Check out the pictures at the end of this article.
Wisconsin’s Homecoming: December 7th, 2000
We started gathering on December 6th at the Sheraton Hotel in Norfolk. That night we were all invited to a reception at the Marriott Hotel together with city officials and contributors to the Wisconsin Foundation. I think we number about 1400. One must remember that a battleship sailor is always a battleship sailor, tell us there are free drinks and free food and most of us get there early. We did! THANK YOU, Mayor Paul Fraim for a wonderful evening. We enjoyed meeting and speaking with contributors to the Wisconsin Foundation, and on behalf of the USS Wisconsin Association and all veterans of the USS Wisconsin, we THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT.
Most of us retired early that evening in anticipation of an early reveille the next day. Around 3AM one could hear the alarms going off in various parts of the hotel. Not that we all slept, I would think that most of us sat and watched the clock. At 4AM coffee and donuts, etc. was available to us in the hotel lobby. The buses finally arrived and we were on our way by 4:45AM. It was a short ride to Portsmouth. There she was in all her glory and splendor. As the veterans got off the buses you could hear the OH’s and AH’s about how beautiful she looked. Some of the crewmembers hadn’t seen her for over 40 years. We felt she looked ready to go to sea on her own, and we were ready to go with her. When we got aboard we were allowed to roam the main deck prior to her departure. We mingled with the sailors and Marines that were to man the rails. Since the majority of them hadn’t served aboard a battleship they had many questions as to what it was like living on the ship. They all seemed proud to have been chosen and/or volunteered to be part of this historic event. Perhaps the battleship mystique has gotten into their blood also. Although it was a cold, cold windy day, and I’m sure most of us had long johns on; none of us seem to mind the cold. The Navy provided us with coffee, hot chocolate and donuts. THANK YOU for your hospitality. There is no greater outfit than the Navy; they take care of their own.
As the time drew near to get under way, the excitement rose and we had to vacate the main deck. We all looked for the best vantage point to watch the movement of the ship. Our guys were on various decks above, just all over the place. It was awesome. Our spouses and guests were not too far from us. They were riding the Spirit of Norfolk watching our every move. We must thank the Spirit of Norfolk for graciously donating a very delicious breakfast and the chance for the spouses to ride alongside the Wisconsin, together with the veterans who could not ride the ship. THANK YOU SPIRIT OF NORFOLK.
The media, well, that’s another story, they were just all over the place, on the ship, in the sky, and on land. They conducted many interviews on the ship, and took many pictures.
The tugboats did a fantastic job in guiding us towards Nauticus. We appreciated your salutes, and it gave us goose bumps. What beautiful maneuvering was done by the tugs in getting us berthed at Nauticus. That last salute they gave us was just awesome.
As we left the ship, we were escorted through Nauticus and led down a red carpet. Standing on both sides of the red carpet was an honor guard of Marines and sailors. None of us realized that this was for us. We looked behind to see if a dignitary was coming down the ramp. When we realized it was for us, we were just overcome with emotion, especially when we were applauded by the crowd. Many of these old sailors shed a tear or two aboard the ship and again while walking down this red carpet. Our spouses and or family were waiting at the end of the ramp and we then took our seats as part of the Homecoming ceremonies.
Many of the dignitaries spoke about the significance of Pearl Harbor Day; together with the importance of having the USS Wisconsin berthed at Nauticus. I must say that this entire historic event was well orchestrated. THANK YOU, Karen Sherberger, Executive Director of Festevents, for an outstanding job. We must also thank Mary Mosier, Operations Manager of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum, Richard Conti, Director of the national Maritime Center-Nauticus, Paul Fraim, Mayor of Norfolk and Charlie Hartig, Assistant to the Mayor, and all the background people, Joseph Judge, David Kohnen, and anyone else that I failed to mention.
That evening about 450 veterans, wives and guests attended our buffet at the Marriott. It was like a reunion again, many of us reminiscing about our days aboard the ship. Carl Capestrain, our Association President presented Busy Badger awards to Mayor Paul Fraim, Jack Kavanaugh, Charlie Hartig, Richard Conti, and David Kohnen.
Friday afternoon, President Carl Capestrain, Vice Pres. Bill Henson, 2nd Vice Pres. Gabe Fiore, Treasurer, Dave Patrykus, Recording Secretary Dick Hamann, Web Administrator and Historian Dom Menta, past President George Miller and Gene Biesiecker, our representative to the Portsmouth Naval Hospital paid a visit to the hospital. We had lunch with Connie Williams, Acting Red Cross Station Manager and Jane Smith, Red Cross Station Chairman, who gave us a tour of the facility. We were impressed on the size of the hospital. On behalf of the Wisconsin Association, Gene presented a $500 check to Connie and Jane towards the purchase of much needed items for their waiting room.
Friday night some of our veterans attended a hockey game between the Norfolk Admirals and the Rochester Americans. The Admiral Organization recognized the veterans of the USS Wisconsin and the members of the USS Cole. Mr. Mark Garcea, President and owner of the Admirals, presented a $25,000 check to the Wisconsin Foundation.
THANK YOU ADMIRALS. By the way, the Admirals won 5 to 2.
Saturday morning December 9th at 9:30 the Wisconsin became our Love Boat. Curtis Twiford and Pat Long tied the knot aboard the Wisconsin. Curtis proposed to Pat at our reunion in Mobile, Alabama in September 2000. Congratulations to both Pat and Curtis. We also had the pleasure of meeting Rose Dunning, an Associate member, who helped make parts for the Wisconsin when she was being built in the Philadelphia Navy yard in the 1940’s. She wasn’t the original Rosie the Riveter, but as far as the Wisconsin is concerned, she is our Rosie the Riveter. Rose related many interesting stories of her role in the defense plant, including meeting Albert Dunning, who later became her husband. This was Rose’s first time aboard the Wisconsin, and she was just thrilled. Rose was accompanied by her two sons, Al who is an Associate member and Jeff. Both boys were beaming with pride when the media learned of Rose’s role in the making of the Wisconsin and interviewed her.
Later in the day, at about 3:30, we were having Wisconsin withdrawals, so back we went to the ship to make sure all hatches were closed and the ship was secured for the night.
Once again we would like to thank the Mayor’s Office, the Wisconsin Foundation, the National Maritime Center-Nauticus, Hampton Roads Naval Museum, Festevents and all the contributors for a fabulous three days. Of course, we cannot forget Armed Forces Reunion, Ted and Molly Dey and Jennifer Cashat your hard work paid off. Everything went smooth.
If I have omitted anyone, please accept my apologies.
Until we meet again in April,
Fair Winds and Following Seas Shipmates
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