By Eric Roman
While finishing up my Coast Guard career in the San Francisco Bay area, we lived in Danville, California. My wife ran a licensed day care center out of our home which was located immediately across the street from the Lou Sutton Grade School. Eric and his brother Steve were two of the children Joana watched. All of the children that came to her day care center were considered part of the family. We did not believe in warehousing children. On the day that I retired, June 30, 1975, Charlene Roman and her two boys attended the ceremony at YBI. I would never have believed that the ceremony would have impressed a young man as much as it did Eric. I recently received this email from him. I think it is worthwhile sharing as it defines what I have been trying to do with the stories and the website.
Chris forwarded your e-mail to me at work. I really enjoyed perusing Ďjackís jointí. I especially enjoyed your article entitled, The Chicago Bash.
One of the things I remember most about the time we shared in Danville is attending your retirement ceremony. Even as a 7-year old, it struck me as an impressive site. Though I was too young to appreciate what a real sacrifice a career dedicated to the Coast Guard is, it seemed odd that more non-military people werenít there to say thank you. What rational person would board a ship bound for an imaginary square in the middle of the ocean, only to float around in more or less the same spot and return when provisions were too low to stay any longer? It is surly not to confirm the opinion of some that "the division between bravery and stupidity is thin."
As an outsider, it seems to me that the core of most of the stories in your library go past the funny cloths that make/made up uniforms, the sailor slang and military acronyms and point to people, mostly young people, who work really hard, doing either mind numbingly tedious tasks or potentially dangerous things. They do them not because they are getting paid to go to college, its keeping them out of combat, or their uniform is more likely to get them a date, but rather there is a sense of belonging to a team, a mission that goes beyond making sure that your shipmates are not let down and extends to a wider fraternity of mariners. To me thatís the appeal in reading the stories on your site. I take a great deal of comfort in knowing that, though I donít plan to be stuck out in a boat (who does?) anytime, that there are people who have dedicated themselves to watching over and caring for others whoís only criteria for deserving aid is a need for it. This reaffirms our humanity in the face of what can be at times, a cut-throat World.
I donít know if you remember this or not, but you gave me one of you campaign hats (my steamer - Jack) when you were moving back to Wisconsin. It had been left in an engine room and had been shrunk and turned a yellow-brown by the steam. It fit my 7-yearold head rather well. Anyway, I still have it and now my 7-year old daughter sometimes puts it on. When I look at her in it, the sight reminds me of when I played with it, but also of a bunch of sweaty guys getting pinched fingers who are only awake thanks to really bad coffee trying very hard to make a ship go so that they can help a stranger. For all the strangers and for that 7-year old you and your wife and three boys provided a safe harbor to go to after school Ė thanks.
Iím reading a book right now that I think you would like. Its called The Way of the Ship by Derek Lundy. Chrisí dad gave it to me. He retired as a Master Chief Engineer in 1977 or 1978 from the USN. By the way, at your retirement ceremony, I felt as uncomfortable in my polyester leisure-suit with clip-on brown tie as the honor guard looked in their whites.
Now do you feel old?
Thanks for including me,
I look back to the time I was seven years old and missing my front teeth and all I can remember clearly was attending a huge family reunion on the farm in the town of Rome, Wisconsin. I barely remember most of the people that were there. I am amazed that you remembered the pageantry surrounding my retirement from the Coast Guard. I am particularly pleased that you still have my old "steamer." I loved that old cap and wore it for many a year aboard the cutters. The old cap was pretty symbolic of my career. As Joana said after I was commissioned as an officer about halfway through my career, "Oh thank God, No more dirty dungarees!" I didn't tell her that as a denizen of the enginerooms, I would bring her home dirty khakis.
I can't thank you enough for taking the time to read through Jack's Joint and define the core purpose of the stories. It has never had a better definition.
I look old - I don't feel old!