USS Washington BB56
August 8 - 10, 2005
By John M. Nichols
The USS Washington Reunion Group
Sails into Brownie's Home Port
The reunion was held at the University Plaza Hotel and it proved to be a great spot for the event, just down the street from Ohio State University where Brownie has volunteered so much of his time over the years. Shopping and a few restaurants were close by and the Ohio State Fair was in town. The shipmates shared the hotel with kids that reminded them of their own youthful days: young men trying out for the Ohio State football team. Turnout for the reunion was great this year, with many shipmates and wives showing up to thank Brownie and Gladys for all the work over the years.
The 28th reunion began as they usually do on Monday with the distribution of registration packets. Brownie and Gladys staff the first table greeting old friends and welcoming new ones. Other members of the reunion committee are there to reserve banquet seating and answer questions. This year all shipmates received a new black USS Washington baseball cap as part of the reunion package. Howard Wright, President of the Associates Unit, was on hand to meet and greet the associates. The lobby was full of men shaking hands, hugging, and waving to friends they haven't seen in many years. For some of these sailors, this is the very first reunion! Small groups of sailors were everywhere; old stories were dusted off and retold with a new enthusiasm. The Hospitality Room opened and some of the shipmates viewed books, letters, and pictures of past reunions and of their time on the Washington. In addition to USS Washington memorabilia, there were some mementos of Brownie's volunteer activities and accomplishments.
A local news crew from Channel 10 in Columbus was on hand to interview Brownie and some of the shipmates. They videotaped the shipmates and the memorabilia in the hospitality room and later the footage was edited into a feature story that was aired on Channel 10 later that evening. It was a big hit for all who watched the news!
In the afternoon, the shipmates gathered together in the Ballroom for introductions by Division. The guys in your division were your brothers, they were the guys you worked with, spent time with, shared your mail from home with, and depended on when the enemy was nearby. After all the divisions have been read, a muster by state begins. As the state names were read off, sailors raised their hands to see who might be living in the next city or just around the block. Afterwards, guys in the same division or living in the same state would get together to swap stories. Brownie continued the meeting by reading announcements, introducing other members of the various reunion committees, and going over the itinerary for this, the 28th reunion of the USS Washington. He also talked about the fact that this is the last reunion that he and Gladys will organize. Brownie suggested that each state hold a lunch on May 15 of every year, this date being the Birthday of the ship commemorating the commissioning of the USS Washington. This idea was discussed at length and continued the following day.
The first day of the reunion ended as it often does with the appearance of a few bottles of moonshine to pass around. But unlike the moonshine that was handmade in the stills hidden in the voids of the ship, this stuff was purchased from a nearby liquor store and it went down a lot smoother. Onboard ship you had to sneak the stuff past the officers; here at the reunion you had to sneak it past the wives, an often more difficult task!
General Quarters sounded at 700 hours on Tuesday gathering the shipmates and families to fill the galley in the Ballroom to partake in a grand buffet breakfast. No powdered eggs here, and plenty of fresh delicious food and black coffee. At 1100 hours we gathered together for the most solemn moments of these reunions, the memorial service for the shipmates and wives that have been lost since the last reunion. Brownie opened the service with a few words followed by the chaplain offering prayers for those that have been lost, a total of 28 shipmates and wives. Some inspiring poems were recited, and the name of each lost soul was read as the bell was rung 28 times. Taps were played while the entire room stood in silent prayer. Brownie returned to the microphone and with a crackling voice said, "We have fulfilled our duty." There wasn't a dry eye in the room as this service concluded to the muffled applause of all present. As the crowd began to disperse, pictures were taken of each division.
At 1300 hours a meeting was held that combined the Group Corporate Meeting and the Associate Unit Meeting. These meetings are an important part of every reunion. Brownie explained that the Reunion Group is not going away, it is just being scaled back. Organizing the reunion every two years has become quite a chore and it is often made more difficult due to the existence and domination of some third-party-planner organizations. Brownie again discussed the idea of an annual Birthday lunch for the ship to be hosted in each state. Some folks volunteered to organize the lunches in their states. More work is required to ensure that this idea is realized and shipmates continue to gather together in memory of the USS Washington. Brownie also discussed an idea of contacting the state of Washington and asking that a plaque be dedicated to the namesake of the state. A few volunteers will follow-up on this suggestion.
Howard, as the President of the Associates Unit, stepped up to the microphone and addressed the shipmates. Howard assured the shipmates and their wives and families that the associate group will continue the National Reunions one way or another; this brought a round of applause from the crowd. There was much discussion concerning just how the reunions will take place, the importance of the annual ship's Birthday lunches, and what the future of the reunions may look like. Howard reminded the crowd that the goal of the Associate Unit is to carry on the memory of the USS Washington and her crew well into the future.
In closing, Howard paid tribute to Brownie and his wife Gladys and thanked them for all the work they have done over the years. This prompted a standing ovation from the crowd. Brownie and Gladys were presented with gift certificates from the Reunion Group and from the Associate Unit. After receiving the gift certificates and thanking the crowd, Gladys remarked, "Meeting adjourned, I'm going shopping!"
The last day of this 28th reunion started with group pictures of the shipmates and the members of the Associate Unit taken on the steps of the University Plaza Hotel. Howard organized the folks into respectable-looking groups and shot the official reunion photos. They really look great.
The final event of the evening was the traditional Dinner Banquet and the shipmates waited patiently until the banquet room doors opened at 1700 hours. The dinner banquet is the highlight of every reunion with the sailors dressed in suits and sport jackets and the women in dresses and skirts. The festivities began with the singing of the Star Spangled Banner by Emily White followed by the opening prayer. The meal consisted of rolls, salad, prime rib, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables, and vanilla ice cream for dessert. Conversation was light-hearted during dinner and the time passed quickly.
After dinner, Emily White sang the ship's song, "Pride of the Navy". Emily is the granddaughter of Billy Bryant, a member of the BB56 crew. Billy wrote the ship's song many years ago and Emily's father, Oneal White, is the voice on the original recorded version of the song that has been played at many of the reunions. It was a special moment to hear Emily's voice sing the traditional song.
Brownie announced the newest members of the "80th Birthday Club". When a shipmate reaches his 80th birthday, he receives a commemorative certificate from the Reunion Group. This was followed by a very special event. Over the past few months, Brownie was contacted by the Navy and was given some sections of the original USS Washington teak decking. The decking had been cut into small pieces. Brownie read the names of all the shipmates present and each of them walked up and received his very own piece of the USS Washington! This was an exciting surprise and very fitting for the last reunion presided over by Brownie.
Brownie was in good spirits as he read a list of all the past reunions; when and where each one had taken place. As each reunion was remembered, shipmates recalled the fun they have had over the past 56 years. Many shipmates and their wives have been able to attend numerous reunions. Thank you to the ladies for getting your men to the reunions and taking care of them so well. Some of the ladies attend the reunions on their own after their husbands have passed away, but no one is alone here. Brownie and Gladys may be the only ones who have attended all 28 reunions!
Brownie then entertained the crowd with a collection of his famous jokes. Some were new, some were old, but all were funny in one way or another. Here's a sample:
Brownie and Gladys were presented with a number of gifts including a plaque thanking them for their hard work, a picture frame, a clock, a crystal vase, flowers, a poem, and more. Brownie then introduced his extended family that was there to see him accept the thanks of his shipmates. He also introduced and thanked the members of the reunion committee for their efforts over the many years. A few sailors told some last stories and offered their personal thanks to Brownie and Gladys.
As I continue to uncover the history of the USS Washington, I was happy to report to the shipmates and their families some interesting news. As many of the sailors know, the USS Washington was scraped in May 1961 and the steel sold to the Lipsett Division for $757,000. But where did the steel go? There have been rumors that some of the steel went to the Brookhaven Laboratories in Long Island. I was able to contact Brookhaven Labs and was told that some of the steel was likely used on experiments with the Alternating Gradient Synchrotron (AGS) - a particle accelerator. Steel from the ship was used to construct a 5000-ton wall used in the experiments and a 16-inch gun barrel was also part of the setup. These experiments proved the existence of muon-nutrinos, a scientific breakthrough in 1962. In 1988 this experiment was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. So the steel that protected you and became your home in WWII was used to protect scientists during groundbreaking experiments and contributed to the winning of a Nobel Prize. Something to be proud of!
It is always difficult to say goodbye on the last day of a reunion, especially this one. Some of these shipmates have been friends since they boarded the ship those many years ago. They all shake hands, hug, and look to the future. Now it is the Associate Unit's time to take up the mission and keep the memories alive. There will be future reunions. You will not be forgotten!
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