Shipmate Column
December 2005

Pres:  CAPT W. Spencer Johnson IV, USN (Ret.)
Sec'y: Michael H. Shelley
25 Sweetwater Lane, Pisgah Forest, NC 28768
h: 828-862-4245  e:
Web site:

For any classmate you can go to the Classmates Page and enter his name to read his current biography if available.

        Our classmates and their guests have enjoyed tailgating at all of Navy's home football games this year. Ellen Sherman sent this snapshot of the group attending the Stanford game in September.
Tailgaters at the Navy - Stanford game

Left to right are Tom and Fran Reemelin, Carla Miles, Peter and Jan Quinton, Jeff Miles (kneeling), Andrea Johnson, Ellen Sherman, Spencer Johnson, Al Sherman (Navy cap), Arlene and Forrest Siburt, and Jim Ring. Navy suffered a narrow loss in that game but won a thriller against Air Force on 8 October.

Some of the nastiest weather since Hurricane Isabel disrupted part of our 40th Reunion arrived in Annapolis on the day of the game against Air Force in early October. A bit more than five inches of rain fell that day, turning most of the stadium parking lot into a mud pit long before kickoff. (Fortunately, the new artificial turf field performed up to its billing and the rainfall had no noticeable effect on the game itself. Somewhat miraculously, the rain stopped shortly before kickoff and did not resume until near the end of the fourth quarter.) Taking advantage of three recently purchased Class of 1963 tents, a steadfast group enjoyed pre- and post-game food and socialization. Among these hardy classmates (some accompanied by their ladies) were Watt Miles, Spencer Johnson, Phil Rooney, Mike Bracy, Forrest Siburt, Charlie Stubbs, Chet White, Lew Blackwell, Ian Sargent, Vince Gilroy, Dave Byrnes, Nick Nerangis, Bill Earner, Bob Forster, Mike Shelley, Jim Metcalfe, Sonny Glassner, and Bruce Webb.

Here are some snapshots I took before the game. Note the mud, standing water, raingear, and wet hair.

Mud, mud, more mud

Tailgating under the tents

Bill Earner and Phil Rooney

Chet White's famous 1963 class crest tattoo

Charlie Stubbs and Vince Gilroy

The renovated and greatly expanded Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium was rededicated that day. Part of the festivities was a reunion of Navy's 1960 football team to commemorate the first Navy - Air Force game that year. I'm sure you recall that we won that one 35-3 in Baltimore. In an e-mail to his 23rd Companymates, Vern Von Sydow made these comments:
     Our class/teammates who attended were: Pete Optekar, Walt Pierce, Bob Easton, Jim Stewart, Ron Klemick, and Fred Storz. About 60 percent of the 1960 team was from Columbian Prep - an interesting fact that was brought up at the team dinner. Just to put the event into perspective: the 45th reunion of the 1960 team would have been like the team of 1915 being introduced at one of our games in 1960. Damn - how did you guys get that old?

        The Class extends its sympathy to David Robinson, whose wife Gene passed away on 12 October, ending her brave struggle against cancer. The family asks that any memorial contributions be made to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation,

        For those who like to plan ahead - way ahead - here's something to put in your PDA and paper calendars. The 45th Reunion of the Class of 1963 will be held from Thursday through Sunday, 24-27 April 2008. If you don't want to wait that long to enjoy being with your classmates, there's still time for your USNA company to hold a mini reunion. Several companies have enjoyed doing so; here's news of the latest one.

        Mustering in Albuquerque from 6 to 9 October, the Fourth Company became the latest '63 element to stage an interim reunion of companymates and their ladies. The planners, cheerleaders, and hosts for the mini-reunion were Helen and Mike Blackledge. Mike has prepared a colorful and comprehensive report which can be seen on the Fourth Company page in the Classmates section of In all, 25 companymates and spouses came to participate in activities centered on the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Attending were Susan Anderson (widow of Ross), Gail and Craig Barton, Helen and Mike Blackledge, Charlotte and Pete Featherstone, Candy and Bill Graham, Judy and Bill Hollenack, Doris and Harry Salmon, Doris and Ken Sanger, Sharie and Ron Saqui, Beth and Dave Shute, Jo Ann and Lou Simpleman, Gail and Doug Tozour, and Maureen and Pat Wright. Here is a photo of the group taken at the National Atomic Museum.

Fourth Company reunion in Albuquerque

Susan Anderson flanked by the Hollenacks, Saquis, Simplemans, and Salmons

On Saturday, many of them joined the New Mexico Naval Academy Alumni at the Sky Box Sports Grill for the Navy/Air Force game broadcast from Annapolis. Classmates Olen (O.D.) Thompson and Ron Walters greeted them there.

Our balloon pilot classmate Don Palen had arrived in town with "Sky Drifter," his own hot air balloon, the previous Thursday, having transported it from Rhode Island in his pickup truck. He made multiple ascensions during the festival, aided by Brad Eichorst and Ron Walters, who served as his ground crew along with other members of the local USNA Chapter. Among his passengers were the Shutes on Friday for 140 minutes and the Saquis for 90 minutes on Saturday.

Dave Moore and Don Palen

Don's 14th Companymate Dave (D.B.A.) Moore was also in town for the weekend and enjoyed being with the 4th Company folks. He later sent this note about George Nolan:
     Although George lives in Albuquerque he was not able to make the activities for several reasons. He and Bonnie were remarried on 8 October, the original date of the first marriage. Secondly, George is in the midst of a tough fight with colon cancer. He encourages all classmates to follow their doctors advice getting colon exams after age 60.

        For several months, a few of our mates have been working on a unique memorial to '63 aviators lost in the Vietnam war. Thanks to Phillip Marsden for sending this account.
     On Saturday, 17 September, the Class of '63 participated in a moving ceremony that honored two A-4 pilots who lost their lives during the Vietnam conflict. One of them was our classmate, Stan Smiley. Mo Peelle, a former VA-23 CO, had located one of their squadron A-4F aircraft in the aircraft graveyard in Arizona and paid to have it restored by the MIDWAY museum in San Diego. Mo chose to have the names of the two pilots lost during his command tour, LCDR Larry Gosen '59 and LT Smiley, painted on the side of the restored aircraft. The beautifully restored plane was loaded aboard MIDWAY's hangar bay in late August.

The Class of '63 joined the Class of '59 and VA-23 in sponsoring the ceremony. Among the speakers was Don Freese, representing the Class of 1963, who talked about his memories of Stan. He was followed by Bill Runkle who added a few personal comments. In memory of the two pilots, flags were presented to Larry Gosen's widow and to Don Freese. Mike Cronin spoke about his experiences as a young VA-23 pilot and the perspective gained from surviving the POW ordeal. Mike also announced the $6,300 donation by the Class to support the renovation of MIDWAY ready rooms. This gift was accompanied by a plaque that honored our 11 aviator classmates who lost their lives and our two classmates who were POWs during the war.

We were well represented at the ceremony with nearly half of the 120 attendees. These '63 classmates and ladies were present: Susan Anderson, Tim and Valerie Cook, Mike Cronin, John Dolby, Jim Fontana, Don Freese, Jerry and Rowena Harken and their son and his wife, Kyle and Kate Harken, Charlie and Nancy Helsper, Bill Hughes, Don Jacobs, Kit and Lillian Karson, Donna Kaup, Jim and Judy Koehn, Steve Longo, Ron and Maire Machens, Phillip Marsden, Mickey and Marion Mays, John McCabe, Bill Runkle, Ron Saqui, Chuck and June Stone, Ralph Stowell and son, Ralph Jr. '91, Vern and Gail Von Sydow, Ron Wills, Clyde and Sybil Van Arsdale, and Rich and Betty Ray Wilson. It was a poignant and moving ceremony for all the attendees and an event of which the Class can be proud. These photos show scenes from the ceremony and the reception.

The restored aircraft

The pilots' names

Mike Cronin speaking

Bill Runkle and Don Freese

Mike Cronin and Susan Anderson with the memorial plaque

Class of 1963 attendees aboard MIDWAY

        Lori Kate and Gary Smith are the happy new parents of Casey Carlisle Smith, who was born on 25 September. Gary said, "Look out, Class of 2027! It could be an interesting class. My nephew Ryan Smith '94 is expecting a son in January. They could be classmates."
Lori Kate, Casey, and Gary Smith

        Here's a brief note sent in late September by George Emery:
     My son Robert and I recently spent a week in Scotland including a couple of days on the southern Hebrides island of Islay, home of several peaty whiskey distilleries and wonderful people. This photo shows us tending bar at the Lochside Hotel in Bowmore on the island. Our stay included a tour of the Laphroig Distillery where we fed kiln fire with peat and happily sampled most of their products!
Visiting bartenders in the Hebrides

Carol and Bob Harper stopped by for a glass of wine this weekend during their vacation in Maine and Canada, and we are expecting Judy and Tom Morgan for an overnight next week while they're in the Boston area. It's always great to enjoy the company of classmates and share a "wee dram," a few memories, and swap stories and pictures of kids and grandkids.

        Class President Spencer Johnson's letter soliciting donations to the Class of 1963 Foundation this summer brought this response from Jim Fontana.
     I received your letter soliciting support for the USNA Foundation and I did respond with a small donation. The Naval Academy has been a great source of pride in my life. My son graduated in 1996, so it's just possible we may have begun an enduring family tradition.

I found it particularly interesting that you used a rowing metaphor in the postscript of your letter, to wit, "We have been in the same boat for almost 50 years now, and as we learned Plebe summer, we all row together."

Plebe summer was indeed the beginning of rowing for me. The Class of 1963 Plebe crew was undefeated. It won the Eastern and the National Championships, and then went on to finish fourth among the best crews in the country in the US Olympic Team Trials .... an unprecedented and unmatched feat in the history of collegiate rowing.

Some 30 years later, that same Plebe crew reunited as the Navy Masters Rowing Club, a USNA group of rowing alumni with the Class of 1963 at its core. The fundamental purpose of this group of classmates was to support rowing at the Academy.

In the 16 years or so since the Club was established, members of the Class of 1963 have contributed well over $100,000 worth of equipment and financial support to Navy Crew. Included in that mix was a truck for pulling boat trailers to regattas, a new shell trailer, a Class of 1963 racing shell, new oars, Cox boxes, and at the 40th reunion, an endowed Class of 1963 shell the value of which, in itself, exceeds $100,000. That endowment will ensure there will be a racing shell bearing the name "Class of 1963" for as long as there is Navy Crew. It is important to know that many members of our class, who had little or no connection to Navy rowing, contributed.

In addition, and perhaps most importantly, the Class of 1963 initiated and now leads the Navy Crew Endowment Fund, the very first sport-specific fund at the Naval Academy. Its current value approximates $825,000 .... and is growing. The expectation is that the Fund will provide Navy Crew with a margin of excellence above and beyond that which normal operating funds provide. The Fund also provides the financial impetus for the reconstruction of Hubbard Hall.

So the point of this letter is make you aware that our Class has made significant contributions in ways that for many have been under the radar. While it has been a source of great pride to those of us among the rowing alumni, it should also be a source of pride among the class at large, as many other classmates have contributed as well. After all, as you said so well in your postscript, we are all in the same boat.

        As a follow-through in October, Jim sent several photos to me, accompanied by this note:
     Eight Class of '63 oarsmen competed in the Veteran's Henley last year, our second visit to that regatta on the Thames within the past five years.

On our last night in Henley-on-the-Thames, we had a traditional blue blazer, skimmer, and old school tie, BBQ on the Thames. These pictures include a group photo of the '63 contingent of the Navy Masters Rowing Club. (There were ten other rowing alumni with us.), and a picture of our volunteer Chef, John Aucella. In the group picture are (back row) yours truly, Rich Wilson, Dick Omohundro, Mike Pero, John Aucella, and (front row) Dick Kuntz, Craig Thrasher, and Felix DeGolian. Another photo shows Dick Omohundro in a men's clothing store in Henley-on-the-Thames, trying on a skimmer in preparation for the full dress BBQ. Dick was a coxswain at USNA but is big and strong enough now to pull his own oar. Our two coxswains, Dick Kuntz and Felix DeGolian, are shown conferring before a race.

Navy Masters Eight at Henley, 2004

1963 contingent

Chef John Aucella

Dick Omohundro

Coxswains Dick Kuntz and Felix DeGolian

        The latest additions to our growing gallery of USNA '63 license plates are those owned by Nick Nerangis and Bob Maier. You can see all the others in the Pride and Tradition section of this web site.
Nick Nerangis

Bob Maier

Nick reported that he now has five grandchildren and just finished acting in "Beauty and the Beast" in the D.C. area. His children are now all involved in his business ventures. They now have twelve McDonald's restaurants and are developing a 33-acre shopping center in which they will own their first hotel, a Country Inn and Suites.

        Happy Holidays, folks! An easy way to check in with our news exchange is to send me a Christmas card or a copy of your holiday letter. Thanks!

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   December 2005 
posted on:
 21 October 2005
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