NAFTS 2018 REUNION
October 24-28, 2018 in Baton Rouge, LA
(As written by Rich Tetrault in the January 2019 Towline - Pictures shown below)
As Louisianans say, “ Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!” Let The Good Times Roll! And roll they did! What a great time we all had at our annual NAFTS Reunion in Louisiana this past October. Great chow. Great hotel. Great daytrips. Great music. And as always, a great bunch of sailors and their ladies. I never saw a face the entire time that wasn’t smiling or laughing.
Where do I begin? Probably with the caveat that “if you weren’t there you missed a great one.” We had almost 150 attendees in Baton Rouge and it was non-stop party time. Some folks flew down to Louisiana, those who were a little closer drove, and a couple of folks lived nearby and probably walked there. But ALL went home with a trove of memories. Before I go any further I have to recognize our VP for Reunions (and Treasurer) PJ Rolow. PJ ALWAYS does an amazing job on our reunions and this one was no exception. We all owe him a debt of gratitude. Thank you PJ.
We stayed at the Embassy Suites. Each room had a two-room suite and we had a great breakfast daily on the house. The staff at the hotel was excellent and we set up our Hospitality Room on the first floor where members and ladies could gather and meet n’ greet and have some snacks and beverages. There were a half dozen restaurants within walking distance, in addition to the restaurant at the hotel. And when we were out and about on our daytrips there were beaucoup places available to eat. My faves were the beignets and the pralines!
Our Storekeeper, Harry Jaeger, was in contact with some USS Takelma ATF 113 sailors who had formed their own Takelma organization years ago but as members passed over the bar their group size shrunk. He introduced them to NAFTS and many of them attended our Baton Rouge getaway along with their loved ones. You couldn’t slap the smiles off their faces. Welcome aboard mates!
Our opening night was Wednesday October 24 and we had some light finger food in our Hospitality Room, along with free drinks and beer at the hotel bar from 1730 to 1930. It’s a great way for folks to mingle and chat with old friends and meet new ones. Many of our members and their wives attend EVERY reunion and its just great to see them each and every year. And the first-timers are welcomed by us all and fit right in like they’ve also been coming for years. And many of them become hooked and come back year after year.
Everybody wears nametags suspended from blue lanyards which we hang around our necks. Its kinda hard to remember 150 names sometimes. And for those folks who were attending a reunion for the first time, we gave them yellow lanyards. That way we could each welcome the newcomers when we encountered one another. Every attendee also got one of our souvenir Tee Shirts with the NAFTS logo and the words Baton Rouge, LA 2018. PJ originated the free Tee Shirts program last year at the San Diego Reunion. Those shirts were navy blue. Since Baton Rouge means “Red Stick” he got us all red Tee Shirts this year. Next year our reunion will be in Green Bay Wisconsin. Guess what color those shirts will be?
Reveille was early the next day (Thursday). Head on down to breakfast on the main floor. A great buffet with an omelet station. All free. And it was a great place to dine while chatting away with friends. Our first tour was leaving at 0830 so the ‘Meet n’ Eat’ had to come to an end and we’d line up to get on our tour buses. A note about our transportation on these tours. We use first class air conditioned coaches with a bathroom onboard. We get picked up at the hotel door, dropped off at our tour site, and picked up again for the ride home. Today’s tour was to New Orleans.
We had two choices for our New Orleans tour. We could get dropped off downtown in an area replete with little shops where we could browse on our own, or we could visit a WWII Museum. Everybody was dropped off downtown initially and an hour later those going to the museum returned to the dropoff site to re-board for the museum. When suppertime neared we were all picked up and taken back to the hotel, some with bags full of things they bought (lots of Pralines). The evening meal was on your own and typically that is when various shipmates, or NAFTS friends, go out for dinner together. I had six of my USS Lipan ATF 85 shipmates attend, along with their significant others and guests. Two of them I hadn’t seen in 50 years and it was such a joy to re-unite with all of them.
Friday the 26th was another great day and the tour for that day was McGee’s Louisiana Swamp Tours. We rose early to eat our free breakfast once again and assembled in the lobby for the bus ride to our destination at 0830. We filled two buses every day for our tours and when we reached McGee’s we also filled two large swamp boats.
Louisiana has a high water table. If you dig down in the ground in most places you’ll hit water before you dig down 6 feet. For that reason most cemeteries don’t bury the dead but place them above ground in tombs and mausoleums. Depending on the weather there are drastic changes in the water depth and the swamp experiences these changes as well. There are high water marks indicating increases of over ten feet and when dry spells hit the level can drop precipitously. There are rivers, bayous, canals and waterways with high retaining walls to try to control the problem.
The Atchafalaya Swamp, located in South Louisiana, is a 1.4 million acre wilderness, and home to hundreds of species of birds, fish, and reptiles. Its much larger than the typical narrow waterways that you’d expect in a swamp. Our guide was a real hoot and regaled us with stories and jokes as he steered our vessel around the swamp.
The tour guide’s wife assisted him in the swamp tour and when we got near a spot where alligators would frequent she we would rap the boat’s aluminum hull with her knuckles. Apparently the gators have learned that the rapping sound means that the boat is going to toss marshmallow treats to them, and they swim on over for a snack. We had two gators swim to our boats gulping down the marshmallows that the tour guide tossed them. You can see the larger one in the photo to the right. The guide guesstimated that it was 9 feet long. Lots of picture taking by all of us.
We were done with our tour before noon and we boarded the buses to head back for our traditional Limburger Cheese Social. The walk to the buses was uphill and kinda rocky-gravelly and one of our members needed a walker to assist him. He had a difficult time going downhill towards the boats and also boarding his vessel. The return trip uphill would have been monumental so a bunch of our members grabbed a chair from one of the swamp boats and carried him up to the bus while others carried his walker. Shipmates will always be shipmates.
We got back to the hotel at 1230-ish, giving us an hour’s respite before the Annual Grand NAFTS Limburger Social. This event is something that has gone on for a dozen years or more. NAFTS Vice President Ombudsman, Leon Maierhafer, comes from the state of Wisconsin, where he has a farm. (As Leon puts it, “I’m a poor old dirt farmer”). Since Wisconsin is “The Cheese” state, Leon brought some of his state’s homegrown Limburger Cheese to a reunion to share with his USS Hitchiti ATF 103 shipmates at their ship get together. They made sandwiches with big slices of Bermuda Onions in them. It was a hit. So he repeated the cheese run at the following reunion albeit with more Limburger because members liked it so much.
Then came the 2008 reunion in Providence Rhode Island. I don’t know if Leon brought an extra strong brand or not but this stuff was potent like the gas-house we all went through at Boot Camp. The Hitchiti crew had their cheese love-fest in the corner of the gigantic Hospitality Room we used. Other members joined in. On the far side of the room Barbara and I were chatting with a member and after he left she asked me if he had a strange odor. I hadn’t noticed? Then one of the Hitchiti sailor’s wives came running over to us waving a Limburger and Onion sandwich like a can of mace and telling us that we HAD to go over and try one of these sandwiches! The smell was overwhelming. We tried walking over to the source but couldn’t finish the journey. This wasn’t just an odor. You could practically see the smell. It got worse, and worse and finally the hotel staff came rushing in to see what was causing it.
There was a wedding reception set to kickoff in the large room across the hall and the odor had made it over to their enclave. The hotel staff shut down the illicit limburger party and invaded the area with shop-vacs. They poured pine deodorant in each of them and turned them on high, allowing their scented exhaust to permeate the area. After sometime, the shop-vac army cleansed the area and the wedding reception could take place. Now our expanded Limburger Social is held outdoors along with other foods and everybody attends.
Saturday October 27 was our last official day and it was a busy one. We started off with our free breakfast. So good! From 0830 to 1000 we conducted our General Assembly Meeting, conducted by President Dennis Colton. We relayed to the members our actions conducted at our Board Meetings. We learned of the dates and some info on our next reunion, in Green Bay Wisconsin (September 3 to 6). We offered some choices for the reunion in 2020 and Albuquerque New Mexico was the choice selected by the members overwhelmingly. We’re gonna head out there during their great Hot Air Balloon Festival. Make your plans now for 2019 and 2020!
After we completed the Membership meeting it was time for our final tour at 1030. We boarded buses for an onboard visit to the museum of the USS Kidd DD 661. The World War II Destroyer is tied up in Baton Rouge and it was a lotta fun touring.
We returned to the hotel by 1600 to prepare for our Farewell Banquet and photo session to complete our reunion. Local Sea Cadets marched in the colors for us as we opened with the Pledge Allegiance. PJ welcomed us all and we dined on our choice of fish, chicken or beef. After dinner we had our raffle. I forgot to mention the raffle in the last TOWLINE but we have two. One is a 50-50 raffle where we split whatever money raised, giving half to the winner and the NAFTS Treasury getting half. The other raffle allows the winner(s) to pick an item off the table full of items donated by members. We continue drawing names until the donated items are all gone. If I forget again, it would be nice if you could bring something for the raffle to the next reunion in Green Bay. Nothing costly but perhaps some little thing that our members would enjoy. After the raffle the party started.
In marched a five-piece Louisianan Cajun Band, “Choupique Cajun Band”, and a group of dancers, the “Les Danseurs de la Capitale de Baton Rouge dance troupe”. To say that they got the place jumping would be an understatement. Incredible musicians. I believe they sold a dozen of their CD’s to the members afterwards. You couldn’t sit still with this band and the dance troupe. The music was infectious and the dancers would lure everybody to the dance floor.
And then it was over. As quickly as it began we all headed to our rooms to sleep. Some would leave the following day for their homelands and some extended their Embassy Suite stay to do some solo exploring or visit with friends. All had one thing in common. An ear-to-ear grin from the fun time that they had at the Baton Rouge NAFTS Reunion and a heart full of memories that will last forever.
Again, our VP for Reunions (and Treasurer) PJ Rolow can’t be thanked enough for the mountainous work he’s done to make this reunion the grand success that it was. President Dennis Colton ran many meetings with Board Members and NAFTS Officers, along with Board Chairman Jim “The Woz” Wassmuth. VP Ombudsman Leon Maierhafer limburgered his way into hearts (and stomach) once again. Harry & Shirley Jaeger setup the Shipstore with NAFTS merchandise. And the ladies! Every reunion we have so much help from our 1st mates! I can’t say enough about their work, setting up the raffle, selling the tickets, helping to check folks in, etc., etc., etc.
And now on to Green Bay September 3 to 6. We’ll have the information for you in the April and July TOWLINE. Start planning now and come to a NAFTS Reunion and see why folks keep coming back year after year.