Sunday, November 30, 2014

DILIGENCE's 50th Anniversary

DILIGENCE was originally commissioned on August 26, 1964, so she turned 50 this summer. CDR Randall wanted a celebration that former crewmembers would want to come to and that truly honored the hard work, dedication and well, diligence of all her crews over the last six decades.

Unfortunately, DILIGENCE was still in drydock on the actual anniversary of her commissioning, so before I reported to the ship, it was decided to have all the celebration events on Veterans Day weekend, when we were pretty sure we'd be in homeport. This worked out wonderfully because it really highlighted honoring of all the veterans that had been on the ship and gave us more opportunity to talk about how it was the efforts of all the crews, all along the ship's service life that have left the ship in such great

Here's the schedule of events from that weekend:
Front Street Brewery supports DILI!

Friday, 7 Nov: Front Street Brewery tapped three special DILIGENCE 50th Anniversary kegs at 11:30 am. At 5 pm a bunch of folks from DILI, SMILAX and BAYBERRY all showed up for a toast, graciously given by EMCS Del Castillo, one of CDR Randall's good friends. The company was better than the actual beer, but then again, I don't particularly like sour ales.

Saturday, 8 Nov: The 4th Annual DILIGolf charity tournament was held at Magnolia Greens golf course and sponsored by the Wilmington Navy League; proceeds benefited Cape Fear Hospice and the Cape Fear Community College Coast Guard Scholarship Fund. We raised over $5,000 due largely to the coordinating efforts of ENS Aaron Corn, FS1 Justin Henkel, DC2 Adam Carignan, SN Rick McCabe from DILIGENCE and LTJG Angel Kwok from Sector North Carolina, along with all the other volunteers and support from the Wilmington Navy League.

Saturday, 8 Nov: The ship was open for tours from 12 pm to 4 pm. I think we actually started giving tours at about 10 am because there were people already lined up. While I hadn't planned to, I hung out at the ship on Saturday, talking to people who were waiting to go on the tours, answering their questions and thanking them for their patience and support. These were our regular tours that we give most days we're inport (sometimes the work schedule doesn't allow us to), that start on the flight deck, go up to the focs'le and then through Upper O's passageway to the bridge and back down again. They take about 15-20 minutes depending on how many questions people ask. We had over 500 people onboard on Saturday.

CGC SMILAX and CGC BAYBERRY also came down to Wilmington to help us celebrate and they were both open for tours as well. SMILAX is the Queen of the Coast Guard fleet as the oldest commissioned cutter in service; she was commissioned in 1944 and is 70 years old. BAYBERRY was commissioned in 1954 and is 60 years old. And of course, DILIGENCE was commissioned in 1964 and is 50 years old...we had over 180 years of cutter service on the Wilmington downtown waterfront for our celebratory weekend -- pretty cool!

Saturday, 8 Nov: Wilmington Harbor Enhancement Trust (WHET) sponsored a barbecue for past and current crewmembers, their families, city representatives and sponsors downtown at Cape Fear Community College's Union Station, catered by The Sawmill Restaurant. I finally got my fix of delectable Eastern North Carolina barbecue...vinegar based chopped pork...so delicious! I wasn't sure what kind of turn out to expect, so imagine my surprise when I showed up and found the 500-person capacity room nearly packed! We had nametags out for folks so we'd all know who each other was. We also had a guest book for people to sign, so we'd know how far people came from. We had a "memory box" for people to write down snippets and sea stories from their time onboard DILI; we'll compile those after a few months so we can capture some more of the history of the ship.

DILIGENCE underway on her latest patrol
We also had a row of tables with six decades of DILI memorabilia. Former crewmembers and COs had shared their photo albums and news paper clippings from their time on the ship. There were pictures from the original commissioning in 1964 in Miami, FL and plankowner certificates from the very first crew. There were pictures from the search and rescue case of the M/V CUNARD AMBASSADOR  in the mid-1970's when the ship caught fire, and DILI responded to help fight the fire and rescue more than 300 people onboard. There were pictures from a structural test fire of the 3" gun in the late 1970s. There was a picture of a very young Jimmy Buffett in a DILIGENCE ball cap, and the accompanying Rolling Stones cover of the very same picture. There were pictures from the 1980s of marijuana busts with the crew plunging their hands into the bales of pot for the camera -- many of them had some amazingly robust beards. There were some great photo albums of DILI's change of homeport to Wilmington in 1992. And there were patrol videos showing in the background from the 2000's. (I tried to add some of these scanned pix, but unfortunately couldn't figure out how to get a .pdf to attach in the blog, or how to save the .pdf in another format -- hmph.)

Crewmembers spelling out "50" on the flight deck
I mingled a little at the dinner, talking to as many former crew as I could. My very favorite story from the whole weekend was the two engineers (and I feel awful that I can't remember their names!) who served onboard from 1965-1968. They were best of friends down in the engine room, but hadn't seen each other in the intervening 47 years. Their wives and other family members were there with them, and they had such a great time reminiscing and getting back in touch after so long.

It was also very sweet to see the reaction from many of the older women, wives and sisters of the former crewmembers, that were very proud to see a female XO onboard DILI. I think it made them feel like their efforts and hardships many, many years ago had paid off huge dividends because opportunities exist now that they didn't have. So ladies, thanks so much for all your work and suffering through those unfortunate social standards, the changing of which have allowed me to enjoy such a fantastic career!

We also had the former COs and single plankowner in the crowd speak for a few moments. CAPT Andy Cascardi (1992-1994), CAPT Dennis Inhat (1994-1996),  and CAPT Ed Daniels (2001-2003) all shared some great stories and thoughts from their time onboard. And CAPT PJ Kies was the only plankowner able to attend, but he also had some wonderful memories from the very early days of the ship.

Sunday, 9 Nov: We opened the ship for "enhanced tours" from 12 pm to 5 pm. The enhanced tours had nine stations with crewmembers ready to talk about the particulars of that station. I don't remember all the stations, but there was someone at the 25 mm to talk about the armament (flak jackets and helmets were out for the kids to try on), someone at the small boat dressed out in LE gear to talk about boat operations and more law enforcement, someone on the flightdeck with gumbie suits that the kids could race to put on, someone on the fantail with the P-100 pump to talk about damage control, someone in OPS and Deck berthing areas to talk about the living quarters onboard, someone in the engine room to talk about engineering details, someone in the galley talking about cooking for 75 people at a time, and someone on the bridge to talk about navigation and help the kids to use the alidade to shoot a bearing (if I was really on my game, I'd be mentioning specific crewmember names...shoot.). These tours took about an hour, and we tried to run two or three at a time; the local Girl Scout troop helped us out by taking tour goers from station to station. We had over 1,000 people onboard for tours on Sunday. BAYBERRY and SMILAX also continued their tours.

Sunday, 9 Nov: No-host Cuttermans' Call at Bourbon St bar just up the hill from DILIGENCE. I didn't stay for very long, but we had a pretty good turn out. I left before the sea stories got too outrageous.

DILIGENCE on 11 Nov 2014 during the 50th Anniversary Ceremony
Tuesday, 11 Nov: This was the actual ceremony. Representative Mike McIntyre (NC, 7th District), City of Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo and New Hanover County Commission Vice President Beth Dawson all made remarks. CDR Randall also spoke and presented commemorative DILIGENCE 50th Anniversary challenge coins to each of the former COs and CAPT Kies, Plankowner. We had great weather, and standing room only. It was a nice, simple ceremony. I just felt bad for the tallest member of the color guard detail who lost his cover coming under the tent. There was nothing he could do about except carry on, which he did with dignity and honor.

Throughout the entire week preceeding the events, CDR Randall gave half a dozen or more interviews to local media. All the local news stations came down at one time or another, including a few live spots on WECT, the local NBC affiliate early on Friday morning. It felt like a full-on media blitz.

So all in all, it was a chaotically busy week, making sure all the details were ready and covered. I definitely felt a little like my hair was on fire. But here's the absolute truth -- it was All Entirely Worth It! The former crewmembers had nothing but complimentary things to say about the ship and the crew. I mean, I know we have a great crew, but to have such enthusiastic and unwaveringly positive feedback from so many people was a solid validation of what I know to be true. And I really hope some of that spilled over for the crew to hear, not just from CDR Randall and me, but from the former crewmembers themselves. Over the years all these crews have all worked so very hard to keep this ship in good shape after 50 years. It was refreshing to hear so many people say it has paid off.

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