Shipmate Column
July/August 2010

Pres:  CAPT W. Spencer Johnson IV, USN (Ret.)
Sec'y: Michael H. Shelley
164 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.

        I am sorry to report the death of our classmate Austin Lett on 5 May. He had ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease.) A memorial service will be held in Costa Mesa, CA, on 27 June. Contact his daughter Heather at for details. Austin's obituary appears in the Last Call section of our web site: Last Call.

        As the academic year at the Academy ended, members of the Class of 1963 attended two milestone events for the Class of 2013: "Sea Trials" and the scaling of the Herndon Monument. Spencer Johnson filed this full report about the first event:
     Sea Trials was a very memorable experience for our classmates who were there on 17 May for the pre-event pep talk and the next day when the event wrapped up on Rip Miller field.      On the previous evening, classmates and ladies were warmly welcomed and were shown to a reserved seating section in Alumni Hall, where the midshipmen were assembled for a pre-Sea Trials pep session. The Commandant, CAPT Bob Clark, started off with a rousing overview of the challenges of Sea Trials and the fact that it would be a defining moment in the Class of 2013 coming together as individuals and as a team to overcome all impediments thrown their way during the course of the 15-hour day.      CAPT Brian Chontoc, USMC, a Navy Cross recipient for his actions in Iraq in 2003, then gave a spirited talk on leadership in a combat stress situation and the necessity of ensuring that no one is left behind or allowed to fall out of the group endeavor toward mission accomplishment. He answered questions from the midshipmen in a most impressive manner.

     On Tuesday we were encouraged to drift about and observe the many events taking place on Hospital Point, the Naval Station, the Severn River, and Farragut Field. David Puckett and I freely did so and displayed a large "Don't Give Up The Ship Flag" at several of the stations, receiving cheers and smiles from the cold, wet, muddy, and exhausted midshipmen making their way to the culminating events at the end of the day. At 1700 the Class of 1963 was assembled in a reserved section in the bleachers at Rip Miller Field. I as class president was seated on the dais with the Superintendent, the Commandant, and the Midshipman in Charge of Sea Trials. The Class of 2013 quickly formed up in rows to hear words of congratulation from VADM Fowler and the Commandant who told them that they were Plebes no more and gave the order to "Carry On". The "Iron Man" trophy was presented to the 8th company. Given the miserable weather conditions, the cold and wet midshipmen, and what was already a long day, the ceremony was short but truly memorable for us all.
        A few days later, the Class of 2013 assembled in Tecumseh Court and made the short dash to the Herndon Monument. There was a real sense of letdown among the Midshipmen and the spectators, according to several reports, because the Superintendent had ordered that no grease, lard, or other substance could be applied to the monument. As a result, the climb was not a true challenge to the teamwork and resolve of the Fourth Class, and the ascent was made in only two minutes and five seconds. After the Dixie cup was replaced by a combination cap, participants and spectators alike cheered the accomplishment even though there was a pervasive sense of disappointment that the Herndon tradition had not been fully observed.

        Prompted by comments by the Superintendent in the preceding weeks, there had been much concern that the Herndon climb might be permanently cancelled. The Associated Press report of the event covered the controversy and quoted our classmate who made it to the top when we conquered the monument:

     John Truesdell, who made the greasy climb in 1960, warmly recalled the bond of teamwork shared by those in tackling the task. He said the academy should keep the tradition. "I would love to see it continue," Truesdell, of Tucson, AZ, said. "I think it's such a big part of the tradition at the academy."
        Reserved VIP seating to view the climb was provided for our classmates and their ladies. Thanks to Eileen Dabich for providing these Alumni Association images of the happy crowd.

        Here are some more photos from the Herndon event. These and the Sea Trials photos above appear on the Alumni Association's Facebook page and are shown here with permission.
John Truesdell with Keegan Albi '13, who reached the top this year

Chet White

        I (Mike Shelley) have been contacted by a retired Admiral about a Class of 1963 miniature class ring that was found at Baptist Hospital in Pensacola some time ago. His wife now has the ring and has tried for several months to locate the owner, without success. The ring was made by Dieges and Clust. It appears to have been resized and only some of the initials are readable ("MTY L?T"). If you believe this ring belongs to you or someone you know, and you would like to retrieve it, please tell me. I will then put you in contact with the Admiral so you can make the necessary arrangements.

        Don Freese was elected President of the Military Officers Association of America's Florida Council of Chapters (FCOC) at its convention this May. The FCOC has 41 Chapters with 8,250 members. There are 44,000 MOAA members in Florida so Don has his work cut out for the next two years. Congratulations and smooth sailing, Don! This photo from the convention shows Don and Sherry with their daughter Michelle, son Marc, and daughter-in-law Melody.
Don Freese and family

        Ken Sanger checked in with me from his home in Sandpoint, ID, with a story that's both current and nostalgic.
     Pete Optekar and I met on April 29 to golf, lie, and share a football from 49 years ago. A few Shipmate issues ago, I related a tale of the Navy/Washington game of 1961, won by Navy on a last minute field goal by Greg Mather. My father, Ken Sanger '35, was CO of NAS Sand Point, WA, at the time and was presented with a game ball signed by the Navy team.      After Pete read a local news story about my father, we met and I told Pete about the ball. To say Pete relishes his Academy days, especially his football time there, would be a gross understatement. He threatened me bodily harm if I did not produce the ball for him to once again hold. We were going to meet one day and ski Schweitzer Mountain, near me, but the Marine was intimidated by the aviator's prowess on the hill, so he didn't show up for a reunion with the ball.

     Instead, he invited me for a round of golf at his club. He waited until the area had over two inches of rain in 24 hours and more coming down at tee time. He called it Marine Golf and we had the course to ourselves. He showed me how to use a golf club as a trenching tool but also politely let me whip him, despite the Marine's advantage of walking in the rain instead of the aviator's more intelligent style of flying above it!

     The golf was just a ruse to get me to bring the ball to him. As he held it and admired all the team signatures on it, including his, I could almost see the memories flooding back to him. I later refused to enhance those memories by declining a Marine exercise of participating in a little tackling drill in the mud!

     Instead, we did the aviator thing, repairing to the bar and swigging beer while sharing stories, mostly true and unembellished, of past exploits and memories.

     These photos show Pete with the ball in his home office, which is heavily decorated with Navy memorabilia. The beautiful centerpiece is the Academy crest woven into his Navy blue carpet.

Ken Sanger and Pete Optekar

Pete with the presentation ball from 1961

Pete in his office

        What a nice surprise to receive this note from Dave Stephan:
     It's been so great to read updates and memorials and seeing pictures of our classmates in Shipmate over the years. Now I am finally getting around to it myself!

     My wife, Mary, and I are enjoying "retirement" in Florida, and our favorite hobbies, so much that we're wishing we had started earlier! Actually, I have "retired " a few times, and then taken consulting contracts, while Mary continued to work. But three years ago, we started some serious traveling after a trip to Germany just before Christmas. It was to see centuries-old Christmas markets, and this year we're going for the fourth year in a row and cruising the Rhine and the Main rivers! With the intent of making this little hobby pay for itself, our home-based travel agency allows us to work together at what we love -- and to travel with our kids, grandkids, other extended family, and friends.

     In June 2009, we visited Italy and met our oldest son's family in Rome for part of the trip. With grandchild #4 on the way, we envision lots of forthcoming and educational trips. We have just returned from France where we escorted friends on a riverboat cruise and a few days in Paris. A highlight for all of us was the visit to the Normandy Beaches, Pointe du Hoc, and the American Cemetery, bringing back sand, pictures, brochures and books about the Allied invasion on D-Day and subsequent battles of WW II. (We live in a retirement community and shared these mementos with veterans who cannot make the trip) Needless to say. we feel there is no better way to re-live history, and be so well looked after, as with river cruising in Europe -- this picture speaks for itself!

Dave and Mary Stephan on a riverboat between Paris and Normandy

        Here's a note from Mal Wright in Poulsbo, WA.
     Jim Lasswell and his daughter, Jen Albers (USNA '92), were here in Washington state in mid-May to make a company presentation at a business convention. We enjoyed swapping a few sea stories, as well as discussing the role of Jim's Dad in the successful outcome of the Battle of Midway and the end of Yamamoto's distinguished career, both of which were highlighted in a recent Shipmate column. The conference we attended was held in the auditorium of the Naval Undersea Warfare Museum in Keyport, WA (serendipitously, it's just a mile from my house). There are all sorts of artifacts from the world of undersea warfare - mostly submarine stuff, but diving, habitation (SEALAB), deep ocean exploration (Trieste), etc., as well.

     This photo shows me, Jen, and Jim. The sail in the background is from USS STURGEON (SSN 637), the lead ship of a class of about 40 ships that were the main players in the Cold War.

Conferees in Keyport, Washington

        Joe Kotowski provided this picture taken in Asheville, NC, in May. Pictured are visiting Californians Lana and Dave Moore (left) and local residents Wendy and Joe Kotowski.
Lunching in the North Carolina mountains

        In April, Martha and Phillip Marsden made a swing through some of the spectacular national wonders in the southwestern USA. Phillip filed this brief trip report.
     We really enjoyed our tour of the Grand Canyon, Bryce, and Zion National Parks. We arrived home with great memories from the trip and lots of dirty laundry. Fortunately, we packed a lot of clothing for the trip as the weather went from one extreme to the other. On several days it was very cold with stinging winds that made sightseeing a bit of a challenge, especially at the higher altitudes in Bryce. Overall, the parks were absolutely beautiful. Probably we enjoyed Zion the best as it was warmer and the traffic control limited the car traffic and other disruptions in the valley floor. The hike to Angel's Landing ranks up there with Half Dome in Yosemite as one of my all-time favorites for a full-body workout.
Martha and Phillip Marsden at the Grand Canyon

        Spencer Johnson shared this account of an unusual pass-down-the-line involving himself and a member of the Class of 2010.
     I intended to bequeath my Jacob Reed bridge coat, which is in mint condition even after 30 years of service and 20 years of hanging in my closet, to a midshipman of the first or second class who was not issued a bridge coat but rather an "all weather coat" with a liner that provides little in the way of real warmth. I had the coat in my car when Andrea and I had dinner in the Officer's and Faculty Club's Alley. A group of first classmen were debriefing their afternoon visit to Naval Reactors in Washington and celebrating their acceptance into the nuclear power training program and the submarine service. Seeing a midshipman who appeared to be the right size for the coat, I retrieved it and presented it to him, much to his astonishment. It looks like he and the coat are a good fit. Just another link in a chain that only gets longer for us these days.
        Spencer also shared this note he received from the coat's new owner, MIDN Sean Heenan '10.
     As graduation approaches and I prepare to take your bridge coat with me into the fleet, I wanted to take another opportunity to thank you for your generosity. The coat still looks like new and I was very proud to wear it during the Army/Navy game this year.

     I was blown away when you gave me your coat in the O-Club last semester. The passing down of your bridge coat is an excellent example of the bond all Academy graduates share. I look forward to wearing your coat with pride over the course of my Navy career. Someday, probably all too soon, I will pass it on and continue the chain.

     This is a photo from the 2009 Army/Navy Game in Philadelphia. Your coat, second from the left, sure looks sharp compared to the mess worn by my shipmate in the middle.

Spencer Johnson's bridge coat returns to active duty

        Watt Miles supplied a historical image from the summer of 1962.
     This is an unusual cruise photo of Evan Evans and me. We were assigned to an amphib in the Med for 1st Class Cruise. The embarked Marines went ashore for a two week exercise on Sardinia. Faced with living on a ship that was swinging at the anchor for that period, we finagled assignment to an infantry platoon as "3rd lt.'s." It was certainly a different experience than most of our classmates had that summer.
Miles (L) and Evans ashore in Sardinia

        As parents, we take justifiable pride in the remarkable accomplishments of our own children and those of our classmates. Beth Paiz, daughter of our late classmate George Nolan, has been promoted to become Deputy Chief of Police in Albuquerque, NM. She is the first woman to serve in that position. George's widow, Bonnie, sent me these photos to share with you. The first shows Beth's face on a billboard recruiting servicemen and woman for second careers in the Albuquerque Police Department. The second image pictures Bonnie and Beth at her promotion to Commander in early 2009, and the third shows the newly-promoted Deputy Chief.

        The Sun City, SC, 60-and-over volleyball team won the state championship in the South Carolina Senior Sports Classic this May. The victory qualifies the team to represent South Carolina in the National Senior Games in Houston in June. Among the players on the team is Rick Wakefield, shown second from right (#42) in this picture.
South Carolina state champs

        I reported last month about the retirement ceremony for Assistant United States Attorney Jim Metcalfe on 22 April. Since then, thanks to some energetic and tenacious work by Ron Baxter, a few pictures from the event have become available. The first shows Jim and Lisa listening to one of the many tributes to his service offered that evening. Ron told me that prominent themes throughout the event were Jim's unwavering high standards of personal and organizational integrity and his interest and success in mentoring others. Among those who spoke that evening was Jim's son Jimbo, who appears in the second picture. In the final photo, Jim is shown wearing a leather aviator's helmet and having a water bottle with a long tube strapped to his chest. This cries out for explanation but Jim and Lisa are vacationing in China as I write this and I have no source to turn to until they return.
Jim and Lisa Metcalfe

Father and son

Levity preceding levitation

        Less than a year from now, we will gather in San Diego for our Mid-Term Reunion. The dates are 31 March through 3 April 2011. Be there!

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