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Hard to believe it was two weeks ago tonight that we had organized the Hospitality Suite at the Rosen Shingle Creek, and were welcoming shipmates that we hadn’t seen in years. It’s Friday, exactly 14 days later, to the hour, and I’ve promised I’d write. This is it.

Sitting in my hotel room the night before, I composed my most recent post, REGROUPEX EVE. I had envisioned that the next day, much like REGROUPEX 09 eight years ago, that I would be sitting around the Hospitality Suite, and in the occasional relaxing and quiet moment, post about the activities taking place around me. I couldn’t have been more wrong!

REGROUPEX 17 started with a Welcome Aboard Mixer Friday evening, and proceeded, at least for me, to build like hurricane Irma (which would hit Orlando the day after the reunion), into a whirlwind of activity and events that would leave me wondering what had actually happened. I remember at one point, I think it was Saturday morning, probably telling a sea story (you know me!), looking up and realizing there was a line three or four people long waiting to talk, question me, or have me solve one of the myriad emergent issues of the weekend.

John Brandes caught my eye, and asked how it felt sitting in the ‘hot seat’. All I could think of was that it was like a night surface transit of Malacca Straits - everything had a zero bearing rate, decreasing range, and we were all screaming along at 20 knots. That about sums up the weekend.

Not that I mind - I live for that sort of thing, but it’s taken a while to decompress, and get back in the normal groove, if there is such a thing. There are still thank you letters to write, pictures to post, books to balance, caps and coins to mail, and a dozen, no, more like a dozen dozen, other things to do. Only then will I be able to really relax and say REGROUPEX 17 is done, and close the book on this one.

Enough about me.

REGROUPEX 17 was a resounding success, by almost any measure. The most important one of course, is what my shipmates thought, and to a person, they responded with a loud Bravo Zulu!

On Friday night, we filled the Hospitality Suite with 36 shipmates, 17 of their wives, and my daughter, Caitlin, and her friend Christine, handling the Staff responsibilities. Our 2200 cutoff time came and went, as more than 50 of us picked up where we last left off, catching up and trading sea stories well into the night. A chorus of rowdy sailors (is there any other kind?) filled the suite and halls with echoes of laughter, and, had the hotel not anticipated our behavior by putting us at the far end of the hotel (we’ll never forget the walk to the suite!), we would have been thrown out on our ears, not that that hasn’t ever happened before.

Finally, as the crowd began to thin, drifting off to rooms or the bar crawl, at 0130 we turned off the lights and locked the door on Day One of REGROUPEX 17.

Saturday morning, we were back at it early, cleaning up the suite and making it ready for the second day by 0900. The day went by quickly, at least from my perspective. I don’t remember eating - I don’t remember leaving the suite. Fortunately, our alert Hospitality Suite Staff, and my loving wife occasionally shoved food in my hand and reminded me to eat.

Sea stories were told, retold, and told from different perspectives, some of which Leon Uplinger pointed out were actually true! Photo albums were shared and reviewed. The big HD screen at the end of the room featured every image that you have contributed to the ssn-680.org website, rotating through a slideshow that never stopped. Groups gathered around the screen all day, reliving memories, and straining to identify the faces in the photos.

Finally, the full house, mellowed from the previous evening, drifted out and by 2230 we had closed up the suite and collapsed in the warm embrace and comfort of a queen size bed.

I hadn’t slept that hard since the days of Rack Hard, Rack Fast, Rack Often - Whenever You Can, Hit the Rack! Thanks, Steve Dunkelberger, former RCA and author of that particular bit of valuable boat wisdom.

Sunday started early again. Pick up and organize the suite, then, for the first time during the weekend, I wasn’t tied up in the suite - with about 17 others, we loaded the van and Expedition, and headed to Port Canaveral for a tour of the USNS Waters (T-AGM-45). Tasked with supporting submarine navigation systems testing and ballistic missile flight test support, the Waters was a generous host, with the CO, 1st Mate, 2nd Mate, and the Chief Engineer showing off their ship as only true mariners can do!

After a lunch on the pier among the crowd of thousands of cruise ship customers, we returned to the Hospitality Suite to find two former CO’s, Leon Uplinger and John Brandes, holding court in the center of a circle of enthralled shipmates. To say there were some great sea stories is to do a terrible injustice to all of those involved.

By 1700, we were headed back to our rooms to get cleaned up and dressed for the Celebration Dinner, held right in the hotel at their Cala Bella Italian restaurant. The turnout was complete. Somehow we managed to squeeze all of us into a room designed for less than all of us, with apologies to those that had to sit in the doorway. Both Leon and John Brandes shared a few words on what it meant to be CO of the Bates, and Donald Bates, nephew of our namesake, William H., shared a little of what had brought him to REGROUPEX 17, to spend the weekend with a group of crusty old sailors that served on board a boat named after his uncle. Thanks to each of them for putting our weekend in perspective!

The meal was delicious, though I don’t remember much of it, other than the three part dessert which was exactly what the doctor ordered.

Before we could get to that triad of sweetness, we took a few minutes for a Tolling of the Bell ceremony, where we honored those men that we served with, and the wives that made it possible, who had passed on before us. It was a sobering ceremony, punctuated by the news that Capt. Glenn Arthur, Jr., first CO of the Bates, had passed away a few days before, and the occasional sigh or gasp of shock.

I will share the details of the Tolling ceremony in another post, before this post becomes tiresome in its duration.

We raised a toast, the great mariner, Grand Marnier, to those we had served with, and the night was almost over.

Before we could depart, the crew had taken it on themselves to thank me for putting the reunion together, with a gift that truly was beyond my understanding - including a piece of the hull of the good ship William H. Bates. Thanks to each and everyone of you that made REGROUPEX 17 special with your presence, and a special thank you to Steve Perry, a man with a heart that seems bigger than he is!  Each one of you are the reason I do this!

As the dinner wound down, and we all prepared return to our rooms or the hospitality suite, John Brandes received a phone call from Al Konetzi, the second engineer on the Bates, now Admiral Konetzi, retired. 'Big Al', the sailor’s pal!

'Big Al' called to express his regret for not being able to attend and to extend his greetings to all of us that had served on the William H. Bates.

Over the next few days we would all disperse, to find our way home as hurricane Irma approached the Keys, but for this evening, and REGROUPEX 17, there could not have been a better finish!

 

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