Shipmate Column

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 begin this month's report with news of the death of our classmate Jack Reed, who succumbed to bone cancer on 13 June. His funeral was attended by what was described as "a staunch contingent" of his classmates. His full obituary can be seen in Last Call . Jack's widow, Linda, can be contacted at 2240 Timberneck Land, Newport News, VA 23602. The family has requested that any memorial donations be made to the American Cancer Society, 11835 Canon Blvd., Suite A-102, Newport News, VA 23606.

        Jim Metcalfe sent this account after he attended a very significant ceremony in Annapolis.
     On June 9th at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium there was a dedication of a plaque honoring the three USNA graduates killed aboard LIBERTY (AGTR-5) on June 8, 1967, by the still unexplained attack by Israeli armed forces during the six-day Arab-Israeli War. The three USNA grads were Philip McCutcheon Armstrong '53, David Edwin Lewis '54, and our own Stephen Spencer Toth '63. About 180 people attended, including many members of LIBERTY's crew.

Representing our class, Spencer Johnson spoke about the attack and Steve's duties aboard ship (intel and navigator), his actions that earned him the Silver Star posthumously, and his death. (He was cut in half by aircraft rockets.) The LIBERTY crew were true heroes. The CO received the Medal of Honor and two others were awarded Navy Crosses. Eleven Silver Stars, numerous Bronze Stars, and other medals were conferred -- plus the Presidential Unit Citation. Of particular note is that 208 of the crew of about 290 were awarded the Purple Heart, 34 posthumously. Our National Command Authority (LBJ and SECDEF McNamara) cancelled flights launched from AMERICA to aid the LIBERTY. The anemic response was unfortunately a harbinger of the future responses to the North Korean attack on PUEBLO and the shootdown of an EC-121 in 1968.

Paul Tobin was aboard the destroyer DAVIS, which was the first U.S. ship to arrive on scene to render assistance, and rode LIBERTY to Malta. Paul, I was told, was in charge of the engineering crew put aboard which, together with the LIBERTY crew, did a magnificent job in saving the ship and getting her to Malta under her own steam. Also at the ceremony was Jim Ennis, the author of "Assault on the LIBERTY," and a large media group. In addition to Spencer, other '63 members present were Carla and Jeff Miles, Pam and Frank Hilton, Tren Ward, Kathy and Nick Nerangis, and yours truly. A special guest was Josie Toth Linen, Steve's older sister.

Frank and Pam Hilton, Carla and Jeff Miles, Tren Ward, and Jim Metcalfe

Spencer Johnson and Josie Toth Linen

Tren brought me up to date on his life. After service as an F-8 pilot with a Vietnam tour and later tours as a surface warrior (destroyer and minesweeper), he worked for many years in heating and air conditioning and has now retired and lives on Kent Island near Annapolis.

        Frequent contributor Dave Moore sent some news that makes us Rotarians feel good and highlights a classmate's charitable work over the past several years.
     Dick Anderson recently took me to his Rotary Club meeting where he was the guest speaker on Rotary International's Guatemala Literacy Project. In February Dick and Helen returned from their sixth annual trip to the mountains of Guatemala where they help distribute text books. Working through the local school systems, they have helped to make school books affordable in 135 villages and have put computer labs in 16 schools. The recipients are mostly ethnic Mayans, many of whom do not speak Spanish. While in-country they also provide scholarships to students above the sixth grade and undertake other charitable projects. Any Rotarians who would like to get involved should contact Dick about this wonderful humanitarian program.

        Gaylord Hopkins checked in with me from his home in Lakeland, FL.
     I'm still working for Siemens Communications. I've been with them over 22 years now, and may retire soon. However, I enjoy what I'm doing, Sales Support, so I hope to stay with it another few years. My wife, Barbara, is still in remission after her bout with Breast Cancer in 2003. We are still raising our granddaughter, who is a rising senior. She is dual enrolled at Polk Community College, and is on track to graduate from Polk CC with her AA, two weeks before she graduates from High School next May. She is currently holding a 4.36 GPA, and has been nominated for Merit Scholar in our state. I can tell you she gets her smarts from my wife, not me.
Gaylord Hopkins and granddaughter

Here's a picture taken at USNA in 2005. This was part of a trip to NYC, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC, which we took to show her the "roots" in our family. We took the tour boat on the Severn past USNA, and I told her it was my first time seeing the Academy from the water since I was a First Classman on the YP's. Boy, has the view changed!

My avocation, swimming, is also going very well. Last year I set 10 records in 10 events (the max allowed) in the Polk Senior Games, and then set three records in the State Games a few months later. I was also ranked #1 in the world for the 1,500 meter and 800 meter freestyle events for the Masters 65-69 age group, and #1 in the U.S. for the 200 meter backstroke. Even at my advanced age, swimming can still be fun.

We're looking forward to the 45th and our hotel reservations are already made. I hope Navy will have a strong Lacrosse team next year so we can watch a great game!

        Thanks to Bill Runkle for submitting several photos from times long past.
     These are some pictures that I came across recently. The group picture shows me, Stan Smiley, Dick Bachman, and Austin Lett in back. I can't remember who the man sitting on the right is. The two individual photos of me are from Aviation Summer in 1961 and (I think) aboard a YP.
In Bancroft Hall, circa 1963

Bill Runkle in Pensacola

I have the conn!

        Bill also sent two images of himself and Lu Shumacher from a port call in Palma during his First Class cruise but the pictures didn't reproduce well so I can't include them here.
        Last month's report included a nifty account of how some of our classmates managed to paint "'63 sez Beat Army" on the USNA laundry smokestack. The intrepid guys were identified as J.J. Hogan, Steve Leisge, and Zimm Zimmerman. I have just learned that Niles Iannone, Dick Ortwein, and Mike Krause were also members of the midnight warriors and deserve to share the credit and honors. BZ, guys!.

        Almost as big a Class of 1963 tradition as the smokestack, and certainly more enduring, is our participation in the annual Northern Virginia bicycle tour to benefit Multiple Sclerosis research. As of the event in May this year, the USNA Class of 1963 has ridden in more than 15 of these fun, fitness, and fund raising tours through the rolling hills of Virginia. Thanks to Bob Harper for forwarding this account prepared by Peter Browne.
     One of the traditions of the MS Ride we have established is for classmate Bob Harper, who lives near Annapolis, to come to my house and spend the night on the Friday before the ride starts. This cuts his commute in half on the morning of the ride. Jackie and I have come to look forward to his arrival and shared dinner and catching up on the last year.

We got underway at 6:30am for Franklin Park in Purcellville, VA, and as a result of low traffic and Bob's lead foot we arrived in an hour. We turned in our minimum $300 fee and picked up our registration packages. John Aucella and his wife Carol arrived soon thereafter, followed by Brev Moore. John and Carol had not fully trained and had only done about 750 miles compared to Bob's and my 100 miles! The highlight of the start was the arrival of Skip Wright (a victim of MS) and his wife Anne who gave us a warm sendoff. This was very special for us all to be able to dedicate our ride to Skip as we had to Terry Abell in the past. With the USNA '63 team assembled, we were ready to hit the road!

John Aucella, Brev Moore, Skip Wright, Carol Aucella, Peter Browne, Bob Harper

The weather was clear and in the 60s, ideal for a ride! There were some headwinds in the 30 miles on the northward part of the loop but that beat the alternatives of rain or being too hot. We enjoyed the beautiful scenery of Loudon County including towns like Marshall, The Plains, and Middleburg. John and Carol showed us their tail lights and after the first rest stop we did not see them again. Brev sets a deliberate pace, so Bob and I wound up in the middle. Brev always adds some adventure to the ride and this year was no exception. He missed a turn (marked with small signs) after rest stop #1, and found himself at stop #4 from which he backtracked to stop #3 where we met for lunch. The rest stops provide water and Gatorade and bike repairs, and are staffed with volunteers. After a few years the staff starts to become familiar and encourage us greatly. The route is covered by Support Group vehicles including bike repair vans and motorcyclists who help calm the traffic along the way. I had my road bike tuned up for the ride and it performed perfectly except it could not get all the way up the steeper hills. So I walked.

John, Carol, and Brev spent the night at the Leesburg Fairgrounds and enjoyed dinner, entertainment, and the conviviality of fellow riders before leaving the next morning for the 40-mile return to Franklin Park. Bob and I had to get back for other obligations.

As a team we again raised over $3,000 and were able to keep the distinction of being the oldest team at 66 years. (Not counting Carol!)

        Roger Mehle sent this heavily illustrated report from a 24th Company assembly:
     I'm forwarding a batch of photos (courtesy of George Emery) taken at a 24th Company dinner party in Washington, DC, on June 9. My wife Colette and I hosted the dinner, which took place at the Seasons Restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel. Twelve classmates and their wives and one "stag" classmate graced us with their presence. Several came from a distance, as noted: Pat and George Emery (from Maine), Beth and Joel Gardner, Mary Ann and John Gowens, Barbara and Bill Keffer, Colette and Roger Mehle, Judy and Tom Morgan, Kathy and Nick Nerangis, John Nielsen (from Pennsylvania), Sandy and Ken Metviner (from New York), Kitty and Grayson Redford, Patty and Tommy Thompson (from Pennsylvania), Sammie and Jim Thorell (from Mississippi), Priscilla and Tren Ward.

A good time was had by all at cocktails and dinner, and many "old tales" were retold, but I'm sorry to say that "Plebe knowledge" was sadly lacking after 48 years. Several of us brought copies of our Reef Points and quizzed one another, merely getting quizzical looks in return. (One of these pictures shows me clutching my Reef Points and other USNA memorabilia.)

There was one standout, and surprising, performer, however: Kathy Nerangis (that's right, Kathy), who recited, "Why didn't you say Sir?" to near perfection. It turns out that she and Nick were dating at USNA, and she learned the doggerel to impress him!

        Click here for the photos from the dinner which are also linked from the 24th Co. homepage.
        Kathi and Chuck Calvano have come home to the USA after his three-year assignment with the Office of Naval Research in London. Chuck resumed his work at the Naval Postgraduate School soon after they returned to Monterey, CA, in late July.

Long-time Albuquerque resident Mike Blackledge sent this news of an alumni social event he hosted this summer.

     In a spasm of altruism, I volunteered my backyard as the site for the 2007 Picnic of the New Mexico Chapter of the Naval Academy Alumni Association. The one smart move I made was to ask Bonnie Nolan, widow of our classmate George Nolan, to serve as Honorary Hostess of the event. Bonnie, once convinced that the title was not a sneaky way to say Cook and Dishwasher, made a supreme effort to convert my bachelor environment to a half-way respectable party site. Success on all fronts. The picnic was held on Saturday of Fathers Day Weekend and local alumni were encouraged to bring fathers and families. Over 50 attended.

Pam and Ron Walters came and were able to re-acquaint with Bonnie's daughter Beth. Ron had become Beth's godfather while Ron and George were enrolled at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey where Beth was born in 1969.

Olen Thompson also attended the picnic but was unable to stay for long, having to return to continue supporting his wife P.J., who is engaged in a series of chemo and radiation treatments. He says she is doing well and we wish her the very best.

Jo Ann and Lou Simpleman earned the traveled farthest award for the picnic, having driven down from their home in Trinidad, CO, for the event. Here's a picture showing me, Bonnie, Jo Ann, and Lou.

Picnickers in Albuquerque

        In late June, MAP Pharmaceuticals of Mountain View, CA, announced the appointment of Bernard J. Kelley to its Board of Directors. Bernie retired from Merck and Co. in 2003, after more than 35 years of service. Most recently, he was a member of the Merck Management Committee, reporting to the Chairman, President and CEO of Merck, and served as President of the Merck Manufacturing Division. In his capacity as President of the Manufacturing Division, he had responsibility for chemical, pharmaceutical, and biological manufacturing at 30 facilities in 17 countries around the world employing over 17,000 people. Additionally, he directed the activities of corporate engineering, global procurement, and Merck's strategic Operational Excellence Initiative.

        In late spring, Steve Coester journeyed to DC from his home in, and filed a full trip report, from which the following is extracted:
     The week after Memorial Day I took my fifteen year old grandson Stephen to Washington, DC, to immerse him in our country's heritage. We spent two days seeing the museums, monuments, and memorials. We also visited Arlington Cemetery and observed the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Of course we attended the Vietnam Wall and paid our respect to companymate J.B. Worcester and the other twelve Class of 1963 classmates who died in the war.

Ann and Tom O'Brien provided us with room, board, and great company during our stay and couldn't have been any more gracious. Tom and I could sit forever and never run out of stories from life at the Academy and the succeeding 45 years. It was wonderful after a hard day of touring to kick back at their home.

Stephen and I spent a day at Gettysburg. We were in awe of the courage and scope of those historic events. Standing on the top of Little Round Top and looking down into the Valley of Death and the Devil's Den is nothing short of awesome. And standing at the "High Water Mark of the Confederacy" picturing the hand-to-hand combat and resulting Union victory is humbling. We heard one tour guide telling his group that there were seven explosions per second during the two hour cannon bombardment preceding Pickett's Charge. Anyone who hasn't read "The Killer Angels" should go get it today for a wonderful Pulitzer Prize fictional account of the battle.

Finally, I took Stephen over to Annapolis where we met Pete Quinton for lunch at the Fleet Reserve Club. Stephen had to listen to the same stale stories as Pete and I caught up on the past years. What a great location the club has on "Ego Alley' in the harbor. Pete used his DOD ID to drive us around the Academy grounds and then dropped us off at the museum where we viewed the marvelous model ship collection and all the other artifacts. I took Stephen into Lejeune Hall to see my tennis photos on the "Wall of Also Rans" after seeing Lee Pekary's photo right next to Roger Staubach's on the Wall of Fame. Would you believe that every team photo for all sports from 1961 through 1964 had been removed and there were just blank spaces? I have no idea why we've been banished.

Here are two snapshots from the trip. The first shows Tom O'Brien, Stephen, Anne, and me. The second is of me and Pete Quinton in Annapolis.

O'Briens and guests

Coester and Quinton

        Vern Browne wrote to me from Tampa in June, sending news and pictures for you to enjoy.
     Elise and I recently spent a memorable evening with our good friends Barbara and Tom Hall at the annual St. Petersburg Area MOAA Chapter installation dinner hosted by Don Freese, president of the chapter. When Don told me that Tom would be the guest speaker I immediately made a search through my Trader John wardrobe and found the suit and dreaded shoes, not sandals, in anticipation of seeing the Halls after 39 years. Tom gave a great speech to about 95 members and guests regarding reserve components in all services
Vern Browne, Tom Hall, and Don Freese

During the weekend Tom, Ollie Donelan, and Don tortured a little white ball at the St. Petersburg CC. I abstained. Later, Tom and I reminisced about what we had done back in the days of hard work, bad pay, and good times. It is astounding what old friends can remember after so many years. In Tom's case, the hard work got harder indeed. He has been the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs since October 2002 with 1.2 million soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines under his control. Tom's formidable Navy commands include CO of VP-8, NAS Bermuda, the Iceland Defense Force, and Commander/Chief of Naval Reserve.

Tom and I flew P-3's in VP-8 in the 60's along with Vince Gilroy and Jim Richards. By the time I reported to the squadron Tom was already a PPC, and it was my good fortune to be his co-pilot for many months.

Orion crew at Sangley Point

This group photo of an intrepid P-3 crew was taken at NAS Sangley Point, R.P., in 1966. From the left in the back row are Jim Jackson '62, then Tom Hall. Steve Sloan '57 (the PPC) is in the center and I am third from the right.

After VP-8, I truly enjoyed my 18-month extension as a T-28 flight instructor in VT-3 at NAS Whiting. My first civilian job was pretty general with emphasis on administration, EDP, and accounting in an international chemical company. After 15 years of expansion and organizational change the company was sold to Unilever. They did not need a V.P. of Administration. After being a minor player in real estate, I retired in 1995.

Elise and I moved to Tampa in 1996. It is a great place to live, especially with several classmates (Donelan, Detrick, Jacqmin, and Freese) and their families as neighbors. Sandy and Ollie Donelan, Elise, and I will soon travel to New York for the Belmont Stakes. We have three sons and two grandchildren to keep us well distracted.

        Whew! What a great version of our News Exchange we had this month! Thanks to all the contributors.

Finally, remember that our 45th Reunion will be held in Annapolis from Thursday through Sunday, 24-27 April 2008. Be there!

See you next month.

This page is 
   September 2007 
posted on:
 16 July 2007
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