The Plank Owner

Why should veterans tell their stories?

NH 102605-KN
Decorative plaque for the USS Cone (DD-866), circa 1950. Note that the sea serpent is coiled around an enemy submarine, indicating the destroyer’s primary purpose as an anti-submarine platform.

As a people, we are urged to remember our veterans. As a writer and a student of military history, I prefer to encourage veterans to remember.

My grandfather Earl was a plank owner on the USS Cone (DD-866), a Gearing-class destroyer launched from Bethlehem Steel in New York in May 1945. Earl was a stoic, tight-lipped man from the farms of Nova Scotia, a man who never complained much about anything. Naturally, we had to pry a lot out of him, especially about his Navy adventures.

One day, I sat down with him and showed him a plastic model of his destroyer. Earl took up the little “tin can”, and thankfully, the memories came back. There were plenty of stories from that old ship: the two shipmates that disappeared after a card game with the mob, a shark that got hauled on to the deck, the Jeep that rolled off the ship in the English Channel, and shooting an unmoored mine in the North Sea. He handled five-inch casings with asbestos gloves. He worked in the damage control team. He visited Europe in a post-war age that transformed not just the world, but my grandfather as well.

Veterans are a special breed. They have seen things beyond our imagination. Some have stood guard in remote and inhospitable places. Some have worked at the top of the world or the bottom of the sea. Many have endured the fright of enemy fire, or perhaps just as worse, the thought of moving and sleeping in enemy territory. Too many have witnessed a friend and comrade perish quickly, or much too slowly, in a faraway land.

I am privileged to interview exceptional veterans for their stories. In my mind, their tales belong not only to themselves, or for the benefit of public consumption. Their stories belong to their children and grandchildren. One day, their offspring will feel that longing need for family history, a sentimental time to absorb the memories of their parents and grandparents. That is why I have created Veterans Remember—to interview veterans, turn their memories into articles, and leave them for preservation.

Photo: Insignia: USS CONE (DD-866), Naval History and Heritage Command

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