I am going to start this 2015 letter a little differently than in past years. I think that, over the many years I have been doing this, I tend to take for granted that all of you know all that I know about the Kretchmer and her crew, from her WWII years to the present. Realizing that most of you have not attended a reunion and many of you do not do computers, or just have not yet joined your shipmates on our website, I will take this opportunity to pass along some things you may not be aware of.
Our latest achievement is that we finally got a new plaque installed on the Kretchmer gun mount at the American Legion Post #28 in Key West Florida. Many of you may not know that one of the Kretchmer’s 3”/50 gun mounts has been on display at this location since 1988. In February of 2014, Dave Sautte visited the site and was disappointed that there was no identifying plaque on, or near, the mount. He posted a message expressing this on the website message board which prompted many responses from shipmates that we should fix this. So, with input from many shipmates, I had a plaque made and shipped to the post in August, 2014. After many months of frustrating attempts to have the plaque installed on the mount, the election of a new Post Commander in August of 2015 finally got results. The brass plaque was installed on September 10, 2015 and the Post Commander sent photos of the mount as she looks today. There is much more to this story, too detailed to cover here, but I have put the “Story of the Kretchmer Gun Mount” into a notebook and hope to have it added to the website HISTORY pages in the near future.
Again, for those who may not know, this is one of four plaques honoring our ship. The first is on the “Commemorative Wall” at the NAVY MEMOMRIAL in D.C. Another is at the Convention Center in Charlotte, North Carolina and one honoring our WWII vets in the “Memorial Garden” at the “NIMITZ MUSEUM OF WWII” in Fredricksburg, Texas. We are well represented around the country.
This next item is of benefit to our Viet Nam vets. If you have been denied an agent orange related benefit in the past, you were probably told that Kretchmer was not on the list of approved ships. Well, you may want to re-apply because she is now on that list, thanks greatly, to the existence of the Kretchmer web site. Another long story, so I will give you the short version.
In February of 2012, Amy Fletcher, an attorney with the National Veterans Legal Services Program contacted me through the web site, seeking information on the Kretchmer’s whereabouts during her Viet Nam tours. She was pursuing this information in order to settle a Kretchmer veteran’s widow’s benefits. Knowing nothing about this, I granted her membership into the site and told her to post a message describing what information she was trying to obtain. She did this and got a wealth of information from many shipmates, mainly from Len Kies and Earl Chinn. Len provided the deck logs from 1967 and 1968, which he obtained from the Archives and has posted in the HISTORY tab on the web site. Using this information, Amy and her staff were able to influence the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to confirm that the Kretchmer did qualify for the list of ships that earned the right to claim Agent Orange benefits, effective January, 2013. I have posted a link to the official list of these ships on our web site. Click on the LINKS tab and then click on the proper link.
Here is news for shipmates who served during the Cold War. Congress has designated the period from 2 September 1945 through 26 December 1991 as the period of the Cold War. Kretchmer crewmen who served during this time are eligible to receive an official “COLD WAR RECOGNITION CERTIFICATE”. The process is fairly simple and the certificate is really neat! I have posted a link to one of the information sources on the web. Again, LINKS tab and click on the proper link. One more item, U.S. NAVY MEMORIAL has a feature named THE NAVY LOG. You can send your Navy history to this web site and the information is entered into a computer base, available to view on line and at the Memorial. Family, friends and shipmates can access this info for many years to come. I mention this because, in scanning the entries from other DERs, I think we are not very well represented in comparison. One more time, go to the NAVY MEMORIAL link on the LINKS tab.
Now, let’s get to the annual reunion recap. This year’s event, held in the “Motor City”, Detroit, Michigan, was hosted by Lucy and Ralph Sulek, with contributions from son, Lance and daughter, Jennifer. All of the nearly 80 mates, first mates and family who attended extend a sincere “Thanks” for a job well done!
Ralph and Lucy chose the “Double Tree Detroit/ Dearborn” as our base of operations for the 4 day event. An excellent choice, with great facilities, great staff, located a few short miles from the HENRY FORD MUSEUM and GREENFIELD VILLAGE, where we would tour on Thursday. Of course, Carolyn and I opted to come in a day early and stay over for the “after party” affair in Frankenmuth, a short drive north from Detroit. So we made the relatively short, uneventful drive (except for the construction delays!! on I-75) and arrived early afternoon on Tuesday. We met with Suleks and the hotel rep, Mimi, and went over the details, made a few tweaks and made sure we were all on the same page. Kudos to Mimi, as she made the entire event a smooth and problem free experience. The rest of the day was spent meeting and mingling with several other early arrivals, got the hospitality room opened, a day early thanks to Mimi. Evening meal time came and some went to nearby restaurants and a few of us said “yes” to Ralph and Lucy’s invitation to join them for a pizza at their favorite neighborhood Italian place, “Frank’s Restaurant and Pizzaria” in Wyandotte, wherever that is. Good choice. Pizza was great, as was the company of Jim Alansky, Jim Morrissey, Sally and Jerry Young, Suleks and us. Got in some sightseeing on the drive, interesting and some historically significant areas along the Detroit River.
Wednesday morning, breakfast in the hotel dining room, included in the room rate, was more than adequate. The rest of the day, with the hospitality room as the gathering place, we exchanged hand-shakes and hugs to the many Kretchmer mates and first mates, arriving throughout the day, got through the registration process, managed by Lucy and Sheri and were soon sitting down for the first night’s buffet dinner. Did the intros, talked a little business, had a great meal with great conversation, then adjourned to the hospitality room. We had a great night there, but Sally Hafey had a gripe for Ralph. Not happy using plates with a gigantic block “M” with maize and blue colors!!!!! (Think about it). However, the odd shaped home-baked cookies were delicious! A great time with old and new shipmates until very late.
Thursday morning comes early. Did the breakfast gathering, then off to board the bus for today’s tour. Since our destination, Henry Ford Museum/Greenfield Village, is only a few short miles from the hotel, Ralph came up with a brilliant idea. Let’s charter a school bus and run a “shuttle” to and from the museum from 0900 to 1600, round trip every hour. We can then choose how much time we want to spend, and return to the hotel when we choose. Ralph saved hundreds of dollars by using the school bus instead of the traditional coach. Well worth the hard ride, which reminded many of the days-gone-by when we fit comfortably into those seats!!
Of the three tour offers, Carolyn and I chose the Ford Museum and the Ford Truck Assembly Plant option. There is no way anyone could tour all three (the museum, the village and the plant) in one day, and even with the two options we chose, we only got to half of the museum. Upon arrival at the museum, we boarded the shuttle to the Ford River Rouge Truck Plant. This facility is unbelievably huge! Three miles long and turning out 1200 F-150’s per day. After watching two video presentations, we leisurely observed the workings of the plant from the walkway above and were in awe of the speed and intricacy involved on this assembly line. We then boarded the shuttle for the ride back to the museum. Immediately we are almost stunned by the size of the building and the vast array of items on exhibit. We took a break for a quick lunch at one of the several eateries, then wandered from one outstanding exhibit to the next.
I don’t think we saw one third of all there is to this experience, but we had to make the gift shop, also!! Finally, nearing 1600, time to board the last school bus shuttle back to the hotel. I highly recommend visiting this fabulous attraction in Dearborn. We all returned to the hotel nearly worn out, but feeling extremely entertained and educated by what we had seen. So, all refreshed and ready for another great evening, we headed to the room for the dinner. Before we adjourned to the hospitality room, John Michael had this idea that a shipmate give an account of his time aboard, i.e., the ship’s duties, assignments and ports-of-call. He volunteered, since it was his idea, to be the first. He gave us a very well researched insight into the period from 1956-1962, including the formation of the DEW line and the need for DERs to monitor aircraft heading toward the US from stations in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. I am looking for more volunteers to continue this feature.
Our Friday tours required some logistical planning. Two buses would be used, one will be the school bus for the one-stop tour and the other a coach for the Detroit tour. We divide into two groups, one for each bus, and go our separate ways for the morning, then meeting at the Renaissance Center and GM Building for a tour and lunch. Following this, we switch buses and reverse the tours and return to the hotel. We did this successfully and no one got left behind!
Carolyn and I took the school bus group to start the day. A relatively short drive took us to the Ford Piquette Plant. This facility was the first Ford “factory” and birthplace of the Model “T”. Very well preserved building in a very old and historically significant section of Detroit. The guide took us through the three floors and showed how the earliest autos were assembled. Each work station had a crew of a few men who would assemble the entire car by hand. There were many of the earliest Fords and other manufacturer’s vehicles on display. Then, too soon, we are back on the bus on our way to the Ren-Cen, to meet up with our other group for the GM Bldg. tour and lunch.
Now, pay attention here because I have to set this up. Sulek’s daughter, Jennifer worked for a time in the GM building. So, when she learned that Ralph and Lucy were planning this reunion and including a tour of the facility, she got the idea that GM could do something special for the Kretchmer vets. She presented her idea to several of her GM contacts and the response from the GM people was amazing. She teamed up with George Baker, US Army Lt.Col, Retired Reserve, and now an exec with General Motors OnStar operation, and others. They, with Jenn’s influence, decided that we should get more than just the “general public’s tour”. We were to be given a tour of GM’s OnStar Command Center and several other VIP perks. So, we knew we were in for a great time, but even Jenn had no idea what all would take place. Both of our buses arrived at the entrance at the designated time and were joined by Sulek’s son, Lance and daughters, Jennifer and Kristen, with her brand new baby girl, then we leisurely entered the massive three story lobby/atrium. As I approached the doors, I heard loud applause and cheering from inside. Through the door and we were met with hundreds of GM employees, many on the main floor and many more along the railings of the two balconies above, all clapping, cheering, whistling, eager to shake hands and say “thank you” as we proceeded through the lobby. At the front of each ground floor group was a Chief Petty Officer in dress whites to greet us. (I had never seen a CPO in dress whites). Draped from the third floor was a huge banner, “GM Welcomes USS Kretchmer” with a huge photo of the ship and four of our patches prominently displayed. (We now own this banner). The welcoming cheers continued until the last of our group had passed through the lobby and into a huge room, they call it the “Showroom”, to be met by the men who would be our guides for the day. As we assembled in this designated area, I was seriously choked up and trying to process what had just happened and as I looked around, I was glad to see that I was not the only one with tears of appreciation for this overwhelming reception.
After a welcoming talk and introduction of our hosts, all of whom had military backgrounds, and they conducted the entire operation with military precision . We were divided into two groups and led on separate routes, then separated each group into two smaller groups. We had a “briefing” in a conference room, then on to the OnStar Command Center and the other interesting parts of this huge and beautiful building.
We took a break for lunch in the awesome food court, then were turned over to one of the guides of the general population tours. She took us to the 72nd floor for a panoramic view of the Detroit River and Canada on one side and Metro-Detroit on the other. After this, we re-assembled in the showroom for closing comments and some picture taking.
Lance Sulek had the foresight to take a video of our breath-taking reception as we entered the building. If you were not there, or if you want to see it again, I have posted a link to the video on the web site. Open the LINKS page and click on facebook/lancesulek to view.
We left the building and boarded the “other” bus and we were on the coach headed for a great tour of Detroit proper. One stop was the beautiful FISHER BUILDING, of Fisher Body fame. This is an architectural gem as it is all gold and marble, a must-see in Detroit. We saw the MOTOWN RECORDS studio, Tiger Stadium and many more landmarks of the city. We were back at the hotel with plenty of time to kick back in the hospitality room, where the conversation was mostly centered on the feelings we all had as we were greeted by the GM employees. Soon, into the dining room for more good grub and great gab.
Time to welcome and to hear from our “first-timers” for this year.
Janis and Paul Lefkowitz RM, 70-73
Ann and Richard OBrian Off, 62-64
Karen and Gene Statema EN, 70
Harvey Isabell QM, 68-71
Saturday morning is a leisurely breakfast and free time until 1300, Auction Time. I’m talking about our annual “White Elephant Auction”. I cannot adequately describe this fun event, but the basics are, you donate stuff and then you bid on other people’s stuff, sight unseen. To get the full picture, you just have to be there. This year’s event was another roaring success, thanks to auctioneer Jim Alansky and ”money-runner” Marge McKenna. They did an outstanding job, as always. Thanks for all the great donations and all of your generous bidding. This event is one of our two biggest money-makers. The other is dues paid. (hint hint)
Auction is followed by mates and first-mates separate meetings, hospitality room time and then to the “mess hall” for the final evening’s meal and business. Larry Kessler has been doing duty aboard the museum ship LST 325, moored on the Ohio River in Evansville, Indiana, for a couple of weeks, the past two years. This year, as a recognized crew man, was able to make the ship’s annual cruise. He gave us a rundown on his duties and adventure aboard as the ship made the journey up the Ohio to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Linda picked him up in Cincinnati on Friday so that they could make the drive to Detroit in time for Saturday’s party. Larry invited me to join him this year, said it is a lot of fun. I told him that I don’t have any skills and I hate to paint, so, no thanks! Carolyn and I have toured the ship, very impressive.
After dinner, we held the drawings for the winning tickets of the various raffles. Some very neat items were won by lucky ticket holders in what I call the “other stuff” raffle. Jim Withall won Learn’s unique Kretchmer model, to return next year. Bonnie McCartney won the 50-50 raffle, and then gave back part of the winnings to the treasury, thank you very much. Next, John Michael gave us the preliminary plans for the 2016 reunion near his home town of Villa Hills, Kentucky, just across the Ohio from Cincinnati. The hotel is the DoubleTree at the greater Cincinnati Airport, room rate is $105 per, including the full breakfast. Dates are Sept.14- 18, 2016. John and Rosemarie are looking forward to seeing all of you there!
This next bit came as a complete surprise. Ralph took the mic and invited Sheri and Bruce Erbaugh and Carolyn to the front. He then presented a plaque to Sheri and Bruce and another to Carolyn and me. From the Kretchmer Reunion Group, “In appreciation for many years of leadership and service to our group”. This was greatly appreciated, but unnecessary. THANK YOU! It has been an honor for me (with Carolyn’s support) to do what we do.
Then it is my turn to present, on behalf of The Group, a plaque to Ralph and Lucy, expressing appreciation for their efforts to make this 28th annual reunion such a great success. “For the fun time had and great memories made” in the Motor City, September, 2015. Then, with all of the business and ceremonies finished, the banner is passed and it is time for one last night of enjoying each other’s company in the hospitality room.
Sunday mornings are always hectic, with last good-byes and hugs all around, one last breakfast to enjoy, clearing the hospitality room of the vast array of memorabilia, taking down the flag and banners and disposing of the trash one last time. Cars are packed and, by noon, most are headed home.
Special “Thanks”, this year to: Ralph and Lucy Sulek, Sheri and Bruce Erbaugh, Jim Alansky, Marge McKenna, Peter Gamwell, Jim Morrissey, Betty Kropp, Teri Dicus and Dana White.
David Turner 71-72, E6 Jess Willis 45-46
Henry “Hank” Asmar 43-46, RM Randy Johnson 70-73, RM
Germaine Monastero, widow of Joe
But, wait, there’s more. We took advantage of Ralph’s invitation to spend Monday and Tuesday in Frankenmuth, a German themed village north of Detroit. So, with the plan to stay in the hotel Sunday night and make the trip to Frankenmuth on Monday, we had the rest of Sunday open. We solved that with a two-hour lunch cruise on the Detroit River with Ralph and Lucy and Peggy and Peter Gamwell. Then Suleks took us on a sightseeing tour of some of the interesting areas of greater Detroit. One site that I found really sad was the old Packard Automobile plant, a mile long brick factory that closed in the mid-fifties and has been left to deteriorate. We saw many stately homes abandoned, boarded up or partially burned, alongside homes being renovated and some new homes being built.
Monday morning we made our way to Frankenmuth and settled into the Bavarian Inn Lodge, a very nice facility, met up with Suleks and Hafeys and did the “shoppers shuffle” for most of the next two days, including much too much time in Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, the largest store of its kind anywhere! Luther and I managed to sneak in a tour of the local Military Museum, very interesting, with displays dedicated to Michigan Veterans of all the wars. We shared a great meal in the Inn’s restaurant with Suleks, Hafeys, Bob and Diane Doyle, Joe and Carolyn Peirce, Roger and Verna Chapman, Betty Kropp, and Ron and Sharon Basil.
Wednesday morning, the party is over and we are headed home. However, we made one more stop before heading south. Ralph told us of a museum ship moored on the Saginaw River in Bay City. So, we drove up there and spent a couple of hours touring the USS Edson DD964. She was commissioned in November, 1958 and decommissioned in December, 1988. She is still a work-in-progress, but very well restored and maintained. Well worth the extra trip.
Alas, nothing more to do but make the drive home. We managed to stay off of I75 and had a smooth ride, all the while discussing the great memories we will have of this great experience with our “Kretchmer Family’. As with the end of each reunion, we can hardly wait for this September when we can do it again, this time much closer to home, in Kentucky!!! Wishing all of you a “Very Happy and Healthy 2016” and we hope to see you all soon.