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Category: Memories

July 4th, 1976

July 4th, 1976 – July 4th, 2016

It’s hard to believe it has been 40 years.

BicentennialFlag

In 1976 the United States celebrated its Bicentennial Celebration. It’s 200th anniversary of being an independent country. The Vietnam War ended just a year before. Despite the civil unrest that war caused, it seemed patriotism was at a high in 1976. There were so many celebrations and observation for months leading up to the 4th.

In school we re-examined this key time in our history and studied the Declaration of Independence in-depth. All the fire hydrants in town were painted with patriotic colors and some to look like patriot soldiers. There were ‘76’ flags with 13 stars everywhere. For a young teen, this was a special and memorable time for me.

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On this day 40 years ago on July 4th 1976, I was fortunate to be right in the middle of Operation Sail, which is a special occasion featuring “tall ship” sailing vessels from around the world. The Operation Sail for the Bicentennial was especially large.

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My best friend at the time, and next door neighbor was Joe Danaher. His father John served with the Coast Guard for more than 20 years – including during WWII – and rose to officer status. He remained active in the reserves for many years. As such he had considerable clout and had Joe invite me to go with them to Governors Island to watch The Parade of Ships for the Bicentennial Celebration.

Governors Island went into service in 1776 during the American Revolution and became an Army post from 1783 to 1966, when it became an active Coast Guard station until 1996. It sits right at the divergence of the East and Hudson Rivers – across from the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island. It affords a commanding presence and view of every ship heading up the Hudson.

We caught a Coast Guard ferry, from Pier 6 in Brooklyn for the short ride to Governor’s Island. Once there, Joe’s father let us roam on our own with directions to meet him at Castle Williams later that afternoon. We explored the 170 acre island from end to end. It was a hot, sunny day, but the ocean breeze kept the temps manageable. In the mess hall, they had set up a veritable smorgasbord of food of all type and ice cream – all you can eat – for free.  We stuffed ourselves and went out to do more exploring.

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Castle Williams where we stood to watch Operation Sail in 1976

When Operation Sail started we were right there at Castle William where the road juts out into the river, and we watched the tall ships, such as the USCGC Eagle, the Amerigo Vespucci (from Italy) and the Gorch Fock (from Germany) among a dozen more tall ships and hundreds of smaller sailing vessels.

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Then the massive aircraft carrier USS Forrestal sailed up and stopped right across from us. On board was President Gerald Ford (a WWII Navy vet), reviewing dozens of mighty modern warships sailing up the Hudson.

USCGC Eagle and the USS FORRESTAL Operation Sail

USS FORRESTAL and the USCGC Eagle Operation Sail

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President Gerald Ford

That night, the fireworks commenced from barges anchored in the river. It remains one of the most spectacular fireworks displays I have ever seen – and I have seen many large events. I remember the colors and the sounds. Most of all I remember the power of the explosions from the mortar rockets was so great I could feel the concussion in my chest as well as my ears.

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The day I spent on Governors Island, July 4th, 1976 is one of my most cherished childhood memories.


Epilogue:

  • President Gerald Ford passed away on December 26, 2006.
  • Governors Island has been open to the public since 2003, as a public park space.
  • In 1967 there wa a massive fire on the USS Forrestal, after a missile misfired and hit a fully fueled fighter jet, which then set off a chain of explosions and fire which claimed the lives of 134 sailors and injured 161.
  • On that ship was Senator John McCain. The missile hit plane right next to his. He was lightly wounded in the event. The pilot of the plane that was hit, Cdr. Fred White, was one of the 134 killed that day.
  • The USS Forrestal was decommissioned in 1993, and was completely scrapped as junk by December 2015.

Jaws – The Summer of ’75’

JAWS‘ the movie was a phenomenon 40 years ago.

JAWS

It started right in the beginning of the summer, in June, 1975.

Steven Spielberg never expected the movie to become as big a hit as it did, but right from that first week, it was wildly popular. It played in theaters all over the U.S. for months! It was all over the news almost daily during that summer, and suddenly every shark sighting became newsworthy.

The movie was based on the best-selling novel by Peter Benchley, and was rated PG, This was in an era when theaters actually enforced the ratings guide. If you could not prove you were over the age of 13, and showed up without a parent or person who could prove they were at least 18 – you were not let into the theater.

I was 13 and I wanted to see the movie – badly. My Mom wouldn’t allow it. The same was true of a few other kids who also wanted to see it.

We would not be deterred. My best friend at the time, Joe Danaher, was the youngest of 8 children in a traditional (at least in them days) large Irish-Catholic family. All of his brothers and sisters were over 18. We hatched a plan.

First we got Joe to recruit a couple of his siblings to drive a bunch of us kids to the theater to see the movie. His brother Gerald and sister Pam wanted to see the movie anyway and agreed to take us.

Now to account for all of us kids being out late on a summer night, we had to ask our parents’ permission to camp out in the Danaher’s backyard.

Since everyone knew and liked the Danaher family, and it was right in the neighborhood, parents let us do the “camp out”. We had to make it look good because the Danaher back yard was easy to look into – and they also lived right next door to me!

There were six of us kids, and we set about borrowing a 10-person camping tent, from one of Joe’s older brother’s. We struggled with that monstrosity of canvas, screen and aluminum poles for good piece of time. We managed to finally get it set up, but it was sketchy and we didn’t dare touch it or go into it.

We were going to catch the late showing, so we made it look good. We went swimming in the Danaher pool. We knew our parents would be thinking, “Those kids are having a good time. They’ll sleep well tonight,” and “Thank goodness they’re at the Danaher’s…instead of here!”

We even toasted marshmallows over a fire pit. When it was late enough, we made it look like we were going to turn in – just in case any of our parents were watching.

We cut through some bushes in the back of the yard and met Pam and Gerald a block away as we had arranged. We split up into two cars and went to the once magnificent Bayshore Theater (now long gone).

BayshoreRegent

Since it had only been out in theaters for 5 days when we went, the line outside was long. Even for a 10 PM showing, the line stretched down the block and we were at the end of that line. I didn’t think we’d get in.

As we finally made our way to the ticket booth, I could hear the movie beginning. I was in a panic. They were almost out of seats. The 8 of us got the last seats. The problem was they were all in the very first row (note the white backed seats in the picture above), which the usher called “Chicken Row” as he guided us to our seats with a flashlight. Yes, they actually did do that at one time.

Excited, we took our seats mere feet from the giant screen and craned our heads back to take it all in. The screen was so close it encompassed the entire field of our view. The stereo sound was crisp and loud.

In the first scene where young Chrissie went skinny dipping, and that now famous deep bass theme music began to play, I was already tense. When she was attacked, I was horrified by the sounds that came out of her as she was dragged through the water. She screamed begging God to save her, and then was yanked beneath the waves for the final time. That scene haunted me. Still does…

As the movie unfolded, and we met Chief Brody (Roy Scheider), then Oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and the very salty Captain Quint (Robert Shaw), to say was I hooked and drawn in was an understatement. I was there baby!

Jaws Cast

I know every scene of that movie by heart, but there’s one scene I always associate with shock and pain. It’s the scene where the crew of the Orca was trying to find the giant shark, but wasn’t having any luck. They were adrift, bored and whiling away the time.

Brody was tasked with chumming the water with chopped up mackerel to see if they could attract the shark. Brody was tired of flinging the stinking, bloody concoction and wanted to drive the boat. He shouted up to Hooper, “…Why don’t you come down here and chum some of this shit!” At that moment the huge shark made his first appearance, popping his head out of the water.

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Startled, Brody shot to his feet, cigarette dangling in his slack jaw. Never taking his eye off the spot where the shark had appeared, he backed slowly into the cabin where Quint was, and Brody said his famous (ad-libbed) line, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

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The first time I saw that scene I couldn’t appreciate it as much. When the shark popped out of the water, the theater audience released a collective scream, including my friend Colleen.

She was so frightened; she swung her arms out wide, smacking Joe in the face to her right and hitting me in the throat with her left. All at once I was sputtering for breath and at the same time realizing why the usher called this “Chicken Row.”

I recovered quickly and absolutely loved the rest of the movie.

Over the last 40 years, I must have seen that movie at least 100 times – and I still love it. It reminds me of the Summer of ’75’ – hot summer nights looking up at the stars, good music, fun with my friends, and a deep fondness for my childhood.

Those were damn good times…

 

Why I Journal

Simply put, I journal so I won’t forget.

“…if your life is important enough to live, it’s important enough to chronicle.”

 

If you’re the type of person who prefers to get out and about instead of just sitting in front of a TV or video game for hours on end, then you will have lots of life experiences. Most will be mundane. A few might be bad, but many will be good and others will be awesome. Whenever anyone has a memorable experience, we don’t forget the overall fact of the experience, however, with the passage of time the details of those experiences fade, alter and are sometimes forgotten.

 

I’ve been journaling on and off since I was nine-years-old. I believe if your life is important enough to live, it’s important enough to chronicle. I also believe it’s only our experiences we take with us when we leave this life – so I want to fill it up with as many experiences as I can.

 

To preserve the details of a noteworthy life experience, I like to journal it as soon as I can – typically within a few days to a week.

 

A few years down the road, when remembering a life event from the past, I can go to my journal and read what I wrote about it back then. I’m often amazed of the details, and even the sequences of events, I’ve since forgotten when reading an older journal entry. It serves to help me create a rich tapestry of pictures in the theater of my mind, which then becomes a full sensory mind movie. The colors, sights, sounds, feelings, smells, time of day, and the weather all come back to me. It’s very cool.

 

The more detail I add to the journal entry, the quicker the whole experience comes back to me.

 

When I journal, I write to three different people.

 

First I write to myself so I can relieve the experiences in immersive detail. Second, I write to someone I know who is interested in and likes what I write.

 

Lastly, when I journal I think of a person 100 years in the future. Most people today could care less about the journal entries of my life experiences – and I’m okay with that. What I do is imagine someone like me, a person interested in history, discovering a 100 year old journal and eagerly begins to read it. This person is keenly interested getting a glimpse what life was like long before they were born. This reader wants to get to know the writer of the journal and see how he lived out his life in a bygone era. As this person reads the journal they learn who the writer was, who they loved, what they did, felt and thought. The reader gets to live in the past vicariously, through the writings of a person who once was.

 

Why do you journal? If you don’t – why not?

 

 

 

11 Years Later 9-11

As I sit here today looking at my desktop (below), I can’t help but clearly remember that September day 11 years ago as I worked in my Harvard Square office.

I remember the shock, the anger, the fear, the sadness – and the overwhelming knowledge that everything had changed forever.

But mostly I felt anger. I wanted to rush down to the area I once worked in NYC to help search for survivors. I also remember I wanted to kill someone.

I remember the confusion and fear of not remembering if my friend Al had left to go back to NY that morning or if he was still in Bedford, Mass – and the relief when I finally got him on the phone.

I remember the fear and devastation I felt when I thought that another friend of mine named  Guy, died in 1 World Trade – thinking how unfair. How badly he and his wife Kathy wanted a child. And now they finally had their son, and he was gone. Then the flood of relief I felt when I later learned he got out literally just before the building collapsed.

I remember the market closing and my boss telling my friend Mike and I we could leave. I wrote a note to our clients and we walked out into a beautiful late summer day in Harvard Square.

I remember seeing all these privileged college kids walking around smiling without a care in the world. I remember thinking…screaming in my head “What the fuck do you have to smile about? Do you have any idea what happened? Do you realize that nothing will ever be the same again?

I remember us driving home in Mike’s car. We saw state troopers racing around, automatic weapons in the dashboard clips and the sudden appearance of army vehicles on the highways.

I remember just wanting to get home to see my family and hold my kids.

Later in the week, I remember  Mike and I driving home and seeing flags and candlelight vigils EVERYWHERE along the highway and on every overpass.

Lastly, I remember the absolute chest swelling pride and patriotism I felt for the people of our country.

How on earth can I ever forget all of this? How can I forget 9-11?

Werner

A Powerful Voice Silenced Forever

Today I found out that Ronnie James Dio passed away from stomach cancer at the age of 67. Not only was I surprised by his passing, but I didn’t realize he was so significantly older than me. When I saw him a few times when I lived in Long Island, New York, I figured he was only five or six years older than me – not 20!

Ronnie was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and moved to New York when he was a kid. I first became aware of him when he was with Black Sabbath. He had a powerful, almost rock-operatic voice. I liked a lot of the stuff he did on his own, and he’s best known for ‘Rainbow in the Dark’, but my favorite is when he sang ‘Mob Rules’ while still with Sabbath. One of my good bud’s knows why…

This is the way I remember Dio best:

Be at peace Ronnie and thanks for all the moving music.

Hope For 2010 And Beyond

I can still remember New Year’s Eve, 1989. I was a proud new Dad and very content. I remember thinking, “Wow, only ten years before we leave this century and begin a new one.”

On New Year’s Eve, 1999, I remember thinking how quickly those 10 years had passed, and that we were entering a new Millennium. I was now the proud father of three, and I had gone back to school and vastly improved my career track. I was filled with hope and possibility. This had been a good decade for me, for us.

Now on this New Year’s Eve of 2009, I find myself once again in disbelief on how quickly 10 years had got behind me. This past decade was not a good one.

The decade started off well. I was in a challenging new job, but there were undercurrents of problems that would come back to haunt me time and again.

Then 9-11 happened. It fundamentally changed me and not necessarily for the better either. It changed my worldview and political stance. I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

In 2003 we added 4 new kittens to our already big family of 6 cats. Tragically, we’ve lost 4 of our furry family members over the past 9 years.

By late 2005, my job situation got worse to the point where I made a deal to leave – and did. Finding work was tougher and took longer than I expected, but in early 2006, I landed at Fidelity.

Other than finding work, 2006 SUCKED. There was a lot of death and illness among all our friends and family. It’s all I want to say about it.

The culture at Fidelity was nothing like I expected – in a good way. However, the first job I had was very stressful and pretty much knocked me on my ass every day. I wasn’t too torn up when my contract was not renewed in at the end of 2007.

By spring of 2008, I was back in the fold doing work far different than I had done before. It is the best job I have ever had, making more money than I ever had, with the best crew of people I have ever worked with.

Serious illness continues to plague many family members, not to mention a series of failed and failing relationships.

Outside of family issues, current events suggest that better times for most people are not on the horizon as of yet. But we still hope.

A worldwide event needs to occur where humanity will have to pull together to get through it – and remind us that we really are all connected.

I truly do hope that not only the next year, but the next decade, will have more positive events to reflect on than bad ones.

Charlie Barnett

This morning, I saw a guy that looked and sounded just like street comedian Charlie Barnett.

He used to be that hysterical racially raunchy comedian that used to perform at Merrill Lynch Park, as well as Washington Square Park.

I watched him on several occasions as he always cracked me up and always added something new to his set. He was one of the best I’d seen at handling hecklers too – he always embarrassed the hell out of them.

I remember riding the ‘E’ train one time and Charlie was sitting across from me talking to a young lady. As we entered the Chambers St./WTC station, he caught me looking at him and at first had a quizzical “Whatchyou lookin’ at” expression and then just smiled. I got up to exit but first walked over to Charlie and told him he was one funny motherfucker and thanked him for the laughs. He shook my hand and gave me that big toothy grin of his and thanked me for acknowledging his ‘art and talent’.

It was only later that I learned that he had actually tried out for SNL and lost the spot to Eddie Murphy – because Eddie could read better. Charlie was also the main reason I sat through that crappy movie ‘D.C. Cab’.

Although I never forgot him, I had not thought of him until I saw that guy this morning. I did a quick look up and was saddened to find that Charlie had passed away in 1996 (AIDS)…I never knew.

He was a great comedian.

His story ended way too soon.

Autumn Bagpipes on the Lake

Living in New Hampshire, we are treated to some of the most spectacular fall foliage season in the country. On this late October Sunday, the weather was stunning, with mild temperatures, blue skies and sunshine. After lunch, my son wanted to take a hike in an area we call the “Ledges Trail”.

The Ledges Trail is a path that leads up through hardwood forests of brilliant gold big leaf maples and walnuts, fiery red maples and the blazing orange of sugar maples. The path ends at a high granite promontory overlooking a crystalline, cobalt blue lake.

We have seen many beautiful fall days like this at many different locations. But today, this day would be special.

It felt really good to be out in the woods on the trail with my son. As we reached the outcropping, a young couple was just leaving. We had the sun-drenched cliff-top all to ourselves.  The blue skies, the crisp gentle breeze coming off the lake, the rich colors, the silence and the solitude were all so beautiful. My son and I spoke no words, we communicated to each other with knowing smiles.

We sat silently soaking up the warmth of the sun, and taking in the stunning fall colors splashed across the hillsides and sparkling diamonds of light off the lake. It was so serene. I felt all vestiges of stress leave my body, and I relaxed.

The silence was interrupted by a sound carried on the breeze from across the lake. It was the sound of music. We looked at each other then back out over the lake. Across the lake, from the woods on a peninsula jutting into the lake came the sounds of bagpipe music. It was both beautiful and surreal.

We stood quickly and walked to the edge of the cliff.

My son said, “Do you hear that Dad?”
“Yes, I do.” I replied. “It’s a bagpipe.”

My son and I stood at the edge of the cliff listening to the mournful sounds of a bagpipe we could not see. We were engrossed by the beautiful music that drifted up to us from the lake below. I couldn’t help but smile listening to the music. It seemed to touch my soul. I thought, ‘It’s the perfect instrument to play in the woods by the lake. There’s nothing like the ancient sounds of the bagpipe echoing across the lake, echoing across time.’

Even my young, hip-hop loving son was enjoying it. He thought it was so cool. When a song ended we’d applaud as loudly as we could, and shouted “WOOOOHOOO!” at the top of our lungs.

It was a perfect time on a perfect day. We stayed up there a long time soaking up the sun and the music. Once the bagpipe player was done, we decided it was time to go too.

Just as we were leaving, several groups of people arrived at the cliff top. The specialness of the moment was gone. It’s an experience we both cherish – an invisible bagpipe player, playing to his invisible audience on a beautiful fall afternoon.

Werner
October 26, 2008


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