I have a lot of expectations for next week. The last reunion we attended was in Pigeon Forge back in 1999. That was where I met James Merriman and Lee Gray, even got a photo taken with the gentlemen. Mr. Merriman and I have stayed in touch over the years and I truly hope to see him this year. The son of Stanley Hoder, Andrew Hoder, has become a partner in crime, so to speak. I will finally get to meet him face to face and thank him for all his help with research over the years (and we'll be bringing you a little surprise, Andy. And sorry, it doesn't have anything to do with Ashley Judd).
So, back to my expectations. When I spoke with Bill Kiminski, the president of the Strong Association, he asked me, “What do you think we can do to help you?” A valid question, and one I had to think about because the answer is complicated. There's more to this than just letting people know what I'm doing, trying to put together support for an expedition and all the other reasons I'm doing this you can find on the first page of my web site. But what I want from the men at the reunion, both the men of the 467 and the 758 – is to understand a bit more about the experience of a sailor at sea. I'll never be in the Navy, never spend time at sea on a destroyer, never know what it feels like to spend day after day on GQ, at the ready with the responsibility of watching the sky, sea and water for overt threats to my health and safety and that of my shipmates. Unless I get a chance to travel to the Solomons, I'll never know what it's like to pull into port in Tulagi, Rice Anchorage, or head to the New Hebrides and Espiritu Santo for some time on shore, just to get my two tickets for beer and maybe play some softball on the beach to let off steam. Or know the pleasure of the escape from a few hours on deck on a starry night watching Hollywood's latest hit with my crew – or know the mindless and numbing feeling that this sense of being on alert will never end and that I'll never get off this boat and back home to my loved ones. These men can share these experiences with me if they choose to, and through them I can learn more about my uncle during the last 7 months of his life. I also want to acquire some contacts in the Navy, and pick their brains for ideas on how to raise funds to actually pull this off. Over the few days we're together, they can get to know me and understand my commitment to this project. I hope to be blissfully overwhelmed with information and new friends.
So now, I'll just share some excerpts from Captain Wellings' last letter home before the ship was lost. Dated July 1st, 1943, it turned out to be painfully prophetic:
“Today is the first of July – the start of the second half of 1943. I feel sure that when the second half is finished this war will be closer to the end. We should have made definite gains in Europe with Hitler seeing the beginning of the end. Out here in the Pacific we should have enough re-enforcements to start carrying the war to the Japs.
I sincerely hope that before the second half is half over I will be back with my sweetheart again. I intend writing to Bill at the first opportunity and tell him that I want to be detached next month (August), get some leave and then get a division on the east coast – if I can get a big boat division or go with him if I can get a month or two in the States while the Division is fitting out and training. I don't want to rely on going with Bill because he may be forced to stay ashore at the last minute and if I am going to operate out here I want a good squadron Commander. Incidentally my present Squadron Commander – Captain (recently promoted) MacInerney (Friend of Teds) is a peach.”
During Welling's tenure on Strong, he was always hoping to be called back. He saw many of his contemporaries head home to other duties due to seniority, and hoped the same could happen for him, to serve closer to home or stateside. He got his wish, just in the most painful way possible.
Have a great week wherever you are, and check in when you can. As always, I welcome comments, suggestions, ideas and any information you would care to share about your Strong sailor.