John H. Bunting, 82, waterman, Coast Guard chief warrant officer

May 06, 2002|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

John Howard Bunting, a waterman and Coast Guard veteran who was once considered the dean of the mid-Atlantic headboat fishing fleet, died Saturday of congestive heart failure at his Ocean City home. He was 82 and had Parkinson's disease.

Born in Ocean City, Mr. Bunting -- known as Captain Jack -- graduated from Ocean City High School in 1935 and enlisted in the Coast Guard at age 16. He served in the Coast Guard for 28 years before retiring as a chief warrant officer and going into the fishing business.

"The Coast Guard was the love of his life, really," said his daughter Hazel Freeman. "He retired, but he never spiritually retired from the Coast Guard."

Mr. Bunting served in World War II as an anti-submarine commander off the East Coast. He also was a commanding officer of the Nantucket Light Ship.

After retiring from the Coast Guard, Mr. Bunting -- whose parents were crabbers -- started working the waters around Ocean City in the headboats Angler and later the Miss Ocean City, fishing for Boston mackerel and sea bass.

In the 1970s, he operated Pier One Restaurant in Ocean City, which Mrs. Freeman said was a popular meeting place for local politicians and business officials, until it was sold in 1989.

Maryland Court of Appeals Judge Dale R. Cathell, a longtime friend, used to be part of the morning coffee crowd at the restaurant. He said Mr. Bunting pioneered offshore wintertime fishing in Ocean City.

"There's going to be a void -- he's really the last of the old-time characters [in Ocean City] to pass on," he said. "There's a lot of people down here who have got the first name of Jack and a lot of them have been on the water, but there's only one Captain Jack."

Mrs. Freeman said her father often spoke of the hurricane of 1933 that cut through the inlet between the Atlantic Ocean and Assawoman Bay. He was 14 at the time, living on St. Louis Avenue in Ocean City.

"I can remember diving out the living room of my mom's house in the '33 storm," Mr. Bunting told The Sun in 1993. "Our house was 6 feet off the ground. The water was at least 4 feet deep. We jumped out of the second-floor bedroom window."

During his nearly three decades with the Coast Guard, Mr. Bunting told The Sun, he was in seven hurricanes at sea and "went through the eye of three or four."

Mrs. Freeman said almost everybody in Ocean City seemed to know her father and that he took on the role as a "very good ambassador for the city."

"He promoted Ocean City until the day he died," she said. "He just thought Ocean City was the greatest city in the world."

Mr. Bunting was a member of the Evergreen Masonic Lodge 153, the American Legion Post 166 in Ocean City and the Elks Lodge of Selbyville. Since 1955, he had been a member of the Chief Warrant Officer's Association.

He was also a member of the Boumi Temple, Tall Cedars of Lebanon, the Scottish Rite and the York Rite.

His hobbies included card playing, coin collecting and model boat building. He made dollhouses for his two daughters and five granddaughters.

A service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Ullrich Funeral Home in Berlin.

Mr. Bunting is survived by his wife of 61 years, the former Shirley Elain Morin; two daughters, Shirley Moran and Mrs. Freeman; three sons, John Bunting Jr., Victor Bunting and William Bunting; four sisters, Catherine Savage, Mary Dowdy, Lilly Farlow and Naomi Cropper; and nine grandchildren. All are of Ocean City.

Contributions can be made to the American Heart Association, 7272 Greenville Ave., Dallas 75231-4596, or to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation, William Black Medical Building, Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, 710 W. 168th St., New York 10032-9982.

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