.
That February a couple of eighth grade boys, eager to break the monotony and ennui of those interminably dull days concocted a plan to stir up some excitement and enlisted Big Stoop as a fellow conspirator. Their scheme could be called a tardiness strike. They put it into effect on a blizzardy February morning. With opening exercises underway about three or four minutes the first conspirator burst into the room stamping the snow off his feet, flapping his arms and noisily depositing his coat, hat and overshoes in the cloakroom. Then he swaggered back to his seat, About two minutes later the second boy repeated that performance and after a similar interval the third did the same. Opening exercises had been turned into a shambles.
Despite the complete disruption Mr. Byron was surprisingly tolerant. Taking the bad weather into consideration he could understand some justification for tardiness and rather mildly chided the boys for their noisiness. However, the next morning the boys resumed the same routine. When the second conspirator stormed into the room Mr. Byron discerned the pattern and perceived the plot. He rushed up to plotter, number two, grabbed him by the shoulders and roughly whisked him to his seat, jamming him down and shaking him until the bolts in the cast-iron base began to loosen and flecks of blood appeared on the plotter's wrist.
At that moment "Big Stoop" charged into the room and surveyed the scene with a sullen stare. The James-Lang theory of emotion claims that the more the emotion is expressed the greater it becomes. Mr. Byron was furnishing striking evidence of the validity of that theory. Letting go of the second conspirator (perhaps saving his neck, we thought) he rushed to the front of the room and clutched Big Stoop's right shoulder. The perennial fifth-grader shrugged him off as if flicking off a pesky fly. The teacher then made the biggest mistake of his pedagogical career. He kicked out with his right foot, directing it toward Big Stoop's backside. When his foot and leg reached a posture parallel with the floor Stoop swiveled around, grabbed it sending two hundred pounds of flabby pedagogue crashing to the deck with the powerful pupil on top.
We were spellbound with fright, fearing we might be witnessing a murderous assault. Mrs. Byron moved in to rescue her husband by pulling hard on Big Stoop's hair. Suddenly he relaxed his hold, got up and just stood there sullenly but somewhat shamefacedly. When Byron regained his breath and was able to get up he pointed to the door and wheezed, "Out." That marked the end of Big Stoop's academic career.
We were beside ourselves with shock and apprehension. When recess came we huddled outside whispering our horror-struck reactions. Then someone said, "There he is!" Sure enough across the road from the schoolyard in the old canal bed loomed the menacing figure of our ex-hero. We heard little about him after that. We did hear later that he had been arrested as a juvenile delinquent. Certainly his life was blighted.
I have often wondered whether a longer baseball season and a shorter winter would have made a difference in his life. And what if he had been less strong and a bit brighter? After all he did not organize the conspiracy. The boys who did were not thrown out of school. They were not strong enough to confront the teacher the way he did even if they had wanted to. Was he more victim than villain? In any case he provided the most dramatic event of my largely tranquil elementary school years.
I can recall no startling development in the sixth grade. The next year geography joined history as a co-favorite subject. Jerry McKinley and I took two eighth grade classes along with our seventh grade courses. Jerry and I became pals sharing our love for sports as well as our affinity for school. He was quite diminutive but had good athletic ability. In the summer we would try to scrape up enough players for baseball but could rarely recruit more than enough to play "three 'ol cat" (five).
That spring I re-entered the job market, applying for a position at Fillmore Central School. I did not favorably impress the Principal, Andy Haynes, at the interview. He told me that I was "overqualified" for a high school history job—an ironic, wrongheaded and disingenuous observation (there was some other reason but I never found out what it was). However, the members of the Board of Education thought differently and told him to hire me. One of them later told me that Carl Becker's recommendation was decisive. In any event in the fall of 1940 I returned home and commenced my teaching career at Fillmore only four miles away. In the meantime Jill's fine performance at Sardinia won her an appointment at Mt. Morris at a higher salary in a larger school twenty-five miles from Fillmore.
The fall of 1940 found Britain facing a grim situation and the prospect of an imminent invasion by Hitler's war machine but I was preoccupied with the pleasures of pedagogy and the prospect of imminent marriage. In September we decided on a "Franksgiving" wedding (FDR had issued an Executive Order moving Thanksgiving up a week). We bought a 1937 Oldsmobile Club Coupe for $375. (Jill paid for it; I hadn't earned any money yet.) So we were able to travel to Jamestown to make wedding preparations. They included several trips to Buffalo with Jill's mother to buy a wedding trousseau.
Despite preoccupation with the forthcoming, knot-tying event I was enjoying teaching and felt I was getting off to a good start in a congenial atmosphere. The physical environment was attractive (a brand new building); the social setting pleasant (responsive students and genial male colleagues—Bob Collins, Bill Appleford, Jim Young. and Bob Boehmler—constituting, a faculty basketball team).
I bought an engagement ring with my first paycheck, one of my few contributions to the several steps in launching us on "the sea of matrimony." The weekend before the knot-tying we had to journey to Jamestown to obtain the marriage license. An ice storm had struck the region creating dangerously slippery roads but we were not deterred. However, Dad, who was deathly afraid of icy pavements, was prompted to provide us with train tickets for the next week's honeymoon trip to Philadelphia as a wedding present.
The wedding week's weather turned out to be crisp and clear. Roger, Jill's brother, gave us the rehearsal dinner at The Apple Inn. The wedding party included Betty Jane Sturgis, Jill's suite mate at Houghton, as Maid of Honor, Carolyn Jones and Phyllis Olson, long time friends as attendants and Sally Lagerquist, daughter of Jill's cousin Albert, as flower girl. On the groom's side Walt Sheffer, a college colleague, was Best Man while Bob Luckey and Roger were ushers. After the reception I went to Walt's home in Youngsville.
November 21, 1940 dawned brightly. Our morning ceremony took place in the Lutheran Immanuel Church, Jill's home church, with Felix Hanson officiating. We were hitched without any hitch. The post-wedding luncheon, featuring chicken fricassee and lots of goodies in addition to the traditional wedding cake was held at stately Le Van's Tea Room, a former mansion, now the Sheldon House. The Carlsons provided a first-class launching of our marital voyage and I owe them my eternal gratitude.
After the reception we shuffled off to Buffalo in our merry Oldsmobile, ate supper at McDoel's restaurant. The entree? Chicken again! We were having a cackling good time. That evening we tooled out to the cavernous Buffalo Station, boarded the Philadelphia train and commenced our conjugal journey. When the train stopped in Olean someone came on board and plopped heavily down in berth "upper ten" directly above us. The next morning I ran into "Doc" Paine, our College President, in the washroom, discovering that he was the occupant of "upper ten." He helped carry our luggage to a taxi, adding his blessing to our marital venture. A couple of years later as President of the Houghton Alumni Association I was able to thank him publicly for accompanying us on our honeymoon—certainly an act of supererogation for a college president!
We stayed at the Ben Franklin Hotel, ate at Bookbinders, toured the city and attended the annual Turkey Day classic between Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania. It was an exciting game, won by the Quakers in the last minute by virtue of a heroic touchdown run by their star back, Francis Reagan. Our tickets to the game were Bob Luckey's wedding present. I was not a sufficiently zealous Cornellian to be crushed by the "Big Red's" defeat. Besides as a happy honeymooner I was in a state of euphoria as well as the State of Pennsylvania.
Since we had jobs twenty-five miles apart we didn't set up housekeeping immediately. Jill kept her room in Mt. Morris and I continued to live at home in Houghton, commuting to Mt. Morris two or three times per week. As the fall semester neared its end Jill, saddled with a superhuman load, decided to resign and we rented a second-story, furnished apartment in Fillmore. It was dark and drab with nondescript furniture, no kitchen sink and no dining area. But Jill made the most of it, providing delicious candlelight dinners in the foyer-hallway and sparking the place up with colorful knickknacks. And, as Dr. Al put it, "It was secluded." Life proceeded smoothly and happily (at least for me) except on one occasion when she fed me a whole batch of waffles, creating a somnolent condition which prevented me from participating in the weekly cleaning (this occurred while she was still teaching). However, she continued to furnish me with such sumptuous meals that I began to take on an inflated look. That spring we had belated wedding pictures taken and I presented the appearance of a groom who had been stuffed into his wedding suit.
During the spring semester Andy Haynes, the Principal, received word from Albany that each school would be expected to develop its own history syllabi and transmit them to the State Social Studies Supervisor at the State Education Department for approval. My assignment was to draft innovative syllabi for World History and for a two-year American History course. This became my summer job—without pay. I completed the task, sending the syllabi to Albany that fall. My reward came when I received the response. The letter of approval contained a glowing commentary on the quality of the work. This was in sharp contrast to their assessment of the syllabus submitted by the Junior High teacher which was rejected. One tangible result of my salaryless summer: The State Social Studies Supervisor recommended me to several principals as a person they should have on their staffs. However, I was not in a position to take advantage of any of those opportunities. My draft classification in the spring of '42 was changed to 1A and I was on the brink of military service.
That second year in Fillmore (1941-42) saw us leave our twenty dollar per month drab, second-story apartment and move into a house with a fourteen dollar monthly rental (my salary that year was fourteen hundred dollars). The house we occupied was really half a house, although it was a free standing edifice. Bob Gillette, the head custodian at Fillmore Central, had bought a large house, cut it in two and moved the structure we were to live in to an empty lot on School Street. He remodeled the interior, consulting us in regard to the kitchen arrangements and color scheme. It was a two-story edifice with a large kitchen, small but cozy living room and downstairs bathroom. The upstairs space contained two bedrooms. We furnished it with a combination of new pieces (sofa, chairs, rugs) and old (refrigerator, stove, dressers, beds) borrowed from my folks and freshly painted by Dad Carlson.
Our new abode was quite attractive on the inside but had a seedy outside appearance. It sorely needed a fresh coat of paint and was surrounded by an unseeded yard nearly hidden under a big pile of dirt. There was no basement and the pipes in the bathroom were exposed to the weather. The old floor furnace in the living room was indicative of the minimal nature of our domicile. The pilot light seemed shaky, having a tendency to flicker out. Our parents and even the local druggist, who knew about its idiosyncrasy, worried that it would go out in the night, permitting gas to seep into the living room and upstairs, asphyxiating us. We were too naive to share their concern. Furthermore, the lack of a cinder block border around and under the house allowed access by small animals. We actually heard a rat gnawing into the fabric of our Louis XVI carpet and discovered evidence that such rodent rummaging had taken place more than once. Fortunately they were never able to break through but the thought of a possible rodent invasion was a bit unsettling.
Still we had fun playing house. We entertained the Carlsons (Dad, Mother and Roger) at Christmas. We decorated that little old place to the hilt. My present for Jill was a phonograph and record albums, including the theme songs of the Big Bands. Christmas morning we danced to the swinging rhythms of Benny Goodman's "Let's Dance" and the signature songs of Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw and Harry James. What fun!
Nearly every evening we capped off the day with Sealtest ice cream raspberry tarts in front of our open gas-burning "fireplace." We entertained company for dinner—Bob Luckey, Walt Sheffer, Joe and Monica Cole (he was the basketball coach) as well as our parents. Friday nights we went to the Fillmore Hotel for fish fries. We enjoyed the movies at The Opera House. I was "as happy as a clam at high tide," as pleased with my situation as an affluent middle class husband living in a fine home in suburbia.
I viewed our modest quasi-dilapidated dwelling place in the "hick-town" atmosphere of Fillmore (the main street looked like a western movie set with wooden false-fronts on the few stores) through romantic lenses (several years later when Fillmore celebrated its centennial the slogans were "a century without progress" and "a century of rigor mortis"). Looking back I wonder how I could be so contented and complacent in a situation which an ambitious person would not tolerate very long. The answer, of course, is that I was happy living with Jill, her cooking and caring. I liked my job, had remarkably good students. My first star student, Lyle Brown, who earned an "A' in History A, went on to obtain a Ph.D. and a professorship at Baylor University. My ace student in American History, Warren Richardson, became a highly successful lawyer and lobbyist in Washington. So there I was living in what from a broader perspective and more sophisticated view would be regarded as a physically minimal and culturally impoverished environment which, in my state of euphoria, I regarded as idyllic. Jill knew better, had a larger perspective and a more far-sighted vision but neither needled nor nagged me about my complacency.
Soon, however, the spell of arcadian contentment was broken. My 3A draft classification was changed to 1A and in the spring of '42 I was now subject to being called into the army. I never received that official letter from the War Department which begins with the salutatory "greetings." We spent the Easter weekend in Jamestown. Jill noted an item in the Jamestown Morning Post which announced that married men were now eligible for the V-7 program, a program designed to produce Naval Officers. I checked into the Jamestown recruiting office, launched the process, passed the physical in Buffalo, was sworn in and ready for orders to Midshipman's School at the close of the school year. Jill's spotting that announcement proved to be a pivotal point in our lives. It generated a chain of events—three and a half years of service in the Navy, including nearly two years of action in the Southwest Pacific and, after the war the generous benefits of the G.I. Bill—that culminated in the completion of a Ph.D. and a career as a college professor and administrator. I've often wondered what our lives would have been like if Jill hadn't read that paper and spotted that announcement.
Commencement came, I resigned my position. Andy Haynes graciously but also shrewdly tapped Jill to take my job. (I say "shrewdly" because he knew she was an excellent teacher.) Now the waiting period for my orders began. I expected them momentarily so I just fiddled around, waited and did more fiddling since I was not eligible for gainful employment. The summer dragged on—with more Friday night fish fries—and finally evolved to fall. Jill went off to school, yours truly languished at home. I took daily trips to the post office uncomfortably aware that people were wondering how an able-bodied young man could be sitting out the war.
With my self-esteem at low ebb I was becoming difficult to live with. A couple of weeks into September I wrote the Bureau of Naval Personnel presenting the data on my enlistment and inquiring about my orders. Within a few days I received a reply, informing me that my records had been misplaced but that my reminder had triggered their recovery. Then came the orders to report to Notre Dame Midshipman's School on October 4th. The wait was over. No longer did I have to sit home and watch my wife go to work every morning. The great adventure had begun.
When I enlisted I listed 69 Benson Street as my home address so the train ticket which accompanied my orders specified Jamestown as the point of departure. I was scheduled to take Erie's New York—Chicago train at five twenty Sunday morning, October 4th. Dad Carlson took me to the station. With his penchant for punctuality we got there in plenty of time. It turned out to be a so-called "milk train," stopping at every city, town and village enroute, taking all day to reach South Bend, Indiana. The tedium of the trip was somewhat relieved by listening to the radio broadcast of the World Series between the Cardinals and the Yankees but I was an indifferent listener that day. At another time I would have been excited about the Cardinal's victory but my mind was preoccupied with speculation about my possible role in a more significant contest: The Yankees and the Brits vs. the Axis Powers.
Some thirteen hundred young men converged on the Notre Dame campus that Sunday afternoon and evening. They came in all shapes and sizes but had three characteristics in common: an A.B. or B.S. degree, a successful physical exam and an aspiration to be a commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy. Taken altogether they presented many variables. Some came from small private colleges (like yours truly), others from large public and private universities. Virtually all of the different academic majors were represented from anthropology to zoology as were all sections of the country from California to Maine. Those who were successful in completing the program would later be tagged with the sardonic sobriquet, "Ninety-Day-Wonders." The assumption underlying the Navy V-7 experiment was that college graduates with a liberal arts education were the most likely prospects for coping with an accelerated, rigorous learning regimen and becoming competent Naval "officers and gentlemen." The program was designed to produce quickly several thousand officers to help man the hundreds of ships being built. In retrospect it was remarkably successful and, in validating the assumption, provided convincing evidence of the value and importance of a liberal college education.
The term, "Ninety-Day" Wonder is somewhat misleading because the program stretched over four months. The first month, called Indoctrination, the candidates were apprentice seamen, wore the traditional "middie" uniform with big-collared blouse, bell-bottom trousers with umpteen buttons, and a crinkled sailors cap over a severe brush-cut. They (we) were subjected to a rigorous—at times tortuous—routine from reveille (0600) to taps (2200). It was a testing, probationary period consisting of four academic-type courses all of which the trainee must pass to become a midshipman plus a strenuous physical fitness program, watch duties and countless inspections. Any lapses: failure to meet any of the standards or to live up to the regulations brought "demerits." As our battalion officer, Lieutenant Brown, a feisty Texan, continuously reminded us, "You guys know what demerits mean. Demerits mean a train ticket home or to the Great Lakes and boot camp." The principal motivational strategy was to engender the feeling that we were always under "the sword of Damocles" and any slip we made would bring it crashing down on our heads. It seemed to work. Most of us were running scared and running hard.
The four courses were Indoctrination, Math (spherical trigonometry), Naval Ordinance, Seamanship and Navy Customs and Regulations. Moreover, we were confronted with a partially new language consisting of a new vocabulary for familiar objects and, of course, the names of all the nautical accessories and appurtenances with which we were totally unfamiliar. Thus we now walked on a "deck," not a floor; down a "passageway," not a hall or corridor; hollered "gangway" not excuse me; looked up at the "overhead," not the ceiling; leaned against the "bulkhead," not the wall; went to the "head," not the bathroom; listened to "scuttlebutt," not gossip; went "topside," not upstairs; "sacked out," not went to bed, at "twenty-two hundred hours," not ten p.m. Further, we had to distinguish a chock from a bit, a capstan from a winch, the foc'sle from the fantail etc.; all of this and more before getting near a real ship.
Of the four courses only Navy Customs and Regulations did I find quite easy. By far the most difficult was spherical trig. Unless one was a math major the problem of mastering the spherical concepts and managing the logarithmic calculations was intimidating. The math instructor assigned to our platoon had graduated from Georgia Tech in business administration and had barely passed high school geometry. The class followed a departmental syllabus and took departmental exams. His only contribution was to conduct the class in a strictly military manner (he made us stand at attention when reciting, address him as "sir" and begin our recitation by saying, "Seaman Crandall, reporting"). After going through the formal protocol at the outset of the class session he would select the number of seamen coinciding with the number of assigned problems, ordering them to write their calculations and solutions on the chalk boards. Then he would point to the work on the first problem saying, "Are there any questions?" Hands would fly up. As he recognized each hand-waving seaman the pattern of comments went something like this. "I did it the same way but got a different answer." Next, "I did it a different way but got the same answer." A bewildering debate was ignited leaving us in a state of utter confusion. Our class had only one math major. We besieged him with frantic requests for help, driving him to the point of having to turn us down. We became panicky as we were failing the weekly departmental exams and would sneak into the head after taps (risking possible demerits) to try to get help from each other.
The instructor kept reminding us that failure to pass the course would bust us out of the program but also that he was pleading with his superiors to replace him. Finally his pleas were heeded. The last ten days a former high school math teacher, Lt. Tefft from Rochester, took over and pulled most of us past the 2.5 minimum grade level, giving some twenty-five aspiring and perspiring seamen a chance to become naval officers. The irony of that harrowing experience was that while the rationale of subjecting us to the esoteric intricacies of spherical trig was to provide us with a theoretical background for celestial navigation we never used the stuff we learned in that course. In actual practice celestial navigation was handled by consulting tables which contained the products of all of the necessary mathematical manipulations.
A "Boot-camp" regimen constituted the nonacademic part of the program from reveille to taps. Failure to be punctual at the first muster in the morning (or any other), failure to be in the sack with lights out at taps, failure to be in the designated uniform (uniform requirements changed during the day, sometimes on very short notice), failure to heed any announcement, failure to have a clean room and clean sink ("a wet sink is a dirty sink"), failure to pass personal inspection, failure to fill out any form properly—all of the above resulted in demerits. Failure to hear an announcement (not getting the word) was no excuse. Thus we were always on edge, fearful of missing "the word." We all had periodic duty as Mate of the Deck of our deck in the dorm. The M.O.D.'s principal responsibility was to pass the word to his mates on his deck. Occasionally some sadistic seaman would run out into the passageway and holler, "All who have not done so do so immediately" sending us all into a state of panic.
The physical dimension of the program focused on close order drills and rigorous calisthenics conducted by "drill sergeants"—actually chief petty officers. They were an integral part of the daily grind. Northern Indiana winter weather is chilling with the wintry blasts sweeping across the flat frozen terrain of the Notre Dame campus. I still remember with a shudder of lying on the cold, cold ground doing endless leglifts wondering whether my legs would fall off before they were infected with frostbite. I lost fifteen pounds that first month.
The climactic events each week were the Saturday inspections and tests. Each room was occupied by two seamen. Responsibility for the condition of the room rotated each week. Any deficiencies were charged against the "Captain of the Room" that particular week. Bill Cox from Graceville, Minnesota and a graduate of St. Johns College was my roommate. He was a fine person, conscientious and competent, and didn't deserve demerits but had the misfortune to be captain on those weeks deficiencies were discovered. I really lucked out in the demerit category except for one instance. I signed the G.I. Insurance form in the wrong place and had to work off the demerits by toting a rifle around the campus on Saturday afternoon during the Notre Dame-Michigan football game.
Eleven hundred survived the one-month probationary period while two hundred busted out. The end of Indoctrination was marked by celebration. Several of the survivors who had experience as entertainers staged a Happy Hour show featuring much scatological humor and irreverent jibes poking fun at the "ridiculous regulations" and the idiosyncrasies of members of the instructional staff. It was an effective way of relieving the tensions accumulated during the long four-week grind. But the first "liberty"—from Saturday at 1300 'till Sunday at 2200—provided the best opportunity for letting off steam. Some went to Chicago; most took hotel rooms in South Bend (I went into town but did not stay overnight). The shenanigans and hi-jinks of that first midshipman's class at Notre Dame on that occasion and subsequent liberties resulted in a ban on overnight liberties for unmarried men in the classes that followed. Later when, as Naval officers, we would meet graduates of those classes they would accuse us of being the culprits who had ruined liberty weekends for them.
Now we were proud midshipmen with the appropriate dress uniforms which closely approximated those of naval officers but the rigorous routine remained. However we had to deal with a new academic curriculum. Navigation replaced Indoctrination Math; Ordinance was augmented by Damage Control; Seamanship became more than knot-tying sessions and a detailed study of the Watch Officer's Guide and Manual rounded out the curricular requirements. Navigation seemed to me to be the most important subject and the most challenging. The fundamental task was to learn to do a day's work in celestial navigation. In a recurring assignment we were given all of the relevant data: sextant readings, the velocity of the winds and currents, the ship's position at 0800 and the ship's average speed. We had to execute the necessary calculations, apply them to the chart using compass and parallel rulers plotting the exact location of the ship at 0800 the next day. My lack of manual dexterity caused me considerable anxiety. My ineptitude in manipulating the compass and parallel rulers with precision and in drawing razor-thin lines created horrendous possibilities. In plotting the exact location of the vessel at the specified time a skewed ruler and fat lines could place the ship several miles from its correct position—on a large sale chart—even if the mathematical calculations were correct.
Our instructor, Lieutenant Hussong, gave no partial credit. If the plotted spot was more than ten miles off (just a "silly millimeter" on a large-scale chart) we were charged with a wrong answer. Although 2.5 was passing in the Navy grading system. he used only two grades 4.0 and flunk. He used his procedure, which we thought to be excessively harsh by contending, "I don't want to be aboard a ship that has a 2.5 navigator."
Anyone who failed any exam was placed "on the tree" for the next week. Those on the tree were assigned extra study hours which were deducted from "liberty" time. All grade information was posted on the bulletin boards so we knew where we and everyone else stood at the beginning of each week. We were told that our grade point ranking would be a critical factor in determining our duty assignment upon graduation. That was simply a motivational ploy. Over half of our class went to the amphibious forces, including the front-runners. Except for that traumatic time in Indoctrination Math I managed to stay off "the tree" and ultimately finished 142nd in a graduating class of 1,050.
Thanksgiving brought a break in the action and Jill to South Bend. We stayed at a first-class hotel, The LaSalle, ate thanksgiving dinner at the Oak Room of the Hotel Hoffman, another fine hostelry with live pipe organ music enhancing the festive atmosphere, toured the campus and went to the movies. Although she was impressed with the sparkling new dress uniform she was a bit dismayed at my general appearance. My weight loss and quasi-skinhead haircut made me look like a scrawny, plucked chicken rather than the plump, chubby-faced husband with wavy locks she had known.
The rigorous regimen resumed in the post-thanksgiving period. Each day was crammed with tightly scheduled activities with no down time until Saturday afternoons. Except for a couple of hours of pick-up basketball in Rockne Memorial Gym we were busy doing our laundry, reviewing our notes and preparing for the next week's work. I never took time out to read a newspaper or listen to the radio. It seemed like a treadmill experience, engendering ambivalent feelings of wanting to get off and, at the same time, fearing that any lapse or diversion could bring dire consequences i.e., falling behind and busting out.
I did experience an unwanted interruption and several days of deep anxiety. Victimized by an unknown "bug" I reported to sick bay and was placed in the hospital. My illness remained undiagnosed. I tried to persuade the nun/nurses to give me a physic but they demurred. Roger came down from Camp McCoy, Wisconsin to visit while I was still in a hospital bed but, since my "disease" had not been identified, they wouldn't let him come in. I talked to him from the second-story window. Soon I showed signs of recovery and was released to resume the grind. Bill Cox clued me in on the material I had missed and I was able to catch up without serious grade point damage. That incident might be called "a successful damage control operation."
Christmas came and so did Jill. We bought a little tree. The maid at The LaSalle Hotel collaborated in our preparations. It was one of my most memorable Christmases. We saw the film, "Holiday Inn" which introduced Irvin Berlin's "White Christmas" and later dined at the Oak Room of the Hotel Hoffman where the organist played that stirring sentimental song. That holiday, the last we were to spend together for three years, was idyllic in every respect.
Now the first midshipman's class at Notre Dame was coming down the home stretch. One afternoon early in January the staff passed out form sheets asking us to state our preferences for duty assignments. We took this "opportunity" seriously and it generated spirited conversations regarding the best strategy to employ in filling out that form. Some said, "Put down Coastal Defense; that's the safest duty." Others contended, "No, write in Bomb Disposal; they'll say ÔHe's too brave to die and assign you much safer duty.'" The fact of the matter was that the whole exercise was quite irrelevant. None of the classmates that I knew got a duty assignment which matched their stated choice.
January 28, 1943 was Graduation Day. Mother and Dad came out for the commencement ceremony which was held in the new Navy Drill Hall. The final exhortation in the commencement address was "Come home with your shields of honor untarnished or come home on them."
We were now Ensigns in the United States Naval Reserve ready for active duty. My orders directed me to report to the amphibious force at Norfolk, Virginia after a two-week leave. I journeyed back home with my parents. We rode all night on the New York Central to Buffalo without sleeping accommodations.
The fortnight at home flew by. Jill had been forced to move from our half-house which had developed a bad case of frozen pipes (those exposed bathroom conduits). She was living next door in a house rented and occupied by Andy Haynes, his wife and the owner, Pearl Torpey. Andy asked me to speak at Rotary about my experiences at midshipman's school. We attended a Valentine's dance at Fillmore Central, giving me a chance to show off my naval officer's uniform in front of my former students and colleagues. My self esteem was restored. No longer would people wonder whether I was sitting out the war (my situation during that long, hot summer of lost records).
A Pacific typhoon interrupted the air war the next week, bringing its own deadly destruction. It struck congested San Pedro Bay just at dusk, after an ominous calm. The mountainous waves and hundred-plus mile-an-hour winds sent the 430's anchor skittering along the sea bottom causing the ship to flounder dangerously close to the many other drifting vessels. We cut the anchor cable, started the engines trying to gain steerage-way so we could head out of the bay into the wider areas of Leyte Gulf. The ship plunged in and out of the water erratically making steering almost impossible. The rain came straight at us, hitting our faces like liquid tracer bullets. We put on wool face masks, gear for use in the frigid Aleutians, which had been mistakenly, now fortunately, included in our supplies.
Feelings of helplessness engulfed us far greater than any such feelings during the aerial bombings. The Senior Officer Present on the flagship, Henry T. Allen, announced the lifting of the blackout on the bridge radio but even with running lights on visibility approached zero. We lashed Joey Proteus, our forecastle gunner, to the bow railing with a phone to warn the bridge if we were getting close to another vessel. He saved us from ramming into a huge Liberty Ship. Heeding his timely warning, "Ship dead ahead!" we backed all engines full. The order did not take effect immediately in those angry waters but it did "brake" our forward motion so that the 430 was nearly stopped as it eased up against the side of that hulking vessel.
We all donned lifejackets. One of the sailors put on three and asked permission to jump overboard. No one would have survived more than one or two minutes in those turbulent seas. Bunks, dishes and any loose equipment ricocheted around the decks; sailors clung to the railings to keep from being washed overboard. The bridge radio carried disturbing news. An LCI rocket ship reported that the storm was detonating their ammunition. We could hear the explosions in the background as they made that plaintive announcement. The flagship requested the LCI captain to advise them of his ship's position. His response: "We're fifty miles from nowhere and going like hell. WheeeÉ!"
The storm raged through the night and into the next morning. By that time we had managed to reach more open water and daylight brought better visibility. We had avoided the fate of a number of ships which had been washed up on the beach and sustained considerable damage. We did lose our mast which broke off and came crashing down on the deck without hitting anyone. The typhoon's toll included the sinking of four destroyers caused by the wild waves filling their tunnels with water.
We all breathed prayers of thanks for the blessing of surviving the onslaught of a natural enemy more powerful and dangerous than our human foes, the Japanese, had been able to mount. During the height of the storm an amazing number of Bibles appeared, some in surprising hands. Perhaps this sudden religious fervor and reverential behavior could be called "typhoon religion" and serve as a twin term to "foxhole religion."
Now with our fallen mast we were sent to an LST which had been converted to a repair ship (a ships' tender) where we tied up with three other damaged LCIs—two on each side of the tender. There we were on a Sunday afternoon in early November when confronted by a new deadly phenomenon which was to add a new word to our wartime vocabulary—kamikaze. The Jap air attacks had resumed after the typhoon and because of our depleted air cover had become somewhat more effective. When enemy planes were directly overhead we all manned our battle stations; when they were in the vicinity but not overhead we operated under "Condition Red" with half of the crew on duty and half sacking out—four hours on, four hours off, a rigorous regimen in effect most of the time since the initial landing.
That Sunday we were operating under Condition Red. Before going off duty at 1200 (noon) I asked the gunner's mate who was coming on duty to start cleaning the guns, one by one. I hit the sack. About 1430 the sharp clanging of the signal for General Quarters sounded and those of us off duty bounded out to take our battle stations. As I came out of my cabin, steward's mate Gray stepped aside for me to ascend the ladder to the gun deck then followed me on his way to his battle station, #5 gun. As I reached the open deck I saw a Japanese fighter plane moving toward us several hundred yards off our starboard quarter. I continued up the next ladder to the bridge, looking back at the aircraft rapidly closing the intervening distance. Gray had rushed back to the #5 gun on the starboard corner, hunched into the shoulder straps and grabbed the firing mechanism only to find that the barrel was missing (being cleaned). The plane was almost upon us.
Gray swiveled around and spread-eagled on the deck. At that moment our forecastle gunner, Joey Proteus either hit the pilot or the steering mechanism of the Zero sending it into a twisting spin over our fantail across the dock of the LST repair ship, scraping the fantail of the LCI on the other side and crashing into the water. The crash exploded the bomb and created a shower of shrapnel which fell on the decks of the three ships. All personnel were frozen in crouched positions, seemingly mesmerized or perhaps just scared stiff. No one moved; no one spoke. Then Gray broke the spell. Slowly picking his six foot plus frame off the deck, brushing off the metallic fragments clinging to his skivvy shirt, our black from Muskogee drawled, "Things is gettin' serious."
Gray's remark triggered a wave of nervous laughter and we started to move about, assess the damage and figure out what had happened. We soon came to realize that the Jap pilot was on a suicide mission determined to crash his bomb-laden plane into the tender (thus destroying the repair facilities for several ships). That conclusion was confirmed when we spied what had just happened some four hundred yards from us where another tender with four LCIs alongside had been hit amidships by a twin suicide plane, almost splitting the repair ship in two, inflicting heavy casualties and hurling many overboard. It was the first time we experienced—or even knew about—a kamikaze attack. We had become quite complacent about air raids with bombs splashing harmlessly in the water. That episode shattered our complacency. Now we had to face the possibility that the pilots would steer their payloads all the way to the target if they weren't shot down before reaching it. Yes, we learned the meaning of kamikaze that afternoon. In Japanese it means "divine wind"; to us it meant a diabolical instrument of terror and destruction. Thanks to Joey Proteus, our #1 gunner, we emerged from that encounter intact; thanks to Gray, our man from Muskogee we kept our sense of humor.
Skipper of the 430
Several weeks after assuming command a pounding on my cabin door in the middle of the night woke me up from a sound sleep. I opened the door and was confronted by a charged-up member of the black gang, Machinist's Mate Hynes—charged up by a heavy infusion of "jungle juice." He launched an harangue on the allegation that I was not acting like a real skipper. "Hill was an S.O.B.," he bellowed, "But he never left any doubt about being a real skipper." Hynes was about the best man in our engine room, but he was an ugly drunk. I got a deckhand on duty to escort him to his sack only after he had spewed out enough venomous invective to warrant a charge of insubordination. When he came to my cabin the next morning, at my request, he was cold sober and contrite. I told him that I would not hold him responsible for his alcohol-generated outburst but if ever there was a second time I would have no alternative. In the days that followed he showed his appreciation in both word and deed. As it turned out that incident resulted in a new, firm mutual respect. During the rest of my tenure as Captain I encountered no behavior that even approached warranting disciplinary action.
Soon after my elevation to skipper Captain McGee assigned the 430 to deliver some personnel to a Philippine village about fifty miles up the coast of Samar—a solo mission. The orders indicated that one fighter plane would constitute our air cover. We cruised several miles off the coast which was still occupied by Jap troops but we encountered no enemy activity. When we arrived the Mayor of the village came aboard to greet us. A diminutive Filipino in a resplendent linen suit, he seemed less than a commanding figure because he was barefooted. Although nothing momentous happened the event sticks in my memory since it was one of the few occasions when we operated as a completely independent unit for several days. We were proud to be selected for a solo mission and pleased to be treated as representatives of the U.S. liberation forces by the grateful officials of that village.
In January our participation in the landings at Nasugbu landings provided the most serious test of my decision-making responsibility as Captain. The assault on Nasugbu, Luzon was part of the final phase of the campaign to re-take Manila. The successful landings at Lingayen Gulf, a few weeks earlier, had placed a large force north of Manila. They were fighting their way down to the Capital city. Our operation plan called for disembarking troops on the Nagsugbu peninsula a few miles south of Manila while paratroopers dropped behind the beach. The combined forces would then form half of a pincers movement closing in on the city from below while the contingents from Langayen squeezed the Jap defenders from above.
As our invasion convoy cruised off the Mindoro coast on the afternoon of "D minus 1" one of the LCIs developed engine trouble. We received orders to take the disabled vessel in tow. The execution of the towing procedure proved to be something of a nightmare. The cable broke twice during the hitching process. Nearly an hour passed before the tow was secured and we could resume forward motion. By that time the convoy had disappeared over the horizon. What to do? It was decision time and the decision had to be mine. The decision resided in solving the problem of regaining our position in the convoy in time for the landing the next morning at 0600 without endangering the five hundred lives of the crews and troops on the two ships (the 430 and the vessel in tow). The only way to catch up was to take a shortcut. The operation plan called for the convoy to travel NNW until 0100 on D-day, then make a sharp turn and head directly for the beach at Nasugbu. By heading NNE we could probably intercept the convoy about 0400. We would be taking a route fairly close to the shore and without any escort protection. Furthermore, moving into a crowded convoy on a moonless night under blackout conditions and crossing two columns with a ship in tow carried the risk of a possible collision.
I didn't sweat out the decision, rather I made the decision quickly—and then sweated. At a little after 0400 we reached the path of the convoy and started to cross between the vessels in the two nearer columns to take our assigned position in the starboard column (actually it was very difficult to tell which column a particular ship was in). The process of sliding between ships cruising in close order and hauling the ship in tow clear before the next convoy vessel reached the point of crossing was hairy indeed. Three possibilities haunted us: (1) a broadside collision between an oncoming vessel and the 430; (2) an oncoming vessel cutting the tow cable; (3) an oncoming vessel hitting the ship in tow. At one point the first possibility loomed. We stopped just in time for that ship to pass by, then applied full power to get across before the next vessel came along. We just made it and, at first light, moved into our assigned slot. When we neared the beach we disconnected the cable and the ship in tow glided alongside winding up well off the beach but able to release its stern anchor. It discharged its troops in water up to their armpits but since the landing was unopposed the troops waded into the beach without a casualty. Sometime later the repairs on the crippled ship were completed and it was able to leave the landing area belatedly under its own power.
The next day we received a message from The Task Force Commander requesting a full report. I replied with as honest and complete description as I could muster. It must have been satisfactory because that ended the correspondence on the matter.
In retrospect I believe that my performance might have merited an "A" for decisiveness but considerably less for careful judgment. I should not have tried to get into position before daylight. The risk was too great and luck as well as some fair navigating and quick maneuvering played a critical role in the favorable outcome. Next to the kamikaze attack it was the closest the 430 came to disaster. In this case the, responsibility would have been mine. Even now I shudder to think about it.
Possible disaster brushed by me one other time while I was skipper of the 430. On that occasion the only victim would have been yours truly and the situation had nothing to do with enemy action or operational strategies. It occurred after the 430 had returned to San Pedro Bay where our flotilla anchored to await further orders. Since the small ships had undergone a lengthy period without diversion Captain McGee arranged for a series of movie excursions to the Seventh Amphibious Force flagship, the Henry T. Allen. One rainy evening I accompanied the group from the 430 as well as contingents from other LCIs to the flagship where we watched a Western horse opera. When we boarded the motor launch taking us back to our respective vessels the coxswain in charge asked me, the only captain aboard, to guide him to the several ships since I knew the anchorage pattern, Thus the 430 became the last stop. The launch pulled alongside and the crew members disembarked via the rope ladder. The sailor on the launch who was handling the bow line thought that the unloading of personnel was completed and cast off the bow line just as I had stepped forward and was about to grab the boarding ladder. With the release of the bow line the launch veered away from our ship creating a yawning space between launch and ladder. I plunged into the water. Weighted down with heavy jungle boots, and foul weather gear my body dropped fifteen feet below the surface before I could reverse its direction. My mental reaction was two-fold: (1) I thought, "What an ignominious way to go. LCI captain lost while returning from a movie." (2) I must not come up too soon and be sucked into the launch's screw (we had heard about such an incident a few days before). That fear proved to be groundless. By the time I had surfaced the current had carried me at least fifty yards from the ship.
The problem then became that of summoning enough strength to make headway against the current and to get close enough to the 430 to reach a lifeline. Needless to say I made it. The only damage sustained was the loss of my hat and a dent on my dignity (which was slight anyway!). On the plus side, it made me a full-fledged saltwater sailor, having undergone baptism by complete immersion. In an interesting twist Jim Hartman, the Exec, became the target of jokes about the incident because he had tried to throw me a line which was attached to a painting platform and I would have had to have been a flying fish to have reached it. This episode contained another plus. In later years when anyone asked me where I was in the war I could honestly say that I had been in the Pacific.
Hugh Pickens (Po-Hi '67) is a physicist who has explored for oil in the Amazon jungle, commissioned microwave communications systems across the empty quarter of Saudi Arabia, and built satellite control stations for Goddard Space Flight Center in Australia, Antarctica, Guam, and other locations around the world. Retired in 1999, Pickens and his wife of 33 years moved from Baltimore back to his hometown of Ponca City, Oklahoma in 2005 where he cultivates his square foot garden, mows seven acres of lawn, writes about local history, photographs events at the Poncan Theatre, produces the annual Oklahoma Pride series with his wife at Ponca Playhouse, and recently sponsored the first formal dinner in the Marland Mansion in 75 years. Pickens is presently in the process of planning the construction of an Art Museum in Northern Oklahoma. Pickens can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Pickens is a covid survivor and a stroke survivor.
Most days you will find me sitting in my easy chair with an HP laptop or a book in front of me. I enjoy intellectual pursuits: studying, writing, reading, researching, analyzing, and predicting. During my off time I like riding the backroads of Oklahoma in my hot rod, working out, watching old movies on TCM, playing games like chess or dominoes, participating in community theatre, and, my secret pleasure, reading trashy detective novels by John D. MacDonald. I enjoy theater and concerts and I go to NYC several times a year to see Broadway shows and visit galleries and museums.
In 1996, Pickens edited and published My Life In Review: Have I Been Lucky of What?, the memoirs of Jack Crandall, professor of history at SUNY Brockport. Since 2001 Pickens has edited and published “Peace Corps Online,” serving over one million monthly pageviews. Pickens' other writing includes contributing over 2,000 stories to “Slashdot: News for Nerds,” and articles for Wikipedia, and “Ponca City, We Love You”. Pickens has written the following articles available on his wiki at Research and Ideas.
- My Life In Review: Have I Been Lucky of What?
- “Peace Corps Online,”
- 2000 stories to “Slashdot: News for Nerds,”
History and Biography
I enjoy doing in-depth research on one person and writing a detailed biography of lesser known events or figures. I like to find someone, an artist, a politician, a former Peace Corps Director, or an Oklahoman, that I like and am interested in learning more about them and writing their biography from scratch. I started and filled out dozens of biographies when I wrote for Wikipedia back in the stone age in the early 2000's when they were getting started. But Wikipedia became too bureaucratic and political for me so now I research and write biographies on my own mediawiki platform. (I only make anonymous edits to Wikipedia now usually on the discussion pages.)
- My Biography of Jon Carson -The Man Who Won the Presidential Nomination for Barack Obama (>700,000 pageviews)
- My Discovery that Barack Obama's Mother Grew Up in Ponca City February 6, 2009 (>300,000 pageviews)
- Academy Award Winning Screenwriter Chris Terrio (>400,000 pageviews)
- Biography of Ninja of Go! Team (Nkechi Ka Egenamba)
- History of the 100-Year Old Oil Refinery in Ponca City, Oklahoma (>535,000 pageviews)
- My Uncle Donald and America's Fresh Water Submarines in World War II (>110,000 pageviews)
- What Happened to Okies after "The Grapes of Wrath" (30,000 pageviews)
- The Pioneer Woman Models Come Home to Ponca City February 26, 2010
- President Barack Obama's Mother Grew Up in Ponca City February 6, 2009
Science and Technology
I have a degree in physics from SUNY in 1970 and have worked in science and technology my entire career. I have held such disparate jobs as Geophysical Observer on a geological survey crew in the amazon jungle, running a portable hydrocarbon detection laboratory on an oil rig, systems engineer for the microwave communications system and supervisory control system on the 800-mile long Trans-Andean Pipeline, independent contractor to Collins Radio in 1979 installing, commissioning, and testing microwave repeater stations all over Saudi Arabia, military advisor to the Royal Saudi Navy on naval communications, navigation, and fire control systems (1980 - 84), project engineer, then project manager for Bendix Fields Engineering (later becoming AlliedSignal Technical Services, then Honeywell Technical Services) from 1984 until my retirement in 1999.
- Building NASA's GRO Remote Terminal System (GRTS) in Australia
- Slashdot Posted a Story about me and an article I wrote about my recovery from covid in 2020 277 comments
- 2,400 Stories I have published on Slashdot over the years
- Why I enjoy Writing for Slashdot
- Contributions to Wikipedia]
- Why I enjoy Writing for Wikipedia
- Stories on Soylent News
Business and Investing
I am a speculator and enjoy designing and executing trading strategies that exploit market inefficiencies through my assessment and evaluation of information asymmetries, market psychology, and human emotion. Over the years I have put together several open-source histories of companies I am interested in including micro-caps that I have invested in.
- An Independent Evaluation of Phillips 66, its Business Strategy, and Execution (over 1,000,000 pageviews)
- Latest News from Phillips 66 (>450,000 pageviews)
- A History of the Ponca Refinery in Ponca City (>268,000 pageviews)
- A Financial Model for Tucows and Ting (over 1,000,000 pageviews)
Ponca City, Oklahoma
I was born and grew up in Ponca City, Oklahoma, a town of about 25,000 somewhat isolated in North Central Oklahoma (a two hour drive to the nearest metropolitan areas in Tulsa, OKC, and Wichita.). After I left Ponca City to go to college, I worked overseas and on the East Coast for 30 years. But my wife and I came back to Ponca after our retirement in 1999.
Ponca City is an interesting amalgam of historical developments including being being founded and created from scratch during and after the Cherokee Strip Land Run in 1893, becoming an oil boom town in the 1920's, home of the "Palace on the Prairie" built by oil magnate E.W. Marland, home to Conoco's R&D facility employing hundreds of Phd.'s in the 1950's, 60's and 70's giving Ponca a character of a university town, and finally the continual influence of Native American tribes on our history especially the Ponca tribe and Osage Nation. Some interesting articles I have researched and written about Ponca City include:
- Hugh and Dr. S. J. Pickens Sponsor First Dinner Served in E. W, Marland Formal Dining Room in 75 Years December 18, 2016
- "Lydie Marland in the Afterlife" Reinterprets the Life of Ponca City's Controversial First Lady June 30, 2017
- The Pioneer Woman Models Should Return to Ponca City July 13, 2007
- The Pioneer Woman Models Come Home to Ponca City February 26, 2010
- President Barack Obama's Mother Grew Up in Ponca City February 6, 2009
- Standing Bear Looks to the Future
- Ponca City, We Love You
- What to See in Ponca City
- Railroads and Ponca City
- Ponca Playhouse to Present "The Broken Statue" January 17, 2012
- What Ponca City Owes EW Marland June 20, 2012
- How Much Money Does the Marland Refinery in Ponca City Earn for Phillips 66? July 23, 2012
- EW Marland and the Movie "The Ends of the Earth" (320,000 pageviews) May 23, 2013
- Sculptor Bryant Baker's Lost Masterpiece November 3, 2015
- Ponca Playhouse Production of "Lydie Maryland in the Afterlife" Ends in Triumph
I plan to build a 15,000 ft2 art museum here in the heartland in the next few years. In the meantime I am exhibiting art in three locations: City Central in Ponca City, at Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa, Oklahoma, and here in a 10,000 ft2 facility at my home.
- Pickens Museum
- Doctor Pickens Museum Facebook Page
- Meet the Team that is Going to Design Doctor Pickens Museum May 21, 2018
- World's Largest Naja on Display Outside Ponca City by Stephen Schwark August 29, 2018
- A 1949 Hudson Limousine August 2018
- Jo Davidson Sculpture from 1929
- Native American Artist Tonya Rafael Visits Ponca City February 2018
- Pickens Museum Opens New Exhibition "Winter in New York" by Roger Disney January 22, 2020
- The Three Faces of the Pioneer Woman by Daniel Pickens February 2020
- Letter from a Birmingham Jail by Faith Ringgold February 21, 2020
- The Turquoise Guitar by Jolene Bird November 26, 2018
- Sculptor Bryant Baker's Lost Masterpiece November 3, 2015
- Doctor Pickens Museum of Turquoise Jewelry and Art
- My Biography of Academy Award Winning Screenwriter Chris Terrio (>400,000 pageviews)
- The Pioneer Woman Models Should Return to Ponca City July 13, 2007
- The Pioneer Woman Models Come Home to Ponca City February 26, 2010
- Ponca Playhouse to Present "The Broken Statue" January 17, 2012
- EW Marland and the Movie "The Ends of the Earth" May 23, 2013
- Sculptor Bryant Baker's Lost Masterpiece November 3, 2015
- A Ponca City Mystery - Who is this man? April 5, 2018
- Ponca Playhouse Presents: August Osage County"
- Biography of Ninja of Go! Team (Nkechi Ka Egenamba)
Peace Corps Writing
I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Peru from 1970 - 73 working with the Peruvian Ministry of Education teaching high school science teachers how to build lab equipment out of simple, cheap materials. In 2000 I started "Peace Corps Online" to document the work volunteers are doing around the world both during and after the Peace Corps Service. I ran the web site for ten years and posted about 10,000 stories. Even though the site is no longer active, I still get over 50,000 monthly pageviews.
- Peace Corps Online
- Peace Corps Library
- The Peace Corps "Sharp Incident" in Kazakhstan
- My Testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the Nomination of Gaddi Vasquez as Peace Corps Director
- An Interview with Peace Corps Director Ron Tschetter
- An Interview with Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez
- A Profile of Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams
- Dr. S. J. Pickens October 21, 2017
- Pickens Museum Opens New Exhibit Honoring Dr. S. J. Pickens
- I Am a Covid Survivor December 27,2020
- The Anger and the Guilt I can Handle - It's the 'Missing Her' I Can't Stand June 1, 2018
- My Uncle Donald and America's Fresh Water Submarines in World War II (>90,000 pageviews)
- Death Be Not Proud
- My Favorite Christmas
- A Victorian Mansion in Baltimore's Reservoir Hill
- Remembering John D MacDonald and His House on Siesta Key
- Remembrances of My Life as a Geophysical Observer with Petty Geophysical Working in the Amazon Jungle in Peru in the early 1970's
- My blog on Facebook
- The Time Somebody Tried to Light a Fire in Front of Our House on Good Friday April 7, 2015
- Miscellaneous Answers on Quora on Investing, Day Trading, Becoming a Millionaire, Human Loss, and Faking Your Own Death
For nearly 100 years oil refining has provided the bedrock of Ponca City's local economy and shaped the character of our community. Today the Ponca City Refinery is the best run and most profitable of Phillips 66's fifteen worldwide refineries. The purpose of this collection of reports is to provide a comprehensive overview of Phillips 66's business that documents and explains the company's business strategy and execution of that strategy.