2008 Abbot Reunion
Charleston, South Carolina
By George Rider
Many of you will remember a TV series, “The A Team.” At the end of each episode, when the shooting stopped, George Peppard would announce, “I love it when a plan comes together.”
I’m sure that same sentiment was shared Saturday evening, after the wonderful banquet ended, by Ted & Mary Lou Karras, Bill Beavers, John & Janet Jackson and Chris Bayley as they relaxed in their rooms later that night. What an outstanding reunion they planned and executed, no doubt with a certain melancholy at its conclusion. More than 128 shipmates, family and friends were eager participants in the event-filled long weekend that we shared together.
Abbot shipmates, from her birth in Bath, Maine, in 1943, until her decommissioning in Philadelphia in 1965, shared their stories with each other. Everyone had his own tales to tell.
The first gathering was Thursday night’s dinner cruise around Charleston Harbor and what a kick-off it was. We boarded three buses at our weekend home port, The Ramada Inn, and embarked at 6:30 for the beautiful sunset sail and a meal that could only be described as gourmet. Most of us met for the first time. The highlight for me was sitting with Ted and Mary Lou and sharing the company of Ernest and Marie Perno. Ernest was one of five sailors dispatched to Bath to bring the Abbot to Boston for final fitting prior to her commissioning. Then Abbot set sail for the Pacific. Ernest served during the Abbot’s distinguished exploits fighting in many of the major engagements during WWII. She earned eight battle stars for her WWII service.
The hospitality room at the Ramada became the place between events, AM and PM, where shipmates from different eras got acquainted and swapped tales of life aboard and in port.
Friday, we boarded the buses again at 10:30 for a tour of historic Charleston made more memorable thanks to a tour guide with a PhD so steeped in the history of Charleston that we lived the history through his narrative. Charleston’s involvement in the slave trade, and viewing the site of the slave auction, the history of the many religions that were represented from their early appearance in the New World, events and battles of the Civil War were all described and illustrated by our guide in a continuing dialogue that lasted for the duration of the two-hour tour and left me wishing for a tape of the saga.
At 12:30 we stopped at the Old City Market for browsing, shopping and lunch and then we departed for The Citadel for a tour and the dress parade. Led by the bag pipers, their spirited and award winning marching band accompanied the cadets as they put on a spectacular show of precision marching. The massive drill field surrounded by the well-scrubbed academic and administrative buildings was the perfect venue for viewing the five battalions and eighteen companies going through their paces.
The parade took on added significance. The Abbot and our crew members were the Citadel’s guests. We were honored for our service to the country along with the Army’s 163 Recon Unit that served so valiantly in Korea. We were treated to a fly-over by three of the single engine scout planes from their unit still flying. In addition, a number of the Hell’s Angels Rolling Thunder were present to honor one of the pilots, Rodney Trobridge, of the 163rd still listed as MIA.
The flag was at half-mast in honor of one of the cadets recently killed in Iraq.
When we were asked to stand along with the 163rd, more than a tear was shed. The pride we all have in our ship and shipmates bubbled to the surface and for me helped put my 76 years in perspective.
Chris Bayley hosted a Gunnery Department cocktail party for the officers after our return from the unforgettable afternoon at The Citadel. Gene Gallagher gave me a ride to the party and John Kelleher acted as his navigator. We never missed a turn in the tangle of one-way streets. The elegant room at King’s Courtyard and the friendly participants made this a great occasion. I particularly enjoyed getting to meet Bob & Ruth Small and Ray & Mary Jane Taylor.
Saturday dawned early and we were underway again on our buses from the Ramada to Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum for another lesson in history, one that I’m sure that our school children will never hear or read about.
We boarded the USS Yorktown (CV-10). “The Fighting Lady”, at 9:30. She was commissioned on April 15, 1943, named for Yorktown (CV-5), and lost while repelling the Japanese Fleet at the Battle of Midway in 1942. We operated with the second Yorktown in the Mediterranean while I was aboard Abbot. Fred Weicker, a classmate of mine at Andover, was a pilot and died during flight operations off the Yorktown in 1956 leaving behind his wife and unborn daughter.
Among the many fascinating exhibits on the Hangar Deck: 26 Historic Military Aircraft including an F4F-3A “Wildcat” Fighter, a F6F-5, a “Hellcat” Fighter, an A-7E “Corsair” Fighter, a B25D “Mitchell” Medium Bomber, and a TBM “Avenger” Torpedo Bomber. The Congressional Medal of Honor Museum and the Space Exhibit with replicas of the Mercury and Apollo spacecraft are must-viewing features. In 1968 she recovered the Apollo 8 astronauts, the first men to orbit the moon. We had real Navy chow off the metal trays in the Chief’s Mess, real good and plenty of it.
After lunch, a tour boat took most of us to Fort Sumter. Joe Dattoli and I missed movement and were forced to seek refuge in a sports bar up the road, that of all things served adult beverages. Joe negotiated the transportation. Respect for the military is alive and well in South Carolina. Not only did Joe arrange rides both ways with total strangers, they both took a look at our Abbot caps and thanked us for our service. Admiral of the Reunion Ted Karras decide against writing us up! Another long and wonderful day, then back to shower and nap before the Happy Hour and buffet dinner at the Ramada.
Prior to Happy Hour, the framed picture of the Abbot, signed by all us, was officially unveiled in the lobby of the Ramada. The picture will hang in a long hallway, called “Tin Can Alley”, along side of many, many others, a tribute to the ships and the men who sailed on them. My younger brother Ken came aboard a year after me. We served together and were deployed to the Med. Ken died in 1995. Memories of our service together are never far from me. I was proud to sign his name next to mine. We were told that we were the only two brothers serving together as officers on the same ship in the entire Navy at that time. My mother got a letter from Mamie Eisenhower mentioning how proud Mom should be to have two sons serving together.
I had the honor of sitting at the table with Rear Admiral Ray Taylor and Mary Jane, Admiral Steve Abbot and Marjorie, Rear Admiral John Dalrymple and Carol, Marion and Anne McEvoy, and John Alfords.
Pictures of the Abbot’s crew and officers were taken by the swimming pool during Happy Hour. Unfortunately, I had to leave right after the great buffet. Ted filled me in on the rest of the evening. I’m truly sorry I missed it.
Admiral Abbot spoke glowingly about the reunion and thanked Ted for the opportunity to attend. He talked about the importance of the Navy and Marine Relief Association and his Dad’s role in it, age 90. But for the fact that he had been summoned to New York to help man the Intrepid on her return to her Hudson River berth, he would have been with us for dinner. He flew off the Intrepid as a Navy pilot in WWII.
Abbot’s own Rear Admiral Ray Taylor thanked Ted and his team and asked them to stand and be recognized for the outstanding job they did. He was in charge of sweeping and disposing of 2,000 mines in Iraq waters after Desert Storm.
John Jackson presented a duplicate of the Abbot’s picture (signed also) to a surprised Bill Beavers with his sons William and James looking proudly on.
Ted has a hard time telling this story and I’m equally moved by it and Ted’s way of handling it. Shipmate Fred Kraft and wife Essie faced a terrible dilemma when their young grandson Andrew was diagnosed with liver cancer. Essie volunteered to provide her liver to save Andrew. There was no match. Her sister Brenda Waldrop donated part of her liver to the now 12-year-old Andrew. He was with us, including the expanded Kraft family, for the whole reunion. Ted learned of their story while putting our reunion together. Young Andrew idolizes his grandfather Fred, according to the family and has soaked up his stories about the Navy and the Abbot. Along with the information on the reunion, Ted sent an Abbot T-shirt to Andrew, needless to say was thrilled.
The Krafts arrived to find a white Abbot cap for Andrew waiting for him in the hospitality suite, so efficiently presided over by Mary Lou Karras. Andrew spent most of his free time getting us to sign his cap. The Krafts were Ted’s special guests. Ted rose to present Andrew’s Aunt Brenda with a bouquet of flowers. He then presented Andrew with a beautiful photograph of the Abbot at sea, signed by Admirals Abbot, Taylor and Dalrymple. Ted made Andrew an honorary member of the Abbot Reunion. The response among the participants was predictable. What a tribute to Andrew, his aunt and the Kraft family, Ted and the Abbot crew.
I for one have a hard time digesting all of the great things that happened in such a short space of time. Although I was aboard for a short time, my tour was a highlight of my life. Thank God for the opportunity.
George S.K. Rider
P.S. — BRAVO ZULO, Ted, Mary Lou and the Team!