22 June 2008

Ship Ship Hooray

Yesterday I helped commemorate the 65th "birthday" of the S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien, a merchant marine liberty ship preserved as a floating museum in San Francisco.

For a much steeper price than I'm used to paying , I joined approximately 150 other souls on the O'Brien for a trip around the Bay. The excursion lasted four hours. A Dixieland band was aboard, food and drinks were served, an emcee acted as a sometimes guide, and the ship's store and museum were open.

My interest in the ship is based mostly on the fact that my father sailed on Liberty ships (though not the O'Brien) during the World War II. In fact he was at the helm of a such a ship, the Albert Gallatin, when it was struck by Japanese torpedoes in the Arabian Sea in Janurary 1944. (My dad's warnings to the first mate that he'd seen a periscope had gone unheeded.)

My father died this past March so I went in large part to honor his memory.

My father had regaled me with stories about his "sailing days" for as long as I can remember. He shipped out from his native Finland in early 1940 and was at sea for much of the next five years. In addition to the sub attack, he was on two different ships that were strafed by German planes (he was no stranger to mortal danger having fought in the Finno-Russian Winter War). As a Merchant Marine my father visited such ports as Cairo, Melbourne, Buenos Aires, Vancouver, London and New York. His love of the sea continued for the rest of the his life. Thirteen months ago after  salmon fishing on the ocean, he fell, hurting his head bad quite badly. It was that injury that led to his premature death (he was a young 92).

The ship was bigger than my imagination had allowed but at the same time passageways, stairways and living quarters were all much, much smaller. Room was obviously needed on the decks, battle stations.
I enjoyed being at sea (okay more like at bay) and am pondering why I've not made friends with someone with a large boat. I love the sights, sounds and smells of the ocean or bay, barring a sudden sinking, its' quite relaxing. There's a sense of freedom at being on a ship or boat that I can't rightly explain, but its palpable. I'm sure that's part of the lure that so attracted my Dad.

We went under the Golden Gate Bridge where my father's ashes were scattered. This, as they say, gave me pause and offered another opportunity to say goodbye. In many ways I'll never say goodbye to Dad nor have to. I often feel his presence and was sure he joined me on the cruise as he might well have in bodily form if still alive.

Hats off to the good people who preserve our history such as those who take care of the Jeremiah O'Brien. I believe that who we are is who we were, so such preservations keep a bit of all of us alive.

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