In the more than six years I have lived on Amelia Island I’ve had people tell me that they wish they could tour one of the submarines housed at the U.S. Kings Bay Naval Station just north of us in Kings Bay, GA.
Opportunities to visit this unique facility, that is home to the most destructive firepower on the planet, are hard to come by. The Men’s Newcomers Club has been talking about arranging a trip there in the six years I’ve lived here, and as far as I know they’re still in the talking stages, not a criticism of their efforts, just a fact on how difficult it is to gain access.
So, I am fortunate indeed to have a good friend in Joe Murphy, who heads up the local Navy Seal Foundation, as he invited me to join him and his group recently for this much sought after tour of a nuclear submarine.
Joe suggested that I ride there with a group of semi-crazed local golfers that call themselves “The Marauders” and boast nicknames such as “Beaver”, “Iceman” etc. so the ride there and back was as interesting as the tour itself, albeit on a different level. More about that some other time.
Prior to leaving for Kings Bay we were provided a list of “Do’s and Don’ts” that in large boldface print warned: “There will be NO photo capable devices of any kind permitted so please leave them in your cars.” It went on to say: “If ANYONE on the tour is caught with such a device on their person, the penalty for the individual and the Tour Coordinator will be severe. Don’t even THINK about it.” I was kind of hoping that someone would try to bring one just so I could see what the penalty was (Flogging? Firing squad? Keelhauling?) but apparently everyone heeded the warning.
The submarine we visited was the USS FLORIDA, a 560-foot, 18,750 ton, Ohio class SSGN submarine captained by Fernandina Beach resident Captain Bret Moyes, a congenial, well-spoken, immaculately uniformed, no-nonsense naval veteran, with an impressive list of educational and naval credentials, who is serving on his fourth submarine.
Captain Moyes’ vessel, which was one of four TRIDENT nuclear armed submarines, has been converted to now carry 154 Tomahawk missiles and support 66 Special Operations Forces e.g. Navy Seals. It can operate undetected in any coastal region in the world to accomplish its mission. As one officer told us on the tour, it can fire missiles at unsuspecting foes without them knowing where they are coming from and discharge and recover Seals to create mayhem and them pick them back up before the enemy knows what hit them. The USS FLORIDA has a crew of 160 that includes 16 officers, 19 chief petty officers and 125 enlisted men.
We got a glimpse of areas where one officer said “the SEALS keep their toys”, a missile tube filled with what appeared to be a variety of fierce looking weapons and underwater gear. There is also space on the sub for two mini-submarines used by the SEALS on their missions. And yes, I got to look through the periscope.
In addition to the incredible firepower, mind-boggling technology and impressive capabilities of the USS FLORIDA, it’s the crew that grabs your immediate attention. As we were guided through the various levels and departments of this incredible war machine by Captain Moyes’ junior officers, we witnessed crew members going about their duties like the disciplined professionals they were trained to be. And just because you want to be a “submariner” doesn’t mean you will be one. Nope. To serve on one of these vessels you are carefully selected, vetted and trained. If you make it you know you are one of the U.S. Navy’s most elite.
If you do get a chance to tour one of one of these incredible submarines, I strongly suggest you resist the urge to reach toward one of the consoles and ask: “What happens if I push this button?”
It’s comforting to know that our country’s defense is in the hands of such fine, capable people and in this case that our tax dollars are being wisely spent.
Random Thoughts Department: “Danger, do not touch” must be the most frightening thing ever to read in Braille.
Above & Beyond The Call: Fifty years ago, on August 3, 1967, Amelia Island resident Wallace “Moe” Newcomb was piloting a F-105 Thunderbird over North Vietnam with a bomb payload intended for railroad yards near Hanoi, North Vietnam when his plane was hit by an artillery shell and he was forced to bail out.
For the next five years, seven months and 10 days the then 27-year-old Moe was a prisoner of war in a series of prison camps operated by the North Vietnamese. He relayed his experiences in those camps to a more-than-attentive luncheon crowd at the Men’s Newcomers Club Thursday, May 18.
Newcomb suffered a broken leg after bailing out and he was captured after only 15 to 20 minutes on the ground. His leg was put in a crude splint of cotton and wire fencing and he was taken to a Hanoi prison compound, dubbed the Hanoi Hilton.
His treatment there was horrific as interrogators attempted to get him to sign propaganda confessions and provide information beyond the traditional name, rank and serial number. His arms were tied behind his back, painfully hoisted over his head, his broken leg constantly kicked and he was strangled into unconsciousness numerous times.
He said that he and others did provide information to their tormentors, however, it was made up nonsense that was totally worthless and probably sent the North Vietnamese military on a number of wild goose chases.
I’m betting there wasn’t a person in that Fernandina Beach Golf Club room listening to this talk that probably didn’t think to himself “Could I have endured this treatment and would I have cracked?” I know that’s what went through my head as he relayed his story.
His first cell measured a mere 7-feet by 9-feet and housed four prisoners, who were each provided a straw mat, a shirt, two pairs of shorts, a toothbrush that was to last a year, and a pair of sandals made out of old tires. Food rations consisted of rancid French bread, rice, and thin soup. The prisoners were periodically taken from their cell by the North Vietnamese goons for interrogation and torture sessions.
At one camp he recalled that there were 40 prisoners in a 70-foot by 40-foot room and they created their own forms of entertainment that consisted of “movies” they verbally described to the group ranging from foreign films with subtitles to large extravagant ones in Cinemascope and Technicolor. They also conducted debates, language lessons and more to keep their minds active and off their miserable conditions.
Relating stories about some of his fellow prisoners, the retired Lt. Colonel’s voice cracked and he paused to regain his composure.
His experiences in the camps and the tortures he endured convinced him that torture should never be used by the United States under any circumstances as he says it is totally ineffective and counterproductive.
On March 14, 1973 Colonel Newcomb said he experienced “the most emotional episode of my life” as he and the other prisoners were loaded onto planes and flown to Clarke Air Force Base and freedom in the Philippines, then on to California.
Colonel Newcomb (77) has lived on Amelia Island the past two years.
More News-Leader Codswallop: In an era where print newspapers are dying it appears the local biweekly newspaper, News-Leader, has abandoned any hope of survival and voluntarily entered journalism hospice.
The newspaper’s circulation area is one of the reddest in the state of Florida with its voters reflecting their moderate to conservative views at the polls (some 73% voted for Trump last November) and in various community and social media forums. Yet the opinion pages of the local paper continuously assault these citizens with a rash of extreme liberal, anti-conservative blather penned by amateur hacks, who with operatic indignation and finger-wagging angst, rant against conservative values, Republican office holders and candidates like semiliterate, loutish, school-yard bullies. If this stuff was well written and fact-based it would be fine, but it reads like obscene restroom wall scribblings in a biker bar.
Opposing viewpoints are necessary and welcome and a newspaper should rightly reflect all sides. However, the News-Leader has gone over the top. Its tagline should be: “Employees must wash hands before using restroom.”
For example the paper continues to provide pompous, insufferable, garbage-spewing, resident-gasbag Robert “Bullet Bob” Weintraub, a Viewpoint forum to attack everything that annoys his narrow progressive perspective while he egotistically positions himself as an authority.
In his latest screed (“Are unidentified sources ‘lazy, messy’ journalism?” News-Leader May 17, 2017) “Bullet Bob” attacks the only cognizant editorial writer on this pathetic newspaper — Steve Nicklas — using tired progressive blather that he lifted from the New York Times and other liberal media to spew his unbound hatred. This awful newspaper’s management allows Nicklas, the only reasonable and coherent columnist in its opinion asylum, to be editorially flogged by a paranoid fanatic who should be under observation in a mental ward.
But, before readers shout “Hey Dave, you’re just as bad because of what you write about Weintraub,” let me remind you that Weintraub is my former next-door neighbor who publically called my wife, Linda, and I “anti-Semites” and threatened us on Facebook with a “loaded shotgun, a loaded rifle and handgun” because we put a celebratory Trump sign in our yard following the Presidential election last November. Does this pitiable and unhinged demagogue feel the same way about News-Leader readers who disagree with his far left views? This is a guy, who according to the November 11, 2016 Fernandina Beach Police Report, told the cops who were investigating his Facebook threats against us that he: “….is Jewish and fears with the recent election that there will be a Nazi uprising in America against the Jewish people and feels threatened by the Trump sign.” Is this the rational and reasoned voice that News-Leader Editor Peg Davis and Publisher Foy Maloy expect their subscribers to read and respect? Do Weintraub’s mental vacuum and emotional chaos reflect the views of Davis, Maloy and the News-Leader owners? Apparently so, as they continue to provide him ample ranting room on their editorial pages.
In his latest screed Weintraub says he is a “lifelong journalist” with the New York Times and Atlanta Constitution. I don’t know about the Times, but I asked several of my Atlanta friends who were editors and reporters with that Atlanta paper for many, many years and they tell me they’ve never heard of the guy. I lived there several times over the years and never saw this joker’s byline or name in that paper’s masthead. As one former and very liberal Atlanta Constitution political reporter told me: “Never heard of him. And his Facebook page does not show he’s mutual friends with any of the more than 70 AJC alums I am friends with.”
Do the owners of the News-Leader read it? Do News-Leader Editor Davis or Publisher Maloy ever talk with local residents or hold editorial roundtables? Does the paper vet its contributors? The News-Leader is a disgrace and Weintraub a sad, pathetic, hate-filled hack in need of serious mental health care. Subscribers deserve much better, and the more the paper prints rubbish like Weintraub’s, the more its subscribers and advertisers abandon it for the online Fernandina Observer (http://www.fernandinaobserver.com/) for fair and accurate reporting and balanced commentary because it boasts a stable of professional writers and editors with sparkling credentials. Or checkout the NCFL Independent.com, edited and written by tireless and tenacious former News Leader staffer Mary Maguire.
A Successful Witch Hunt: In a recent Jacksonville Times-Union article disgraced former area Congresswoman Corrine Brown (D-FL) says the trial where a jury found her guilty of 18 out of 22 counts of conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, and tax crimes, was a “witch hunt.” She’s right. And they caught the despicable, lying, cheating witch and hopefully she’ll spend the rest of her life behind bars where she belongs. Unfazed by the mounds of damning evidence and the verdict, Jacksonville Brown supporter Pastor Rudolph McKissick Jr., said in a sermon to his Bethel Baptist Church congregation: “Congresswoman, we’re giving a sacrifice of praise for you.” I’m not sure what the hell that means other than her supporters are obviously as unhinged as this terrible woman. Good grief!
Drinking, Dining & Dancing: Tomorrow evening, Saturday, May 27, beginning at 6:00 is the last night folks can see and listen to piano man John Springer and drummer Rob Taylor at Centre Street’s Alley Cat as that venue will be closing in the next three weeks or so to make room for a building renovation and new tenant Pablo’s, which will be moving from its current North 2nd Street location once the new site is ready. The building was purchased by Tavern owner Dr. Robert Hogan who continues to expand his island bar and eatery holdings. The tuxedo-clad Springer is still on a Baby Grand upstairs at Karibo so call them at 904/277-5269 to find out when if you are one of John’s groupies or just want to have a fun musical evening. Folks looking for a good time and fascinating entertainment will want to stop by 12 South 2nd Street PJD’s Beer & Wine Garden tonight (Friday, May 26) from 7-9 p.m. to hoist a couple of cold ones and listen to the entertaining sounds of Sean McCarthy (vocals and guitar), Hot-Shot Carter, on steel pedal guitar, Ernie Ealum, bass; and Marcus Carter, guitar. It’s hard to find better entertainment or a cozier venue and you’ll not be disappointed, just stay out of my chair please. Alert realtor John Stillwell tells me that there’s a new chain pizza franchise, 1000 Degrees Neapolitan Pizza, going in next to the Sadler Road Fancy Sushi, directly across the street from the Island Walk Publix and Tony’s New York Brick Oven Pizza Parlor, which I consider the best thin crust pizza I’ve ever eaten since Nick Hartley of the now shuttered Sandy Bottoms, soon to be Sandbar & Kitchen, has moved on to Orlando and is cooking up stuff for folks wearing mouse hats down there. 1000 Degrees founder and CEO Brian Petruzzi, who launched the firm in 2014, said the company has 25 franchises including two in Malaysia. “By the end of this year, customers can expect to see at least another 30 locations open in the United States,” he says. “As far as signed agreements, we have well over 100. In Florida alone, we have 45.” He also has lots of pizza competition on Amelia Island. If you like “sweet tea” then you’re going to love a very unusual soup created by Joe’s 2nd Street Bistro owner and chef Ricky Pigg, who cooked up a vegetable laden “sweet tea soup,” the likes of which I’ve never tasted before and to my surprise was excellent. It may not be on the menu so you’ll have to ask for it.