Gregory Schon of Newport News took his wife Carol sailing on the York for their 15th anniversary. With sails reefed in warm 15-18 mph winds from the southwest, he celebrated appropriately by reaching 15.7 mph.
Carol is a retired lab technician who moved up the hospital and corporate ladder to get into sales, traveling the country extensively. “That’s how we met,” she said, “at a hospital.”
We sailed to the USCG Training Center and tacked upriver to go under the Coleman Bridge to see the USS Fort McHenry, which came into port the previous night at the Navy’s Naval Weapons Station.
“Gregory served in Vietnam,” Carol said proudly. He said, “I was all over the place, from Cam Ranh Bay to Pleiku all the way to the DMZ. I served in the 101st Airborne. People ask about the 82nd Airborne, but they were there only briefly. They forget that during Vietnam, the 82nd was deployed to the unrest in the Dominican Republic.”
I asked if he ever jumped in Vietnam. “No, not a combat jump. They offered to let us do it just to jump, but I didn’t see the point of landing in a bunch of trees.” Eventually he wound up at Fort Bragg NC with the Army’s 3rd Special Forces.
“Tell him about the Cuba Gooding Jr. movie,” Carol said as we drove past the USS Fort McHenry, docked.
“I am a retired orthotist/prosthetest,” he said proudly, where we made prosethetic limbs for the VA patients. Our team made a leg for Carol Brashear, whom Gooding played in the movie ‘Men of Honor.’” Brashear was famously the first African-American master diver in the US Navy.
“He lost his lower leg in a Navy accident on a ship, but was determined to stay in. Not a very tall guy, maybe 5-feet-8. He had a cameo part in the movie for about 10 seconds, but you wouldn’t know it unless you knew him and what he looked like.”
A Navy patrol boat with a .30 caliber machine gun on the bow shadowed us as we sailed past the Fort McHenry a second time. I radioed to see if we were too close than the 900-foot demarcation, and the security force said we were fine.
“They used him up,” Gregory said sadly. “After the movie came out, the Navy used up Brashear with publicity tours and speeches that wore him out over time. After he gave that up, he recovered.”
The wind continued strong but steady. I sent them up to the bow with red wine to celebrate their anniversary.
Exit USS Fort McHenry
A few days later another group got to see the USS Fort McHenry exit Naval Weapons Station and transit the Coleman Bridge back to Norfolk.
Mary Jo Coppola brought her husband Doug and dad Bill Kelly along. She had considerable experience, albeit years ago. “I sailed during Antigua Race Week, Booth Bay Harbor Weed, the Classic Boat Race off Newport and the Figawi race at Nantucket.”
By contrast, Doug’s sailing was limited to a Sunfish in the Atlantic Ocean off New Jersey. “But I did take a motorboat under the Golden Gate Bridge and the Verrazano Bridge.” Bill chimed in, “You know that they spelled the name wrong? It has two n’s instead of one. They say it would cost $3 million to fix the signage.
Bill spent 27 years with The New York Times in travel advertising and circulation. “In the movie ‘The Post,’ I counted 11 newspaper job categories that have been eliminated by automation. We used to get one-third of our revenue from classifieds. Now that’s all gone. After they threw me out of the Times, I went to teach history in the Bronx at DeWitt Clinton High School. Back then it had more than 4,000 students, but now the schools are more like 1,200.”
I radioed a Morgan tug to find out about the McHenry departure and zipped back under the bridge to await the transit. Once underway, I radioed the ship’s bridge to give my location and intentions. Here she comes, big as a freighter and considerably faster. Always a great sight to see the US Navy under way, passing through the bridge.
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Sailing Past Cuba Gooding Jr.
Army veteran made prosthetic leg for famed Navy diver portrayed by Cuba Gooding Jr.
Capt. Bill O'Donovan
Williamsburg Charter Sails
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