By Ken & Sue Stafford
Day 1, Friday September 11
The ships salty and seasoned crew and their wives were all eager to start the first day of the tours by having breakfast before leaving the hotel. Everyone mustered outside in the hotel parking lot and we all then boarded the tour bus. Those of us who had not visited Philadelphia, home of American Bandstand, the City of Brotherly Love and the city where Rocky in the movie had run up those now famous steps. We were all in awe of all the tremendous historical sites we were going to see such as Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Penn’s Landing, “Avenue of the Arts” Ben Franklin Parkway and the Museum of Art. The tour guide was very knowledgeable and described all the famous statues, fountains and buildings we saw in and around the city. The park rangers gave a excellent account of the design of Independence Hall and the significance of it’s structured layout and of all the rich historical architecture. When the bus stopped in front of the now famous Rocky steps, some of the crew and their wives couldn’t wait to climb the 72 steps to the top where the stature is. Just about everyone took advantage of the opportunity to visit the many unique gift shops and I think we all purchased a small replica of the “Liberty Bell” When the tour bus finally stopped for lunch at the famous Steaks on South which lived up to it’s famous reputation as the best place to enjoy Philly cheese steak. It was thrilling for all of us to get to stand next to the Liberty Bell and everyone had their cameras ready for lots of pictures, “big smiles”.
Day 2 Saturday, September 12th
At 10am (4 Bells) all the shipmates once again mustered and boarded the tour bus to what would be a very exciting and interesting day to visit the Valley Forge National Historical Park. We traveled the 40 minute ride to the 3500 acre Revolutionary War Camp. We were joined and piped aboard a professional guide who took us first to the replica of the Muhlenberg Brigade Huts atypical encampment of revolutionary war soldiers who spent the winters of 1777-1778. The guide further explained how these 11,000 brave soldiers who lived in groups of 12 cooking and sleeping as a unit in their own hut. During that winter those_soldiers endured below freezing temperatures after erecting 2000 shelters using logs from trees that they had to cut from around camp and up to 10 miles away. But due to extremely poor sanitation. over 2500 soldiers died in the first six months of disease. The tour then proceeded past the National Memorial Monument and along Forge Creek to George Washington’s quarters were explored with the National Park Rangers guiding us. The tour then continued over Joy Mountain, the center of the encampment and a most fortified site to the Grand Parade Grounds where it was described to all of us how a Baron Von Steuben, an unemployed Prussian General was assigned and stressed the importance of discipline and daily routine and also initiating and carrying out an effective training program. On May 4th, each soldier fired his musket in turn in a ceremonial called “feu de joie” a running fire that passed around the parade ground. Our tour group onto Chapel Hill Cabin shop where we all purchased memorable keepsakes that would later remind all of us of our fantastic adventure back in time. At 1500 hundred hours (6 Bells) we all took one last look around at each other and reluctantly departed the tour bus. Later that evening, after returning to the hotel some of the group gathered at the bar/restaurant and some went out for another taste of that famous “Philly Cheesesteak “.
Day 3, Sunday September 13
Today, was to be both very exciting and somewhat sad for all of us as it was the last day of our tour together of the City of Philadelphia. The tour locations we all get to enjoy and share together are outstanding and breathtaking, but more important it deepens the bond of friendship that truly enriches all our lives. We once again all boarded the tour bus left the hotel and our first stop was the Independence Seaport Museum where we all toured the USS Olympia C6 that was in service from 1892 to 1922. I know it did for me as I am sure it did for everyone that the tour of the USS Olympia brought back so many wonderful memories for all of us that were fortunate enough to have served with such a brave gallant crew aboard the Arnold J. label so many years ago.. The next stop that day was a very interesting tour of the marine Becuna SS-319 that completed five wartime patrols and I am sure it made us the crew of the label reflect and be more appreciative of both what seemed back then like cramped space and even the limited luxuries we had on board on our ship a Gearing Class Destroyer. After lunch at the food court Bourse our last stop of the tour was the Battleship USS New Jersey BB-62. This I am sure was thrilling for all of us and especially our good friend Haskel George who served on the New Jersey for over a year. It was also a step back in time for me as the New Jersey was my very first ship I was assigned to right out of boot camp. But we all got to see firsthand this massive Iowa class Battleship which was indeed a floating city with it’s enormous 5” guns. Our tour included walking through the officers wardroom, crews galley and especially the command bridge. During our 90-minute tour most of us could only imagine what life aboard the New Jersey was like to have served aboard this massive ship. All during the tour of the New Jersey with both sheer the size and a staggering 1,921 officers and crew aboard her I could not imagine how they could have developed the deep and lasting friendships that we have long since enjoyed and since our crew compliment was only about 250 U.S Sailors. I am sure we all got some really great photographs.
Our last night together and everyone was in great spirits for the opportunity to once again share sea stories and enjoy each other’s company that out for the gala banquet and raffle at the hotel.
Before our meal, we had an opening prayer and we were all grateful to in the company of our friends and former shipmates.
As always, we started our opening ceremonies in which we paid honor to all those who had passed and we remembered all those that could not attend this reunion.
Upon review of all the honored salty “Shellbacks” in attendance and none being found in need to “walk the plank” or appear before “King Neptune and his court” we ate and laughed the night away.
Our next reunion this year will be in San Diego September 2016 and we sincerely hope that many many more of our former shipmates and their wives will be able to attend this year’s reunion and join in the fun.
We closed the evening with a prayer to God, for him to watch over and keep everyone in abundantly good health, safe and happy,