Academy's `Forty-Oners' plan reunion


April 16, 2001|By Douglas Lamborne | Douglas Lamborne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

GENE SOMERS remembers being routed from his bunk at 2 in the morning and forced to stand at attention until someone confessed to instigating a water fight. It was his Plebe Summer at the Naval Academy, 1937. Water fights were among the shenanigans common at that time.

Somers, an Annapolis resident, also recalls the struggle some of his classmates had with drill. "It was amazing how difficult it was for some," he said. "Left foot, right foot, following the beat of the drum. Some couldn't do it. Remarkable when you think about it."

Undergraduate high jinks were eventually diminished by more grave matters beyond the academy's walls. War was coming. In anticipation of it, commissioning for the Class of '41 was advanced from June to February. The class, 399 members, was needed in the fleet.

Water fights - and the real thing - figure to be among the topics as the class holds its 60th reunion April 25-29. Somers, who is helping with the preparations, said 84 of his classmates are expected to participate. Six widows will attend, and they will be embraced as classmates, he said.

"We were eager to go," said Somers of that time long ago. "It was what we were trained for, what we were in the Navy for. I recall there was even a sense that we didn't want to be left out of it."

Ensign Somers and other graduates served on destroyers in the North Atlantic where, he said, "we were chasing U-boats and dropping depth charges in July of '41." That was five months before the United States was officially at war. Somers' extensive record of service included participation in the Allied landings in North Africa and Sicily, and then in the Pacific, at Saipan, Tinian, Guam and the second battle of the Philippine Sea.

He entered the Navy Reserves in 1947 and was recalled to duty for the Korean War, during which he worked with nuclear weapons at the Nevada Proving Grounds.

He joined the CIA in 1955 and served there for 17 years, primarily as a scientific intelligence officer. His work took him to the Far East, Europe and Saigon as a technical officer during the Vietnam War.

He was involved with the top-secret Glomar Explorer, a ship built to raise a Soviet submarine that had sunk 17,500 feet in 1968 northwest of Hawaii. Most recently, Somers has been active with the Foreign Affairs Conference at the Naval Academy, a project for students from around the world.

Other "Forty-Oners" from the Annapolis area will also be participating in the reunion.

Mac Nicholson worked on designing landing craft, transports and ships that served as platforms for firing rockets. For the next war, the Cold War, he was involved in the development of deep-submergence vehicles. Some of the technology he had a hand in developing found its way to the Glomar Explorer.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Dick Foster was on the battleship Pennsylvania, which was in dry-dock in Pearl Harbor. His battle station was below decks, where he was an assistant in the machinery division. When he finally got topside, he was stunned. "Unbelievable," he said of what he saw. "The whole day was just unbelievable." Foster also witnessed the flag-raising on Mount Surabachi on Iwo Jima in 1945.

Within weeks of graduation, Sheldon Kinney was in the North Atlantic, serving on a destroyer that was part of a fleet of American ships protecting British convoys.

On Feb. 29, 1944, Kinney was skipper of the Bronstein, which that night sank two German submarines and sent another limping back to port. On March 17, the Bronstein engaged another submarine and sank it.

Kinney served during the Korean and Vietnam wars. In 1971-1972, as Rear Admiral Kinney, he commanded all cruisers and destroyers in the Pacific - 125 ships and 60,000 men.

Jack Rogers served in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters before going to flight school. After the war, he was involved in A-bomb tests on the Bikini atoll and spent a year on an expedition to Antarctica. His career after the Navy involved work with the Gemini space program and the space shuttle.

Richards Miller helped supervise wartime shipbuilding on the Chesapeake Bay and was director of ship design for the Navy before retiring in 1968.

Of the 399 graduates of '41, 43 were killed in action or in the line of duty during World War II.

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