Apr 18, 2012

On the Road, Again...

Located in a large shopping mall, it would be easy to miss this place...
I'm in Orlando on a brief business trip, supporting a Camber proposal effort.  Whenever I travel I look for those little out-of-the-way restaurants that the locals frequent.  One of my favorites was El Coyote right here in Orlando.  So I invited my nephew David and his wife Laura to join me there on Monday night.  Sadly, El Coyote has bitten the Florida dust.  We did have a delightful dinner at the Bahama Breeze, a Caribbean restaurant owned and operated by the same organization that runs the Olive Garden chain.
The portions are generous and the food is
very well prepared.
What more could you ask for?

I began my quest to find another small, local Cuban/Caribbean restaurant.  An Internet search uncovered several but one had especially high ratings and very favorable comments.  Last night I tried it, the "Rice & Beans Cocina Latina."  It was wonderful.  I came right back to the hotel and wrote this review on Urban Spoon,

My New Favorite Restaurant!
While visiting Orlando I decided to search for some Cuban cuisine. Rice & Beans Cocina Latina had good ratings so I went there for dinner. On the recommendation of one of the very courteous staff members, I decided to have the "dinner special." It consisted of two types of rice (done to perfection), fried plantains, steamed yucca, and pork with a mild garlic sauce that I selected from a wide variety of meats. I also had Cuban expresso (fabulous!) and a cheese-based flan that was absolutely spectacular. What more can I say? I'll be back there tomorrow."

And so, according to plan, I went back.  Tonight I had a spiced roast chicken dish along with a variety of rice and beans.  I did a repeat of the Cuban expresso but decided I really didn't need the flan.  Again, everything was beautifully prepared and most flavorful.

Highly recommended!

Apr 14, 2012

My Titanic Connection

April 15, 1912 -  The Titanic slips under the waves; 1,500 die...
Shortly after the Titanic sank (100 years ago this weekend), a certain Dr. Jay Henry Mowbray published a compilation of newspaper articles about the great ship and the terrible disaster.  This book, "The Sinking of the Titanic," became a major source of information for later writers largely due to its having been published so soon after the sinking.  Chapter VIII, entitled Survivors' Stirring Stories, starts out as follows:
 "Standing at the rail of the main deck of the ill-fated Titanic, Arthur Ryerson, of Gray's lane, Haverford, Pa., waved encouragement to his wife as the lifeboat in which she and her three children — John, Emily and Susan — had been placed with his assistance glided away from the doomed ship. A few minutes later, after the lifeboat with his loved ones had passed beyond the range of his vision, Mr. Ryerson met death in the icy water into which the crushed ship plunged.
  It is now known that Mr. Ryerson might have found a place in one of the first lifeboats to be lowered, but made no effort to leave the ship's deck after assuring himself that his wife and children would be saved.
  It was not until the Carpathia reached her dock that relatives who were on hand to meet the survivors of the Ryerson family knew that little "Jack" Ryerson was among the rescued. Day by day since the first tidings of the accident to the Titanic were published, "Jack" had been placed among the missing.
  Perhaps of all those who came up from the Carpathia with the impress of the tragedy upon them, the homecoming of Mrs. Ryerson was peculiarly sad.
  While motoring with J. Lewis Hoffman, of Radnor, Pa., on the Main Line, on Monday a week before, Arthur L. Ryerson, her son, was killed. His parents abandoned their plans for a summer pleasure trip through Europe and took passage on the first home-bound ship, which happened to be the Titanic, to attend the funeral of their son. And now upon one tragedy a second presses.
  Upon leaving the Carpathia Mrs. Ryerson, almost too exhausted and weak to tell of her experiences, was taken in a taxicab to the Hotel Belmont. With her were her son "Jack" and her two daughters, Miss Emily and Miss Susan Ryerson.
  The young women were hysterical with grief as they walked up from the dock, and the little lad who had witnessed such sights of horror and tragedy clung to his mother's hand, wide eyed and sorrowful.
  Mrs. Ryerson said that she and her husband were asleep in their staterooms, as were their children, when the terrible grating crash came and the ship foundered. The women threw kimonos over their night gowns and rushed barefooted to the deck. Master Ryerson's nurse caught up a few articles of the little boy's clothing and almost as soon as the party reached the deck they were numbered off into boats and lowered into the sea."

By 1915, the Ryersons had moved to Cooperstown, New York.  But at some time between 1912 and 1915, the family, who had made a fortune in the steel industry, resided at least briefly in Schenectady, New York.  They attended the Albany Street Methodist Church, where young Jack was a member of my father's Sunday school class.

I didn't know anything about this connection until I was around 7 or 8 years old.  We lived only a couple blocks from the Schenectady County Public Library main branch.  I spent many Saturdays browsing through both the children's division and the "grown-up" books upstairs.  Somehow I ran across the Mowbray book and became totally obsessed with learning all I could about the Titanic.  One day my father saw that I was reading a book about the great ship and shared the Ryerson connection with me.  According to my dad, he and Jack Ryerson were fairly close friends while they were in Sunday school together.  Eventually, the family moved away, Jack ultimately settled in West Palm Beach, Florida.  He played serious amateur golf, having participated in some 425 tournaments around the world prior to his death in 1986 at the age of 87.

And so it was that exactly 100 years ago today the largest and most luxurious ocean liner ever built was to hit an iceberg, an event that further devastated the grieving Ryerson family, and was to cause them to cross paths with my family.  What a small world!

Apr 8, 2012

Laura Jean Murray (1921-2012)

The notice in the Norman Transcript, preliminary as it may have been, simply didn't do her justice.  "Laura J. Murray, 90, of Norman died Wednesday, April 4, 2012. Arrangements are pending with Primrose Funeral Service...."  To anyone who knew this wonderful lady, even the notice should have said a whole lot more.

I first met Laura Jean when I arrived at the University of Oklahoma's Naval ROTC unit in August, 1965.  She greeted me when I walked into the office.  Her desk was right in front of the door.  She was the first person you would encounter when entering the office.  She was the face of OU's NROTC unit.

I was to learn that Laura Jean had been married to Colonel Joseph Murray, a man destined to be selected for Brigadier when he was struck down by a fatal heart attack while in his forties.  This had left Laura Jean to move on without the love of her life to help raise their teen aged daughter Marilyn.  Laura Jean had worked for a state senator for a couple years when the NROTC job became available.  She was very excited about the opportunity to work with the military.

From the start, you knew that this was a very special lady.  She exuded elegance in a very down-to-earth way.  There was not a hair out of place and she always wore proper professional attire, but Laura Jean treated everyone like family.  She knew no strangers.  And you knew by her manner that she was in charge and everything was under control.

I don't know how long LJ worked for the unit, but it was a lo-o-o-ng time.  Probably thirty years.  And the amazing thing is that she touched the lives of every Midshipman who came through the unit.  She was their resident mother.  And she remembered them - each and every one.  She referred to them by all three of their names, if they had middle names.  That's the way she entered them on the countless forms that she filled out -- David Allen Jones, Michael Thomas Myers, and so on.

Her involvement went way beyond the mundane processing of data; she
loved these young men.  They were her kids.  She laughed and cried with them.  They asked her for advice and she gave it.  And always upbeat and with a smile.

I remember those days when we heard that some of our graduates had died in Viet Nam.  She cried the tears of a mother who had lost one of her own.  And when graduates came back to visit with wives and kids in tow, it was time for the joy of a mother holding her new grandchild.

The unit recognized Laura Jean in a very special way a few years ago and it's a story worth telling.  One of the unit's Commanding Officers, Captain Urice, had a brilliant idea.  The drug enforcement agency had a glut of seized property, including some beautiful yachts, that had belonged to some drug lords.  Why not acquire one of these to use as a training vessel to teach midshipmen how to sail?  And who better to name it after than Laura Jean Murray?

They acquired one of the seized sailboats and had it refurbished.  There was the minor issue of the navy policy of never naming its vessels after living persons.  That was solved with a discrete congressional resolution making an exception.  And so was born the "Laura Jean," the unit's own training vessel, to be kept at Lake Thunderbird, not far from Norman.

Of course, LJ knew nothing of these developments.  

On March 19th, 1985, the big day of its christening, the boat (ship?)
, its freshly-painted hull glistening, was perched on a low-boy truck and trailer.  It was brought around the Parrington Oval on campus and parked in front of the administration building.  There were seats for the assembled dignitaries and a podium and a small military band.  As I heard the story, the Captain asked Laura Jean to accompany him to the admin building to take care of some administrative items.  They proceeded from the NROTC armory to the back of Evans Hall.  The crowd was assembled in front where she couldn't see them.  The CO escorted her through the building and out the front door to her total surprise.  The president of the university and many others paid tribute to her dedication and contributions, after which the "Laura Jean" was properly christened.  I can't imagine a more deserving namesake.

Rest in peace, LJ.  Once again, you're with your beloved Joe.

Apr 1, 2012

Captain Callahan...

On page 14 of the November, 1959, issue of the Rochester Review (the alumni magazine of the University of Rochester) appeared the following innocuous notice: "Capt. Cornelius P. Callahan, USN, has been appointed professor of naval science and commanding officer of the UR Naval ROTC unit, replacing Col. Noah J. Rodeheffer, USMC, who has been named advisor to the Korean Marine Corps."  Unless Captain Callahan had family connections to the Rochester area, I don't suppose it was a terribly exciting assignment.  He had just served as commanding officer of the USS Thomaston (LSD-28), an amphibious landing ship of about 11,000 tons and some 500' in length, home based in San Diego.  The NROTC unit at Rochester wasn't very large and didn't have the "gung-ho" reputation held by some other units -- Auburn, Notre Dame, and Villanova come to mind.  I was a sophomore at the time, and I don't recall that the event caused much of a ripple within the unit.  It was a normal rotation.  Professors of naval science typically served a 2- or 3-year tour.

We midshipmen soon learned that Captain Callahan had been a submarine officer during World War II.  I don't recall much more than that about his career.  One of the benefits that I received was his institution of "submarine weekends" at New London/Groton, Connecticut.  We would sign up for a long weekend excursion (sometimes they were scheduled during spring break) during which we would be bussed over to the U.S.Naval Submarine Base at Groton, where we would board diesel-powered training submarines and go out for a 1- or 2-night indoctrination cruise.  For a midshipman with a very real interest in taking the submarine option upon commissioning, this was a genuine treat.  As it turned out, I could not get accepted to submarine school immediately upon graduation and, shortly thereafter, Admiral Rickover established a policy of only accepting math, science, and engineering graduates.  My submarine future disappeared.

USS Bass (SS-164)

Not long ago, I was recalling Captain Callahan and what a fine inspirational leader he was.  I became curious as to what submarines he might have served on in the war.  The results have been most interesting.  I learned that he was commissioned in 1938 -- a Naval Academy graduate.   I also learned that LCDR Callahan took command of the USS Bass (SS-164) on December 31 1943 and remained in that position until 31 January 1945.  Prior to Captain Callahan's arrival, Bass had become well known for a fire in the after battery compartment that had killed 26 men in 1942.  The boat, commissioned in 1924, was of an experimental design that never proved satisfactory.  During 1944 and early 1945, under CDR Callahan's command, Bass was assigned to SubRon 1, Atlantic Fleet, and operated out of New London in the area between Long Island and Block Island.  It was after leaving Bass that Captain Callahan's career got really interesting.  On 7 August 1945, CDR Cornelius Callahan relieved CDR Eugene B. Fluckey, USN, as Commanding Officer of USS Barb (SS-220).

If USS Barb rings a bell, it is no wonder; Barb sank more Japanese tonnage than any other U.S. submarine.  Barb is officially credited with sinking 17 enemy vessels totaling 96,628 tons, including the escort carrier Unyo, sunk on 16 September 1944.  And if the name Fluckey rings a bell, that is not surprising either.  According to Wikipedia, "Fluckey was awarded the Navy Cross four times for extraordinary heroism during the eighth, ninth, tenth, and twelfth war patrols of Barb. During his famous eleventh patrol, he continued to revolutionize submarine warfare, inventing the night convoy attack from astern by joining the flank escort line.  He attacked two convoys at anchor 26 miles (42 km) inside the 20 fathom (37 m) curve on the China coast, totaling more than 30 ships.  With two frigates pursuing, Barb set a then-world speed record for a submarine of 23.5 knots (44 km/h) using 150% overload.  For his conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity, Fluckey received the Medal of Honor.  Barb received the Presidential Unit Citation for the eighth through eleventh patrols and the Navy Unit Commendation for the twelfth patrol."
USS Barb's Battle Flag, 1945.  Note the train at the bottom, representing the train
destroyed by the Barb's landing party on 23 July 1945

In Admiral Fluckey's memoir, Thunder Below, he recalls meeting then Lieutenant Commander Callahan for the first time:

"Lieutenant Commander Cornelius Patrick Callahan stood quietly on the pier, scrutinizing the Barb and her crew at quarters during our uproarious welcome to Midway.  Spotting him in the background as the high brass poured on board, I hoped for a moment when time would stand still.

Word had arrived that he was destined to relieve me as commanding officer.  He would take my Barb away from me.  Now I realized what a grasping mistress she had become, not only for myself but for all on board.  No one wanted to leave her.  Yet reason and the surety of change pressed such thoughts aside.  I thought, be happy that you were permitted to have the forbidden fifth patrol in command.  Be happy that no one under your command ever received the Purple Heart Medal for being wounded.  Be happy that in spite of having erratic- and circular-run torpedoes and more shells, bombs, and depth charges directed at the Barb than at any other submarine, she came home unscathed, whereas others were lost to the enemy or their own error.  Be happy that the Barb would receive more medals for factual achievements than any other submarine.  Finally, realize that 'when one door shuts, another door opens' -- even if you have to nudge it.  Our pride showed -- and I intended that it should."

I can't even begin to imagine how challenged Captain Callahan must have felt trying to fill those shoes!  I recall him as being a humble, soft-spoken leader.  Could he have ever been otherwise?

He greeted the Barb on August 2nd 1945.  Four days later the first atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima.  The next day, Cornelius Callahan relieved Eugene Fluckey as the Barb's Commanding Officer.  Captain Fluckey asked "Pat" Callahan if he would mind conducting the ceremony in a private setting rather than on the pier in front of the high brass.  Captain Callahan immediately agreed, realizing that this was a huge emotional hurdle for his predecessor.  The change of command took place in the bar at the officer's club on Midway.  At high noon, with his crew looking as good as he had ever seen them, Eugene Fluckey formally handed over the command.

I learned that Captain Callahan died in 1994 at the age of 79 and is buried in the national cemetery at Fort Rosecrans, Point Loma, San Diego County, California.  Rest in peace my leader and teacher.

A Visit to Toledo

Self portrait of El Greco
In the Autumn of 1982, my University of Rochester class was holding its 20th reunion (Make me feel old -- we're about to hold our 50th this coming October!). Margo and I had decided to attend and in order to include our dogs, we would be driving.

Shortly before our planned trip, I happened to read an article in Time magazine describing an exhibit that was taking place at the art museum in Toledo, Ohio. The Toledo Museum of Art had organized the exhibition, called El Greco of Toledo, along with the Museo del Prado, Madrid, the National Gallery of Art, and the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts.  It included  66 catalogued paintings included 32 from Spain and reflected the political, religious, and artistic life of Toledo at the time of El Greco (1541-1614).  As the article described it, the exhibition drew paintings and documents from Spanish churches and monasteries, and from museums and private collections in Europe and America and was the most comprehensive aggregation of El Greco's work ever attempted.  I suggested to Margo that we go to Toledo on our way to Rochester and see the exhibit.
"Portrait of a Lady"

We departed a day early and drove to Toledo.  We went to the art museum the next morning a few minutes before it opened at 9:00 AM.  I was surprised to see such a long line!  I waited until I got to the ticket booth -- about a half-hour as I recall.  I informed the lady that I'd like two tickets.  I was shocked when she said, "I can get you in at 2:00 PM on November 17th."  I must have looked dumbfounded as I explained that we had just driven up from Alabama to see the exhibition and had no idea that we couldn't just walk in!  She turned to her colleague.  "Mary, I've got two people here who have driven all the way from Alabama.  Is there any way we can squeeze them in this morning?"  We received two tickets to be admitted at 11:00 AM.  Sometimes ignorance really is bliss.
"John the Baptist"

The exhibit was spectacular.  It followed El Greco's works chronologically, starting with icon-like portraits and miniatures from his earliest years and progressing to the large awesome altar pieces for which he is best known.  The final gallery into which we progressed contained a single work, his gigantic crucifixion scene that now hangs in the Museo del Prado in Madrid.  I still get goosebumps remembering the moment I saw it!

Considering how serendipitous this experience was, it is remarkable what a lasting impression it made...

"Crucifixion of Jesus"