A huge hurricane hit NY and New England; I believe that fall, late in September. Fortunately, summer residents had gone back to the city. The large surf caused a lot of damage along the south shore of L.I. and New England areas; new inlets formed on Fire Island and the Hamptons, and damaged the boardwalk at Jones Beach. A 5′ high pile of shellfish covered the beach, what a smell two days later! I was driving over the George Washington Bridge at the time it hit the city. The roadway was swaying a good bit. Between that and the side wind, it was a job steering the car.
My sister Margaret married Eddie Regan about 1935 when I was in the CCCs. Tommy graduated from Newtown HS in 1938 and went to Transylvania College after working that summer as a guard at Jones Beach. I remember taking Jimmy Regan in the ocean when he was about three, even had him jump off a 10′ springboard at NYAC. One time at the NYAC, I had him stand on the side of the pool to wait for me while I dove in and fetched across and back. On my way back underwater, there was little Jimmy coming back up from the bottom. Apparently, he jumped in after me! He swallowed some water but otherwise was okay.
Frank Costello had a power yacht and came to Zach’s Bay a few times with my father and other cronies and usually some show girls. He always had large boxes of sandwiches, which Lindy’s Restaurant in NYC made up for him. I would get about a dozen or so of them to take over to my guard crew. Each sandwich was a meal in itself.
In 1940, I swam on the NYAC 400 freestyle relay team. We finished fourth in the Senior National AAUs. The club would have won it but our two best swimmers; Peter Pick who had tied Johnny Weissmuller’s 51 flat for the 100 free was disqualified along with Walter Spence who won the100 in the National Collegiate Championships. Jack Thompson and I substituted for them. We were only 54 seconds plus compared to 51 and 52 for Peter and Walter.
I loved going to NYU’s fall camp on Lake Sebago in Bear Mountain State Park. There was a time I could identify some 50 or so different trees by the leaves, which was required in one of the camp courses. We took all the Red Cross tests, first aid, lifesaving, water safety, etc. At NYU I always swam the 50, 100 and anchored the 400 freestyle relay. I made Lt. in charge of the Central Mall lifeguard crew at Jones Beach. Pete Carter and I teamed up and won all ten events of the officers’ decathlon, the highpoint of my lifeguard days. Things were going along well at home, no money problems, great years for my mother.
WWII and the Navy:
The National Emergency had been declared and the big talk around campus was when we would be called up. We all registered for the draft. The system then was to have a VIP pick numbers out of a bowl down in Washington. I was Captain of NYU swim team in junior and senior year. A lot of us at NYU got our “welcome to the Army” notices in early 1941. A classmate of mine, Ted Nowasacki, who had worked at Jones Beach with me, went down to apply for the Navy V-7, “Ninety-Day Wonder” program. Ted made it; I didn’t, failing eye and teeth parts of the physical.
The Army was breathing down my neck. At the last minute, we heard about Gene Tunney starting up a physical fitness program for the Navy, and that he was taking college “jockstrap” types in as Chief Pretty Officers. Thanks to Madge Cuggy I got an introductory letter. Along with two other classmates, we were in the first 17 he recruited for the program. I was sworn in at 90 Church Street on May 19, 1941, and left a few days later on a coastwise steamer for Norfolk. We got to the Naval Training Station on a Friday. The next morning we were lying around in the barracks when an inspection party came through. I remember the inspection officer raising hell with us, as he didnt know we had just arrived, had no uniforms and no one in charge of us. Finally, a Chief Gunner’s Mate was put in charge with instructions to put us “Tunneyfish” through the regular boot-training curriculum. He sure did, as the old chiefs were mad that the Navy had brought in “slick-arm” chiefs. We took everything they dished out. When we finished, we were assigned as assistant company commanders learning how to take a company through boot training. I got along well with my commander, as I trained our boat team and we won the ten-man whaleboat-rowing race. We all picked up what had to be done in quick time, as we were older and educated.
I remember working with Fred Apostoli who had been world middleweight boxing champion. Fred and I use to lead all the boots on the parade ground in mass rifle and semaphore drills. We were each up on a 20′ stand. It was a hot summer. We had a chief known as Cannonball Jackson. When boots in his companies goofed, he would make them lug a stack of cannon balls that weighed about 75 lbs apiece down to the other end of the drill field and restack them. We got the boots up at 5AM and took them for a 2-mile jog. Most of them were coughing, but that is what we were told to do.
I use to sail the ketch-rigged whaleboats out in Hampton Roads. On Saturday afternoons, we headed for Virginia Beach. One of the “Tunneyfish” chiefs had a relative who worked at the Cavalier Hotel. He would introduce us to some of the southern belles who came there for the summers. We got chow and drinks gratis, as he was a big wheel in the hotel. We use to rent kayaks and ride waves off the hotel. Later in the war, actually right after Pearl Harbor, the Navy requisitioned the hotel and it became radar, loran, and other electronics school setup. In 1945 I took a one-week radar course there, oh yes; I won the Eastern Collegiate 50 freestyle at Rutgers in April of ’41. I missed NYU graduation, as I had to go in Navy early. I never found out what happened to my diploma, it must have been lost at my home, suppose to have been sent there.
Two “Tunneyfish” chiefs got into a few fights. Vic Marino, who had been an All-American guard at Ohio State, tangled with Woody Hayes also from Ohio State. We had a tough time separating those two. They also got into a fight or two with some of the old-time chiefs who were riding them as “slick arms.” After a few of the old-timers were decked at the CPO Club, they didn’t hassle us anymore.
to be continued…