THE BIRTH OF THE USS WISCONSIN (BB-64) ASSOCIATION
By Dave Patrykus
T Division 1953-1954
It was in 1986 when we first heard the BATTLESHIP WISCONSIN was to be re-commissioned for her third tour of duty. After 38 years since her last decommissioning in 1958, we were really surprised and excited at the prospect.
Frances “Frank” Rayome, Cdr., USN, Ret. called one day to tell me about it. I had never met Frank but he had found my name in a cruise book from the 50’s and, living in Port Edwards, only a short distance down-river from our home in Wisconsin Rapids, he wanted to talk. Frank had attended a mini-reunion of fellow officers from his wardroom and was enthusiastic about holding a reunion of all crewmembers in conjunction with the upcoming recommissioning, for which the date had not yet been set. He had obtained a partial roster of crewmembers from two of our shipmates, George Curry of Tampa, FL and Steve Dugas of Slovan, PA. (George’s hometown was Pottsville, PA,) George and Steve had taken some preliminary steps to hold a reunion. Meanwhile, Frank and I joined by John Rodencal and my cousin Bob Patrykus, met for coffee to discuss a possible reunion and also to tell a few sea stories. Frank had already spoken with Jim Janz who he knew from business contacts and Jim had volunteered to provide computer services to our fledgling group. This meeting was the impetus for what was to become the USS WISCONSIN ASSOCIATION. Our first task was to contact shipmates by placing notices in military and veterans’ magazines and newsletters. One response we received said: “I’ve been watching the reunion notices in the Legion magazine since 1951!” He was thrilled to finally find it. This effort continued through 1986 and up until the reunion date. Both Frank and I had been appointed to the Governor’s Commission on The Recommissioning of USS WISCONSIN. We had an opportunity to meet with other commission members in Governor Thomson’s office and also met Captain Jerry Blesch, prospective CO of WISCONSIN. Frank and I advised the governor’s staff that our priority would be to organize the first reunion of former crewmembers of BB-64. They agreed. Now, we had our hands full! Just as we were beginning to get things underway, Frank was stricken with a massive heart attack and died on July 10, 1987. Though the loss of his enthusiasm and energy was a real blow, we picked up the pieces and continued, sad to think that he would not be able to realize his dream. John Rodencal volunteered to bank roll the operation to provide postage and other incidental expenses and thus became the de facto treasurer. Along with John and Mary, George and Marie Curry, Steve Dugas, Jim and Rita Janz, and my wife, Marlis, we set about organizing the first reunion. Our pleas for donations brought in hundred of dollars from all over the country, expressing their enthusiasm to see their old ship go to sea again and also to meet again with shipmates from long ago. Our mailing list was growing and the donations were sorely needed to keep up with costs. Ed Maul, an old T-Division friend designed a patch to commemorate the event. A friend of Frank’s had designed artwork to use on T-shirts and publications. Joe Mollica, owner of Artistic Co. in California agreed to print T-shirts and supply them on credit and caps on consignment. George and Marie traveled to Biloxi to check out a hotel and arrange for busses to transport the group to Pascagoula, MS. People volunteered to help out at the reunion and it all came together on October 22, 1988, a gloriously sunny day, when our old ship was again brought to life. There were over 1400 crew, their families and guests in attendance! The Miller Brewing Co. of Milwaukee, WI sent us 22 half-barrels of beer and the Dairy State Cheese Co. of Rudolph, WI donated 250 pounds of Wisconsin Cheese, all of which was served in our “Sea Stories” room where we gathered to renew old friendships and swap a few “sea stories”. It is believed that many of the stories may have been true. We knew then that it could not and would not end there. At a short meeting, we unanimously agreed to form an association. This formally took place at our second biennial reunion on Labor Day weekend in Norfolk, Virginia, our old homeport.
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