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USNS SGT. GEORGE D. KEATHLEY


The Keathley, a former "Knot Ship" of the C1-M class of freighter of WW2 days, was engaged in "Intelligence Gathering" - a "listening" ship like the famous Pueblo that was captured by the North Koreans. Of course larger than the Pueblo, which was a converted "FS", or small Army type freighter of the same era, the Keathley was civilian manned - MSTS/MSC. For more particulars on the Keathley view Ramon Jackson's Marvelous Site.

March 14, 1968, late afternoon, found me outside the Washington, D.C. Bus Terminal hailing a cab. It was 5F, and I wasn't having any luck...no cabs would take me to the Navy Yard area. After several unsuccessful attempts, another fellow also in the queue suggested several others ride shotgun to my destination, continuing on to their destination afterward. The cabby agreed to that, and I finally got to the Keathley...missing supper. I wasn't particularly happy with this assignment as Chief mate, but I had no choice - I was only "permanent" Chief Mate, though my previous three assignments were as Captain. The fellow I was relieving, supposedly for a month, was waiting for me. I was surprised when he suggested I accompany him up-town to the Kennedy Center for a concert, and then a bite to eat. I thought that was a good idea, and away we went.
I don't remember the concert...it was Chamber Music of some kind, but remember him telling me he was an accomplished violinist, and had played with the Philadelphia Philharmonic. Hmmmmm. He was also a licensed Captain, and Acadamy Graduate. He had great credentials. A nice looking fellow...married to a beautiful woman...another accomplished musician, piano this time. Two nice little blonde-headed kids, and a beautiful house overlooking a harbor on Long Island. I lived in the same town, just a few miles from him. I never met him before, though I had heard of his familie's holdings along the waterfront...at one time almost all of it. Now it was down to just a small boat yard...his father boozing it all away.
It was but an hour or so, and we concluded the change-over, he promising to be back in a month, and then heading home, and me hitting the hay. The next three months was bad news. The ship never went anywhere, just piddling around from D.C. to Charleston, to New Orlean, La. The skipper was hardly ever there, but wouldn't permit any of his officers to double-up, allowing one to get home. He was indecisive about everything, and not my kind of captain. Actually, because of men like him, I had decided as a youngster to someday be in position to make my own decisions - to be a captain myself. The chances of getting relieved by the fellow I relieved grew dimmer by the month, after the third month, with a threat to headquarters that I quit, I forced their hand to relieve me. It was about a month later that I got a command of my own once again.
Assigned to the USNS GILLIS, I found my self home for a few days, when I paid a visit on the fellow, and his family in their home down by the harbor. Their's was the "American Dream"...a lovely home, and family. It was then he told me he was quitting the sea, planning to establish his own pilot service for ships entering the Sound.
Years past, I had the new Catamaran - USNS Hayes. On a short voyage from Newport, R.I. to Groton Conn., I perchance asked the Sound pilot how the fellow was doing. "Haven't you heard...he drowned off Sandy Hook when the pilot swamped in a storm as he was debarking a vessel. He was never found.' I was shocked. Then my thoughts went to his wife, and children, asking about them. More bad news...apparently, before the drowning...a while before, the wife came down with MS. According to the pilot, the fellow couldn't cope with his wife's desease, left her, and the kids, and took up residence with a bimbo in a seedy section of Brooklyn. Then his demise. Bizarre? Seemingly, but if we think for moment how tenuous life is, whether we fulfill the accepted allotted time of three-score, and ten, or a fraction of that...it's all relative. There's no guantees, or promises. As for the departed...what it to them? In this case it could be they were too good for this world. For their survivors, a test of sorts...something beyond our knowledge.
Everytime I think of the Keathley, I think of this. That was thirty-years ago. The two children are adults now...presumably. I often wonder how their lives turned out. Yes...for me, the Keathley was a bummer...or was it?

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