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Reunions and Coming Home

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Here we are. The Dog Days of Summer are coming to a close and we start to look forward to getting a little cooler weather. With Congress out of Washington for their ‘Summer Recess,’ I’ve got little to write about on the national front. Supposedly, our elected representatives are communing with their constituents and feeling the pulse of the voters—at least in theory. 

In reality what they are doing is to trying to convince the voters that by blocking everything, compromising on nothing and passing bills that will accomplish nothing, they are doing good things for the country. Good things my butt! The 113th Congress is the least productive Congress in our history. 

The 113th Congress makes the 80th of the Truman Era look positively dynamic! They have wasted a great deal of our money by voting 40 times to overturn the Affordable Care Act and their latest ploy is to threaten to shut down the government if ‘Obamacare’ isn’t defunded. This is another non-starter to make their Right Wing base happy. I keep waiting for the American voter to wake up but see no signs of that happening yet. Onward and upward.

I would like to give a great big “Well Done” to all the people who attended and bought at the ‘Veterans Helping Veterans in Need’ yard sale in early August this year. The monies raised—$5,715.38 total —will be divided equally between the Marine Corps League Detachment 1110, Disabled American Veterans Audie Murphy Chapter 15, and Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 890. These monies will be used to help needy veterans throughout the area. The sponsors of this event also deserve recognition. They are Steve’s Import Auto Service, Sandpoint Storage and the Bonner County Daily Bee. Thanks to all who made this worthwhile event a success!

On the topic of “We leave no one behind,” I’m proud to say that the remains of USMC Pfc Manley F. Winkley have been identified and brought home and were buried with full military honors on August 24, 2013. Pfc Winkley was reported KIA on Tarawa on November 20, 1943 and buried in one of many battlefield cemeteries, along with approximately 1,000 other Marines.

In the aftermath of the battles for Tarawa, Navy ‘SeaBees’ did significant restructuring of the atoll for use by U.S. forces and after the war and many of the cemeteries could not be found. In 2012 the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command conducted excavation activities and discovered the remains and equipment that appeared to be those of American servicemen from WWII.

One of those remains has been identified by JPAC and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory using circumstantial evidence, radiographs and dental records and made a match with Winkley’s records. Of the more than 16 million Americans who served during WWII, over 400,000 died and there are still more than 73,000 to be recovered. The people at JPAC have been charged with continuing the search until all our fallen come home.

New paragraph – new topic. Early in September my bride and I will start a cross country trek that I hope will accomplish many things. We are headed to two reunions: one in Florida and one in South Carolina, Florida for our 55th high school reunion. Yes, my bride and I graduated from the same high school in 1958. While we graduated together I did not see her again for over 50 years until September 2008, when I attended my 50th reunion in Ft Lauderdale.

The South Carolina reunion is of even more personal significance. In October of 1960, as a newly minted ETRSN [Electronics Technician (RADAR) Seaman] I reported onboard the USS FISKE (DDR 842) homeported in Mayport, Florida. I didn’t know it at the time but the FISKE was to be the start of my Navy career. At that time I really believed that I would only do one enlistment. I was just barely 20 years old and fresh out Great Lakes Boot Camp and ‘A’ School when I first saw the FISKE tied to Delta Pier in Mayport, Florida.

The first ET I met onboard was ETN3 Lou ‘Ski’ Schmeiske. He had the ‘duty’ that Friday and his first words were, “Find a bunk below and we’ll see you Monday morning.” That was my introduction to the Atlantic Fleet Destroyer Navy. I found a bunk, top rack adjacent to the After Steering Room, and stowed my seabag in the only empty footlocker near my bunk. 

That was to be the beginning of almost three years onboard the Fiske during which we made two Mediterranean Cruises of six months each; numerous trips to the sunny Caribbean, including a little fun trip known to the world as “The Cuban Missile Crisis” and a stint in Charleston, SC that probably cost our Commanding Officer any chance for future promotion.

‘Ski’ and the rest of the crew onboard at that time became my family. We worked together, drank together, fought over trivial things and would do anything for each other. We drilled and trained on responses to simulated fires, nuclear attack, fuel spills, chemical warfare et al until we did everything that needed to be done without thinking.

Lou Schmeiske died late last year and I regret never having had the opportunity to have a beer with him after I last saw him in late 1962. He returned to upstate New York when he got out and I never saw him again. Lou was my mentor and role model. He was extremely, creatively profane, smoked and was probably the best communications technician I ever worked with. His commitment to ‘His Transmitters’ knew no bounds and he had the scars to prove it. In his off-hours ‘Ski’ played drums for the ship’s band. 

The USS Fiske lives on in the memories of all who served on her between 1945 and 1980. She was designed and built to win a war and managed to serve our nation for far longer than intended. Back in the ‘80s, a few former Fiske sailors got together and formed an Association. They have been holding a biannual reunion on the last full weekend of September ever since. That is my reason for heading to Charleston, SC. As the current President of that Association it is mandatory that I attend. As someone who came to love that ship and all those that served on her it is necessary for my soul to attend. 

I intend to have several beers with those who come to Charleston. The last Fiske sailor served on her until June 1980 when Fiske was transferred to the Turkish Navy and became the Piyale Pasa. That was over 30 years ago. We are all getting older and it may not be much longer that we are able to gather in camaraderie and to share memories of what we have come to call the “Best Damned Tin Can in the Atlantic Fleet”. 

Until next month, take care of yourself and be kind to each other. I wish all fair winds and following seas.

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Author info

Gil  Beyer Gil Beyer A 21 year Navy veteran, lived in Bonner County for over 30 years, Past Commander of the Priest River DAV Chapter and admitted news junkie.

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Veterans News, reunions, USMC Pfc Manley F Winkley

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