, Newburyport, MA

November 6, 2012

November stirs up memories

As I See It Ralph Ayers
Newburyport Daily News

---- — It’s November, you say! You don’t have to tell us old timers, as our bones send a message regularly. Aside from that, November has some important days, such as Election Day, Veterans Day and Thanksgiving. As for Election Day, we’ll have some new faces, maybe some familiar ones, but mainly the candidates’ ads will cease, and we can all get out an eraser and wipe our TV screens clean.

The two holidays are worth commenting on, so allow me to proceed.

Veterans Day, once called Armistice Day following WWI, the war to end all wars (yeah), was renamed in 1954. To ask a WWII veteran a story about his or her service, the stories get better as we get older. Yes, this was a tragic war with loss of life on both sides, but in spite of the conflict, there was also humor. Most of us remember the slogan “Kilroy was here,” and we who served in the U.S. Coast Guard experienced some humor I’d like to share.

For example, it was said you had to be at least 6 feet tall to join the Coast Guard, in case your ship got sunk. The first ship I served on had no engine! We were called “Holligans” and “Swamp Sailors.” In 1942 we drilled with wooden guns. While standing guard duty on New Year’s Eve at the gangplank, the only sober shipmate returning aboard fell overboard, I threw him a life preserver, hitting him right in the head. He survived, but the life preserver knocked him out.

One shipmate insisted on having his hair cut by his barber in Brooklyn. Yes, he would return each time and would get extra duty. I once had to shoot my .38-caliber pistol in the air, preventing a longshoreman from climbing down the bowline on a Liberty ship. He came back up, but I had to pay $1 for the bullet I wasted. Yes, humor is what you also remember, and, in many instances, it got you through some tough times you’d like to forget.

What a great holiday they call Thanksgiving, giving all of us an opportunity to be thankful for living in the U.S. of A., and enjoying the liberties that some countries do not offer their inhabitants. The traditional turkey also tastes better on the outcome of our Turkey Day football classic, going back to, I believe, 1903. In 1937, the game was played at Cashman Park, as we did not have a stadium. Yes, we had our butts kicked by the Amesbury Indians, who were underdogs. The game was loaded with fistfights and constant penalties, and when the game concluded, the fans continued the fighting. Some of you might have had fathers or grandfathers who played in that era. In the team picture, I’m in the second row, center, with my eyes closed, as I was afraid Coach Donovan would put me in the game. In desperation, he finally did, and yep, you guessed it, I had my butt kicked too.

Regardless of the outcome of the 2012 football game, remember, guys, it’s a day you will remember for a lifetime, win or lose, as it will always be a part of your life as it did mine.


Ralph Ayers of Newburyport was a member of the 1937 Newburyport High Football Team.