BSC SI Shipyard Robert Sheridan bobsheridan email@example.com
War stories. Shipyard stories. Same thing.
Leo the Bridgebuilder was Leo the Shipbuilder during the War. Drove cranes, gantry cranes he would be quick to point out, at Bethlehem Steel, Mariners Harbor. My Dad.
I'd see him high up in a crane when Mom would drive to pick him up. There was an A-sticker on the windshield of the old Plymouth that allowed her the gasoline to do this.
Dad showed me the propeller shop once, with sand castings, polished blades, and the overhead bridge crane he also operated. I grew up with terms "ground man" and "rigger." These were the guys who kept the operator from killing people with loose loads.
I remember my dad telling me about the ship he built (they never said "helped build") that got sunk. If you so much as drove a rivet or painted a bulkhead, you said, when you saw it, "I built that ship." I'd hear this on ferry rides to the city with dad. See that ship? I built that. Later it was buildings and finally the Bridge. "I built that," he'd say, even though he only peed in the concrete he mixed. He ran the batch plant for SI anchorage, days. I don't know if they poured at night.
Back to the shipyard. I remember Dad telling me about the ship he built that got torpedoed and sunk off Sandy Hook on the maiden voyage. Recently I saw the sub commander interviewed on TV. He told how he did it. He'd sit off shore watching the lights of the houses, streetlights, etc., on the land. Blacked out ships, otherwise invisible at night, would blink out the land lights as they passed offshore, but inshore of the sub. Result? Ka-boom. It took a long time before Admiral King, our chief navy brain, figured out we needed blackouts.
I remember those too, as a little kid. Special curtains on the window. Hammering tin cans flat in the basement, for the war effort.
Sometimes the crane operators were kept on the crane for days when they were making a push to complete landing craft, Liberty ships, or destroyers. They were turning 'em out fast. One time they kept dad on his crane for three days without a break, he told me, and he was cranky, which means really mad. Took a dump in a rag and dropped it right next to some white hats he saw below. Just to let 'em know he was up there in case they'd forgotten about the men. Sounds like something a Sheridan would do. Well, now it's history.
The man down the street, Eddie Wagner's father, was a tool and die maker in the propeller shop. Highly skilled work.
After the war, ships had to be taken apart. Gun mounts hoisted off, lifeboats, etc. Anything that wasn't nailed down walked out of the yard under the arms of the men. Paint, lifeboat blankets, flares, provisions, etc.
During the war, everything was drab. Not much painting going on. Cars were black and battleship gray. Fences were battleship gray. Paint that walked out of the yard, no doubt. Dad was always bringing home a gallon of battleship gray. Somehow we never considered it stealing.
After the war, I remember Mom remarking, "No more battleship gray." She wanted color. I bet a lot of people did. Returning to life after the long nightmare of anxiety over maybe losing the war after Pearl Harbor and other setbacks, death, uncertainty, and rationing.
Thousands of guys worked in shipyards. I'd see them, as a little kid, streaming out, after their shift. They all looked like real men, rugged, worn, dirty, and tired.
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