Asia Sailor Westpac’rs Reunion
By: Garland Davis
“The most fun you’ll have with your clothes on.” – Dave McAllister
The 2016 Westpac’rs reunion was, by far, the best one yet. This is all from my memory of events. I will not guarantee that events are as I describe. I was pretty shitfaced much of the time and may have been hallucinating.
I arrived in Branson two days before the official start of the reunion. Ski picked me up at the Springfield airport as has become his custom. I tell him we have to stop meeting this way as people will start to talk. The one-hour trip to the Clarion Hotel was akin to coming home. After checking in and taking a quick shower, I went to the Jungle Room, the site of our annual mayhem, where I found Mac, Kathy, and, lo and behold, a cooler of beer. Graz arrived a couple of hours after me. The afternoon and evening were spent catching up on events since last year and, of course, hoisting a number of cold ones.
Tuesday morning Mac and Kathy began setting up the memorabilia table and the table displaying the raffle prizes. I was of little help because of my “Motion Impaired” ass. But I lent moral support by quaffing numerous Bud Lights during the evolution. Finally, they were finished with the hard work and another afternoon and evening were spent drinking, telling jokes and sea stories. And laughing until my sides hurt.
Wednesday saw the official start of the reunion as each arriving member was rang aboard by the quarter deck bell as they crossed the gangway. The ringing became cacophonic as more and more Shipmates arrived. Asia Sailors greeted old Shipmates and were introduced to others and settled down around the tables to catch up, drink beer, tell no shitters, and laugh. Ron Bay, a Shipmate I last saw forty years ago arrived. Spent a little time catching up. A group of us stayed up all night just to make sure that breakfast was on time. Biscuits and gravy, Yum!
Many of our shipmates added beverages to the stock of beers offered. A number of members donated “Corn Flavored Kool-Aid’ to the festivities. Ski brought his usual ten cases of that nectar of the Philippines, San Miguel, and Red Horse Beer. There were a number of bottles of excellent wines donated that were probably wasted on a group with an Akadama palette. These wines only helped to fuel Neal Hightower’s descent into winoism. Probably the cause of Neal’s trip to Kansas on the way to Branson from Texas. Mike Brenders said that Neal was navigating. I saw Mike a couple of times between cigarettes.
By Wednesday evening, at least six tables of six or more Asia Sailors were adding to the cacophony of laughter and sea stories. Sea stories fed on each other. I am not going to say that anyone was stretching the truth, but I believe the old adage, “The first liar doesn’t stand a chance” may very well have applied during the week at Branson.
I met Jim Hampton also known as “Hambone.” We seemed to feed upon each other’s zaniness. I haven’t laughed so hard in years. Bosun Willoughby says the Navy dodged a bullet by keeping himself, Hambone, McAllister, and me off the same ship at the same time. He is probably right.
By Thursday things kinda become a blur. I know the fellows with the Buffalo rifles and other varied and assorted weapons went to the range to practice their shooting. I would have gone with them, but loud noises weren’t conducive to my wellbeing by this time. If I recall correctly, I drank Diet Dr. Pepper this day in a futile attempt to repair the damage brought on by beer and no sleep. There were a couple of evenings when I had a good dinner and Warren and I went out for a midnight breakfast one evening. But mostly I survived on the snacks that people contributed. I remember that a group of us dined on Lay’s potato chips one evening.
Friday morning brought the “All Hands On Deck” show. A totally enjoyable depiction of a World War Two War Bond tour and radio show, right down to Maxwell House Coffee commercials. This was followed by lunch at a BBQ restaurant where I enjoyed an excellent lunch with Marvin Bucholz and his lovely bride (forgive me Dear, but my excellent memory draws the line at names). Afterward, we went back to the Jungle Room and a futile attempt to catch up with those who had been drinking all morning. Back to the bullshit and sea stories. A group of Asia Sailors went off for an evening of Karaoke at a local Pub. Unfortunately, my condition was such that I had to take a nap and missed this event. I drank instead. I think this is the evening I dined on potato chips.
A group of us did another all-nighter and went to bed after biscuits and gravy. After about three hours napping, I went to the Jungle Room to find the party still in session. Eventually, we moved out into another room while the hotel staff prepared the room for our dinner. We used some time getting buffed up and dressed for the dinner and festivities. At 1730, we lined up to be bonged aboard. The Quarterdeck watch consisted of local Boy Scouts who announced each member as he or she crossed the gangway. Appropriate bells were struck for each member. The Boy Scouts also trooped the colors and led us in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. Our thanks go out to them.
An excellent dinner was served under the supervision of Kathy McAllister and Joe Cuna. The dinner was followed by a raffle where donated items were raffled off to raise money for the Asia Sailors Westpac’rs Association’s support of the Fisher House charity. Entertainment was provided by the “Not Quite Right Quartet” which has anywhere from three to six members, depending upon their level of sobriety. We did a simple Happy Birthday song for the Jeepney lady, Letty Veltkamp. The quartet climaxed their show with Mac’s revision of the Bellamy Brothers hit Old Hippie rewritten as Old Sailor. At some time during the evening, a video compiled by Mac was shown depicting many of us on liberty in Asia.
Sometime during the week, a group of the ladies, fueled by wine, painted a number of pictures. It has been my honor each year to act as auctioneer and auction these masterpieces to their husbands. The monies from this endeavor go to support the Wat Sa School in Thailand. The proceeds from the auction and direct donation totaled in excess of one thousand dollars of which a thousand dollars was matched by an anonymous donor and an additional two hundred fifty dollars was donated by our shipmate Lee Thayer who lives in Thailand and administers the actual delivery of the donations to the students and the school.
I will say this about my antics as auctioneer. I have the audience that every comedian would love to have. A group at the height of sobriety. I love it when I can make you laugh.
Sunday morning, the last day of the reunion was a solemn occasion. First, Kurt Stuvengen explained the meaning of the POW/MIA table that had sat throughout the reunion and dinner. Then each member pours a tot of rum and stands respectfully as a two-bell ceremony is conducted for each who has passed on during the year since the last reunion. After the names are read and the bells struck, we toast them with the sailor’s drink of rum. I admit that I shed a few tears as the names of missing friends were read. I also saw a number of my shipmates wiping their eyes.
The end of the Memorial Ceremony marks the end of the reunion. Goodbyes are said as members leave, some to start the long drive home and others to rest up for the next day. A group of us, hating to see it end, lingered drinking, talking and laughing. Slowly people left until there was just David Mac, Kathy Mac and myself. We officially ended the reunion at 0100, 23 May 2016.
The Asia Sailor Westpac’rs reunion will reconvene on 17 May 2017. The next one is always better than the last.
I want to take this opportunity to thank David McAllister and Kathy McAllister for all that they do and the many hours they devote to making the reunion a success. I also wish to thank those of you who donated potables, snacks, and items for the raffle table. I also thank all of you for just being there.
See you next year!
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A native of North Carolina, Garland Davis has lived in Hawaii since 1987. He always had a penchant for writing but did not seriously pursue it until recently. He is a graduate of Hawaii Pacific University, where he majored in Business Management. Garland is a thirty-year Navy retiree and service-connected Disabled Veteran.