Time To Salute A Different Kind Of Veteran

I usually try to use my November column to honor veterans, and this month is no exception. The only difference is that this column was written 70 years ago by one of those veterans that you don’t read much about – military nurses.

Berdine Stime was a lieutenant in the Army nurse corps when she wrote a letter that appeared in her local paper in Brookings, Minn. Stored away in an old trunk, it was just recently discovered.

It was while in New Guinea, in the rear of MacArthur’s advancing forces, that she ran into Vernon Nelson, an Army Air Corps mechanic. Vernon grew up in the same small Minnesota town as Stime and knew the family but had never met Berdine. They ended up getting married after the war and were living in Orange County when Vernon died at age 47, leaving Berdine with six children.

She came to San Pedro in the early `70s when her oldest son, Luthor, now well known for his dove release business, was hired as youth pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church. Berdine moved back to Minnesota in the `90s, then returned a few years ago and is living at Little Sisters of the Poor. Now 94, she has 19 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren, with three more on the way.

The following letter was edited only for brevity:

So far no hot running water, no iceboxes, no screens, so bugs and flies are numerous. No bathrobes, so when it rains the patients have to walk to the mess hall in their pajamas, through mud six inches deep! We use flashlights for throat examinations, etc., and a thousand and one inconveniences. But at least we have cement floors, a tin roof over our head, and enough equipment for essentials, with promise of better things to come. If it wasn’t for the heat, we really would have nothing to complain about, except the food, which isn’t too tasty but of good caloric value, and if we’re hungry enough, we eat it.

When the evenings cool off, as well as they do, together with a beautiful moon coming up, the sound of waves against the beach in our backyard, and Dianna Durbin singing, “Way Down Upon the Swanee River,” what more can you ask for, except an ice cold Coke or laundry services, a little less mud and heat, or a few hundred other things? I don’t know myself whether I’m griping about this hole or praising the beautiful country. What’s your guess?

Incidentally, in case of any doubt in your mind because of preceding rambling, I still love nursing, New Guinea or not, and even though my glamour days of nursing are over, and I’m… perspiring very freely while giving baths, or just standing still (and in pants), I’m still thankful that I’ve been permitted to be of some service, and do not want to be any other place.

Last night we went on a five-mile jeep ride, but because of the general bumps and ruts and holes, it’s actually about 10 miles. Then the ride up the “stairs;” they have regular steps for the jeep to go up, only the steps zigzag, if you get what I mean. You go up a ways, then turn and go up a little further. I don’t know how we did it, but all the time while up there, we were afraid it would rain, and they say when it rains, the jeep just slides down very “smoothly.” What a country! Never lacks of variety or gets monotonous. But these jeeps are real corkers! When the kids don’t like the looks of the road ahead, they just go around it, right through the woods, fields or rivers…. The only annoying “animals,” besides lizards, snakes and spiders, are the airplanes that delight in swooping so low they almost crack up.

What a humbling and heartbreaking experience I had today with two new patients, just young kids straight from the fighting line, one with both legs amputated, and the other, a most handsome and intelligent boy with a gangrenous leg to be amputated in the morning. Pitiful! I could hardly keep back the tears. But the hardest to take was the cheerful and brave way they took it in spite of the pain. They barely spoke, just smiled when we smiled (because of the lack of words to express ourselves). I spent three hours trying to clean them up (it will take several baths to get them really clean). They had been washed once on the boat in four days. But it all seemed so vain when I knew I couldn’t do the impossible, restore the lost limb. Then stop and multiply their suffering and handicap by hundreds and hundreds more. It’s enough to make one go crazy just thinking about it. And then to think of how often I fret and gripe – what a heel I’ve been. I marvel at God’s patience and love! “It passeth knowledge, that love of Thine!” Last night I cried myself to sleep thinking about it all, but I guess that doesn’t help, does it? Think I had better do something worthwhile for them from now on.

Berdine was one of 74,000 women in the Army and Navy Nurse Corps during World War II; 201 Army nurses died. What they did was more than worthwhile. spt

Biggest Change In Fast Food Isn’t What’s Served, It’s Who’s Serving

I was amused reading about fast food workers wanting to go on strike for higher wages. Not amused by the plight of a group of people who work hard for very little, but because it took me back to my days in the fast food industry, when it was still in its infancy.

Back then, if I had gone to my boss and asked to have my wages doubled, he would have said something like, “Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.” Not to get too political, but the fast food industry has always relied on an unskilled workforce willing to work part time for minimum wage. The difference is that when I was young, the workers were mostly teen-age kids in high school who weren’t depending on those jobs to make a living.

Like so many others, my start in the “business” world was as a News-Pilot paperboy. My first “real” job came at the McDonald’s in Lomita on Western and Pacific Coast Highway, which is still there, albeit in a newer, bigger version (they introduced the newfangled Big Mac while I was there, and with every order we had to say, “Would you like a hot apple turnover with that?”). It was my senior year in high school, October 1968, when I started at the then-minimum wage of $1.25 an hour (and the Big Mac was 49 cents). I worked 26.5 hours those first two weeks, after school and weekends, and brought home $27.29. I’d never had so much money. I was rich!

I didn’t have a car, however, so I jumped at the opportunity when San Pedro got a brand-new Jack in the Box on Western Ave., the one that’s still there, in January 1969. It also meant a huge raise to $1.40 an hour. I now had a car and had graduated so I could work longer hours. The cash was pouring in.

My fast food experience ended just a few months later, when I began my journalism career as a sports stringer for the News-Pilot (30 cents a column inch could add up real fast), but I’ll never forget flipping burgers during the lunch or dinner rush and cleaning the grill and mopping floors at cleanup.

My colleagues at that time were fellow teens. At McDonald’s, I worked alongside my friend John Hiigel, who was San Pedro High’s student body president. He went on to become a pastor and then a professor at a Midwest college.

I was the “old man” at Jack’s. Most of my co-workers were juniors or sophomores. One was friend Ted Petrich, now a retired teacher living in Hemet. Another was Chris Traughber, a champion swimmer at SPHS and today Dr. Chris Traughber of the Palos Verdes Family and Immediate Medical Care Center. In a recent conversation with Chris, we agreed that we learned a great deal about life during our fast food days, but what we learned most was that it wasn’t what we wanted to do for the rest of our lives. Even at $8 an hour.

Of course, as I write this, the Big Mac is $3.89, and California is planning to increase the minimum wage to $10 an hour. Maybe I should rethink this and start practicing: “Would you like to make that a combo?”

Let’s Go Surfing

There are a couple of entertaining videos on YouTube that should interest San Pedrans. Linda (Barnes) Krammes (San Pedro High Winter `62) alerted me to the first (http://youtu.be/paLt3HLS3YQ) called San Pedro Memories.

Posted by Van Barbre (Winter `64), Memories is a series of snapshots, many of which appear to have come right from his family album, mingled with postcards of San Pedro and Long Beach in the `50s and `60s. I particularly liked the shots of the Pike, the Fishermen’s Fiesta in the heyday of the fishing industry, hundreds of white-uniformed cannery workers, the old Gaffey Street Pool, Marineland and San Pedro High in the early `60s.

For an entirely different look at San Pedro High, check out “Pirate Pride” (http://youtu.be/P21OZ7X55CQ). Judy Kiesel sent me the link to this video, which has been out since last fall. The brainchild of Joanne Cherry Booth, the dance teacher at San Pedro High, it’s a “Gangnam Style” parody that takes you on a tour of both campuses, and by the time it’s over has shown hundreds of choreographed students and a good part of the faculty and staff. All in good fun, it’s well-done, and if you don’t know what “Gangnam Style” is, well, you’ll just have to look to find out.

Kudos to Booth, a Venice, Calif., native who’s been at Pedro for 30 years, and camerman Victor Prudeux, an SPHS grad. Prudeux was on the stage crew as a student and, according to Booth, comes back and assists with performing arts events and technical needs.

I can’t help but wonder, however, what the Pirates’ API score would have been had they shown the same enthusiasm in the classroom. Just sayin’. spt

Missing: Harbor College Hall Of Fame Inductees

Richard Johnson, where are you?

Working on the Harbor College Athletic Hall of Fame committee these past five years has been rewarding, but it has its challenges. Chief among them is actually finding the people nominated so they can take part in the annual induction ceremony.

When contacted, inductees have expressed great enthusiasm, and athletes have come to the event from thousands of miles away, excited not only by the honor but also by the chance to see old friends and teammates. Jim Hight, the Gardena High alum and former All-American at Harbor College (1964) and San Diego State, was so impressed by his induction ceremony that he became a member of the committee and makes the drive up from San Diego to attend meetings.

The problem is getting hold of the nominee, particularly those who performed in earlier generations. Some of Harbor’s greatest athletes, even those who went on to four-year schools and the pros, have scattered to the four winds, and former coaches and teammates, when contacted, haven’t heard from them in years.

Such is the case with Johnson, who graduated from San Pedro High in 1978 and starred at Harbor in 1979-80. He started for two years at Colorado before embarking on a professional odyssey that included three years in the upstart United States Football League, where he led the league in pass receptions two years in a row, and two years with the Detroit Lions, where he set a team record for pass catches.

As of this writing, our every effort to get in touch with him has failed, so this is one last appeal to anyone who might know of his whereabouts to contact us before this year’s Sept. 13 event. You can use my email at the bottom of this column.

The same goes for members of the 1968 women’s track and field team and 1994-95 women’s basketball team, both of which won state titles. Finding women athletes has been particularly hard because while we have names, many obviously got married over the years and no longer go by their maiden names.

Then there are those who we want to honor who have died. Because Harbor’s Hall of Fame is relatively new, we have had to honor many posthumously. This year’s list includes three from three generations: Dick Hughes (meritorious service), a faculty member from 1963 to 2006; James Sims (1970-71), all-star linebacker who started for USC’s 1972 national champions; and pitcher Justin Miller (1996-97), conference co-MVP with seven years in the major leagues.

Joining them in this year’s class are Steve Cox (1963-64 All-American wide receiver); Charles Glass (1970-71 gymnast who became world-class bodybuilder); all-star shortstop Mark Lewis (1991-92); record-setting distance runners Sherry Simmons (1978-79) and Diana Karg (1978-80); and the 1983 baseball team that went 30-11 and lost in the state finals.

All of the inductees will be recognized at the Ports O’ Call Restaurant banquet. For tickets, call 310-233-4446. Proceeds maintain the work of the Hall of Fame in honoring Harbor’s finest athletes.

Because of past experience with no-shows, the HOF committee knows that, with or without Johnson and the others, the dinner will still be a huge success. It’s what you’d expect from a committee that includes the likes of Hight, coaching legends Jim O’Brien and Jim White, and Joe Marino, Dave Gascon, Mickey Teora, Jim Stanbery and the recently added Marion Perkov. It’s the honorees who miss out on a memorable occasion, so if you can help us find Richard Johnson, let us know.

Speaking of Pirate Football…

I’m sure the stories were flowing at the memorial for Bill Seixas, the longtime San Pedro High coach and teacher who died July 1 at 91, but there was one story that probably didn’t get told.

It happened during my SPHS days in the late `60s, when I had homeroom in the old gym. The teacher was the aforementioned Teora, and the class sat on one half of the bleachers, with another homeroom class, under Seixas, next to ours. Teora and Seixas, P.E. teachers at this point in their careers and longtime friends, had desks facing the bleachers, and there was always a lot of banter going on. One morning as I was doing homework there was a disturbance, and I looked up to see chairs flying and Seixas and Teora involved in a full-out brawl, fists flailing away. It only lasted a few seconds before some students separated them; I don’t recall any bloodshed or injuries, and the next day everything was back to normal.

Teora must have forgotten that morning when, commenting on his late friend, he said, “He was ornery as hell and he used to fight tooth and nail – verbally of course – but he was able to determine a good athlete from an average athlete and develop them into great athletes.” Then again, maybe he did remember, and was just being kind to the memory of the feisty little coach who loved all things San Pedro. spt

Westmont Drive Fiasco Proves It: Stupid Is As Stupid Does

It’s a good thing I take blood pressure medication because I nearly popped a vein when I read what happened to Westmont Drive. And that was before I read the response from our councilman and his spokesman.

We live in the age of stupidity, so what happened on Westmont shouldn’t have surprised me. After all, look what Washington, D.C., has given us now that policy is determined not by “will it work” but on “will it feel good?” That kind of thinking in Sacramento has given us a pair of transportation boondoggles known as the bullet train and Complete Streets Act (“Well, it looked good on paper”). LAUSD wants my wife to supervise breakfast for 24 kindergartners in the classroom (visualize crayons in syrup). And somewhere in an ivory tower cubicle in Downtown L.A., someone who’s probably never even driven on Westmont read the Complete Streets Act and decided that what one of the worst traffic areas in San Pedro needed was the elimination of a car lane to provide room for bicyclists. Something about the street being “underutilized.”

There are so many things wrong with this that I hardly know where to begin. Councilman Joe Buscaino said he’d ask the Department of Transportation to provide an update on the impact of one less car lane. Too bad no one thought of doing that before the changes were made. How about the city send just one employee to stand on the corner of Westmont and Western between 7:30 and 8 a.m. any weekday? Anyone ever try exiting from Coco’s or Rite Aid onto Westmont at any time of day? As the debate continues over adding 830 housing units at Ponte Vista, the “Nightmare on Western Avenue” not only hasn’t been helped, it’s been made worse.

It’s bad enough that it was done literally while no one was looking. That it’s just another ham-fisted effort by the nanny state we now live in to get people out of their cars and onto bikes is pretty obvious from the comments by Buscaino spokesman Branimir Kvartuc. He said that the change wasn’t made “to accommodate (existing) bicyclists but to encourage (new) bicyclists.” Buscaino then doubled down by saying, “This is to encourage people to get out of their cars and use their bikes. To those who say San Pedro doesn’t use bikes, I say, ‘Let’s start. Why not?’”

Why not? Well, have you tried to get all those parents to stop driving their kids to Dodson and Mary Star? Maybe that’s the plan: Make the drive so miserable they’ll stop. Good luck with that. Or ask your longshore buddies to bike to work. Oh, that’s right, there isn’t a bicycle lane on the Vincent Thomas Bridge. Can’t see a lot of families bicycling to Field of Dreams. And it might be hard to pick up lumber or plants at Home Depot using a bike. I guess you could haul paving stones in a backpack two at a time. Perhaps you can encourage my 84-year-old mother who lives near Dodson to hop on a bicycle to make her hair appointment. The only accomplishment of eliminating that car lane right now is making sure she and dozens of other drivers sit in their cars an extra 10 or 15 minutes waiting at the intersection of Western and Delasonde.

That’s why not, Joe.

This must be what happens when a politician runs for re-election without any opposition.

Time for a reality check, councilman: This isn’t Asia or Europe. This isn’t even Santa Monica. This is San Pedro. I would have expected a comment like Joe’s from someone who lives on the Westside or a beach city, but not from a native of San Pedro who should know better. I took issue with Janice Hahn over her planting stop signs and speed humps all over town, but at least she had the pulse of San Pedro when it came to Ponte Vista. That’s what we need now, a councilman who will stick up for his constituency – the vast majority of which rely on cars and trucks.

Maybe Joe’s just spent too much time around people like that downtown San Pedro art gallery owner who had the gall to say, “People in vehicles think they own the road…We need to eliminate our reliance on four-wheeled transportation.”

Sorry, but people who drive DO own the road, in a matter of speaking. We pay 71-cents a gallon in taxes every time we stop at a gasoline station, and most of that money goes to transportation projects. Those people in their bright Spandex and shiny helmets who cruise the peninsula every weekend should thank the gas-guzzlers instead of metaphorically flipping them off. I say this as someone who road his bike to work for most of the `80s, way before it became de rigueur. And, yes, I looked ridiculous in Spandex.

This column is appearing a month after the bicycle lane went in. Here’s hoping that by now Joe has come to his senses and is doing all he can to get the Westmont car lane restored. Traffic officials realized the error of their ways last year when they messed with the turning lanes from Weymouth onto Western and quickly changed it back. Like the general in charge of the Hurricane Katrina cleanup said, “Don’t get stuck on stupid.” spt

San Pedro Native Has Treasure Trove Of Stories

Jean Taves is far too modest to ever consider herself a living treasure, but it didn’t take me long to add her to my own short list of San Pedro treasures after she sent me an email and we sat down and talked.

She knew how to get my attention; attached to that initial email was a copy of a letter written by her older sister, Barb, to her fiancé in October 1945 that describes a scene that many San Pedrans might still remember, the return of the Pacific Fleet to its former home port. The fiancé, Ben, was serving on the heavy cruiser USS Helena, then in New York. Barb wrote on Oct. 25:

I surely wish it could have been the Helena coming up the channel this morning instead of the cruiser Los Angeles. I paid particular attention to her as I know your ship is the same type. The new cruisers are really beautiful, aren’t they? So long and sleek and powerful looking. I’m glad you did get your big ship if it had to be a ship again. The troop ships have been returning every day as well as the battleships Texas and Nevada; cruisers Astoria, Baltimore, Tucson and L.A.; carriers Shangri-La and Hancock, several CVEs; mine destroyers; and several others. We have a marvelous view of them from the balcony of the building which is upstairs over the Cabrillo Theatre on Seventh and Beacon streets. There is a tiny fishing boat which is painted white and decorated with flags which meets each ship as the tugs bring her in to berth, and their favorite record seems to be ‘California, Here I Come.’ There is to be quite a program in the Coliseum at USC following a street program in L.A. Saturday (parade), and a sky parade of 300 Navy and Marine planes. There will be four submarines among the ships open for inspections Saturday. I’ve been aboard the larger-type ships years ago, but would like to see the inside of a sub.

Jean had just graduated from San Pedro High that June. Barb, a 1941 grad, was employed by the Navy in its public relations office, which was adjacent to the Fox Cabrillo Theatre below the Elks Club. Barb, who died in 2010, and Ben had a long life together.

Like most of her generation, Jean, now 85, has vivid memories of the long-ago past. In 1927, her parents’ house was the last one on west Santa Cruz, just below Walker and the original McCowan’s market. The boys she grew up with almost all ended up serving in the war.

In another email, she wrote: I still grieve over several friends who never returned whose names you referred to in your poignant article several years ago. In my mind’s eye I see the gold star in Robert Stambook’s mother’s front window in her tiny house off 9th Street. He was in the 5th Marine Division, wounded in the invasion of Iwo Jima, and sent back into the battle and was killed.

I have a copy of a March 1945 clipping from the News-Pilot with a picture of Stambook, a Summer 1943 San Pedro High grad, that says his “helmet saved his life on Iwo Jima, and permitted him to return to the fighting there after treatment at a first-aid ship offshore for shrapnel wounds in the head received the day his marine regiment invaded the island, according to word received by his mother, Mrs. Hazel Nelson of 1045 S. Alma.” Just 19-years-old and engaged to a high school friend of Jean’s, he was killed in action on March 14; he’s buried in Rosecran’s National Cemetery in San Diego.

Jean also recalls her stepfather, Arthur W. “Bill” Christensen, who survived a ship torpedoing in WWI while in the merchant marine, being recruited by the Army in WWII. Christensen was a longshoreman working for Crescent Warehouse when the Army came calling, seeking the services of stevedores to help get bomb-damaged ports in France back in operation following D-day. When he returned to San Pedro, he finished his career as a supervisor at Crescent.

As usually happens when two San Pedrans who’d never met before get together, we discovered common bonds. Years ago, she was a neighbor of my old San Pedro High math teacher, the late Glen Gallaher, who used to email me regularly. Now she lives just a few doors down the street from me, in the same house she’s owned since the early `60s. She mentioned a family that once lived next door, the Karmeliches, and the boys her son, Brian, played with. It turns out one of those boys, Chris, stands right in front of me when we line up at the casual hall.

Brian attended Crestwood Elementary and Dodson Junior High, but Jean sensed her son was destined for something special and enrolled him at Narbonne High because of its highly regarded public speaking program. He graduated in 1977 and went on to earn his Ph.D. from USC. Jean herself graduated from UCLA in 1953 but cut short a teaching career to care for her mother.

She was right about her son, but his story is going to have to wait for another day. Stay tuned. spt

Backyard Sojourn Inspires Bookkeeper To Write


I have a low retaining wall in my backyard, lined with rose bushes. On the other side of the wall is my neighbor’s ivy. When the sun’s out, so are the lizards, basking in the warmth and doing their little pushups on the wall.

I also am the husband of a kindergarten teacher, which puts me in her classroom quite often, and “Papa” to 5- and 4-year-old granddaughters. That means I read a lot of children’s books.

So I was intrigued when, while standing in line at my bank on Western Avenue, I noticed on a table nearby a promotion for a book titled The Lizard in the Roses. Beautifully illustrated, with bright, vibrant colors and cute little animal and insect characters that inhabit the book’s backyard, the story written in rhyme, I immediately thought this was something my granddaughters would enjoy.

None of which made it column material until I read that the author, Jeana Radovcich, is a native San Pedran, and the book is dedicated to her parents, Joe and Marilyn Scarcello, whom I happen to know. Joe worked for many years at the family-owned Rapid Shoe Repair on 6th Street.

The book came about almost by accident. Jeana, who attended White Point, Dana and graduated from San Pedro High in 1984, isn’t a teacher and doesn’t have children. What she has is a desire to paint, which was nurtured by her art teacher in high school, Margaret Works, but never went much further as she began a career in bookkeeping.

She did paint an oil portrait of Barbra Streisand, which she took down to Sunyata Gallery in San Pedro, where she met Tom Phillips. That friendship led to her modeling for some of the late artist’s well-known paintings of local landmarks. That’s Jeana in the orange dress in front of Phillips’ painting of Shanghai Red (“It doesn’t look a lot like me, but it’s me”), and she’s the figure with the umbrella in front of the Point Fermin Lighthouse.

She still wanted to paint, however, and finally, her husband, an IT professional, said, “We can handle it (financially). Go ahead and quit and do it.”

“I was sort of blocked, I couldn’t squeeze it out, and got depressed,” Jeana recalls of her search for inspiration. “I read books to unblock myself, and one day was out in the backyard, being in nature, with the now. That’s what I was doing when I saw the lizard.

“I loved to look at them. There was one on a rose bush, who used to run away, and one on the wall I could walk right up to. I saw the lizards there one day and told my husband there was a lizard under the roses. He handed me a pencil and pad of paper and told me to write it down.”

And that’s how the lizard book became “based on true events.”

The hardbound book is so professionally done that it comes as a shock that it was self-published, digitally illustrated. But that’s just one of the benefits of being married to a computer expert with his own company. George, whose father captained a fishing boat in San Pedro, attended Mary Star and was a member of the last class of Fermin Lasuen before graduating from Loyola Marymount. According to Jeana, he said, “Here, let me give you this digital tablet, and you can work with that. I was really intimidated by it… didn’t touch it for a year. He encouraged me to scribble, play with it. I got pretty good and learned all the little tricks.

“I had made some little sketches of the story I had written down and started with those. Next thing I knew, I had a little book,” she said.

They never even looked for a publisher. “My husband thought it was worthy of bringing it into reality as a book,” she recalls. “He was so impressed with the drawings, he wanted to do it himself. He knows all the computer tricks, the layout program. He did it all himself.

“It’s kind of like a little miracle for me. I was blocked, had no aspirations, and it just sort of came out. This may sound grandiose, but I think it’s something God wanted me to do.”

The book is available at Williams’ Book Store, Captain’s Treasure Chest, the Assistance League and The Corner Store in San Pedro, The Book Frog in the Promenade in Rolling Hills Estates, and Apostrophe Books in Long Beach. The cost is $16.99.

Jeana will be having a book signing at 3 p.m. April 27 at Williams’. If you have little kids of your own or, like me, little grandkids, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Lizard. And when you’re done reading it to them, tell them the inspiring story of a little San Pedro girl who grew up and became a children’s book author. spt

Historical San Pedro Poems Still Ring True on 125th Birthday

In honor of San Pedro’s 125th birthday, I’m offering a couple of historic poems that speak volumes about our town and, despite their age, haven’t lost relevance.

The first is “To Their Memory,” written in 1924 by Minna Irving as a tribute to the 48 sailors who died in an explosion aboard the battleship USS Mississippi during gunnery practice off the coast of San Pedro on June 12 of that year. As part of the Pacific Battle Fleet, the Mississippi called San Pedro home from 1919 to 1940; when the rest of the fleet relocated to Pearl Harbor, the Mississippi went to the Atlantic and escaped that disaster.

The funeral for the Mississippi crewmen at San Pedro’s Trona Field was one of the largest events in town up to that time. In a sad postscript, an almost identical accident occurred during the war off the Gilbert Islands; another explosion in the same turret killed 43 sailors on Nov. 20, 1943.

The poem has added poignancy today with the addition of the USS Iowa to our waterfront. The Iowa suffered an eerily similar peacetime tragedy in 1989 when an explosion in No. 2 turret during gunnery practice off Puerto Rico killed 47 sailors.

I don’t know where the poem first appeared, but this version comes from Harvey Beigel’s classic Battleship Country, which details the long history of the Pacific Fleet in San Pedro.

The “Missy” is the proudest ship
That rides the billow’s crest,
In gunnery she’s unexcelled,
Her skippers are the best.
Five years she’s held the “Iron Men”
For athletes none can beat,
And in efficiency but few
Approach her in the fleet.

A greater pride is hers today
Though it is dimmed with tears,
For in her log a list of eight
And forty names appears —
Her seamen, unafraid who met
Man’s ancient grisly foe,
And passed with steadfast shining souls
To join the watch below.

Calm were the blue Pacific swells,
Clear was the azure sky,
Peace spread her wings above the world,
No enemy was nigh,
The Mississippi’s mighty guns
At target practice roared,
When Death, a silent visitor,
Unbidden came aboard.

Through hatches battered down he went
In Turret No. 2,
Where round the giant guns they served
Stood all the gunner’s crew,
Some thought of home and little ones
Beyond the ocean’s rim,
Some thought of service-stripes to earn,
But no one thought of him.

Within that chamber wrought of steel
He grimly took command,
And turned its deadly forces loose
On that devoted band.
They saw him then—a dreadful shape,
They felt his scorching breath,
And knew him by his shroud of flame
And veil of smoke as Death.

They died as men in battle die,
Each sailor at his post,
Fit mates of Lawrence, Hull, Paul Jones,
And all that hero host,
With Skrynas at the telephone
His last report to give,
While Ensign Erwin stepped aside
That other lads might live.

Horatius at the bridge, El Cid,
Great Charlemagne of old,
Rustem the peerless Persian—they
Were men of god-like mold,
The crew of Turret No. 2,
Who perished at their guns,
When Glory calls the roll reply
With these illustrious ones.

Oh! It is not her battleships
That makes the Navy strong.
The thickness of her armor-plates,
Her batteries in song,
Her might is in her sturdy tars
To flag and service true,
Like those immortal men who died
In Turret No. 2.

Sounds Familiar

I can’t even remember where I got the following poem. It was published on a little notecard, the title simply “San Pedro,” with the copyright 1920. Earl Ihme is the author, and at the bottom it gives his address as 730 W. 21st Street. San Pedrans love their town, but as this poem amply demonstrates, it is not a recent phenomenon. San Pedro was only 32 years old and already affectionately called Pedro.

You ought to live in San Pedro,
Where the ships and the railroads link,
For the pulse is as throbbing in Pedro
As on anywhere else I can think.

Oh, we want to live in San Pedro,
Where the sky and the ocean meet,
Where the khaki and blue as “our hero”—
They are manning our fort and our fleet.

We are happy! — We live in San Pedro,
Where the sky and the sun is a smile,
Where the folks have the aim and the ether
O’ the works that are worthy of while.

Oh, we like to live in San Pedro,
At the door of an opening world;
For the future and flag of our Pedro
They shall yet to be fully unfurled.

Oh, we love to live in San Pedro!
We may move, we may roam everywhere,
We will always be longing for Pedro
For our home and our happiness there.

Some things never change. Happy birthday, San Pedro. spt

New Baseball Coach Wants No Player Left Behind

Good morning, students. Welcome to “Introduction to San Pedro High Baseball 101.”

As most of you know by now, we have a new coach, Lefty Olguin, although calling Lefty “new” is silly because he’s been a part of San Pedro sports for much of his life. The entire Olguin clan, in fact, has been an integral part of San Pedro’s history for most of the past century; our other campus is named after Lefty’s uncle and aunt, John and Muriel.

Please note that Lefty – no one calls him Albert – is not a lefthander. He’s had his nickname since he was a baby and it has nothing to do with his limbs. It seems one day both of his parents ran to answer a phone and realized they had “left” the baby alone for just a minute. As will happen, the kids in the neighborhood picked up on the story, and he’s been Lefty ever since.

Which caused no little confusion for major league scout Carl Hubbell, the Hall of Fame pitcher, who came to watch Lefty when he was starring for the Pirates and was surprised to find out he was checking out a right-hander.

You’ll also note that Lefty is slightly older than the typical beginning high school coach. All right, a lot older. Old enough to be retired as the athletic director of Compton College as of Jan. 31. Lefty is used to being the “old man,” however. He graduated from Pedro in Summer `69 but had suffered a serious injury and didn’t return to playing until 1976, when Jim O’Brien made him his first recruit at Harbor College. That’s when he reunited for the first time with Bobby Ramirez, his former San Pedro High teammate and the man he’s placing as coach at SPHS. Ramirez was an assistant coach (along with Pedro legend Andy Lopez) under O’Brien that year when, with Lefty back on the mound, the Seahawks finished runner-up in the state tournament.

Lefty, having graduated from Biola, returned to Harbor in 1978 as an assistant on O’Brien’s first state championship team. One of the players on that team was Matt Stanovich, who was an assistant at Pedro under Ramirez and will remain, joined by his brother, Dave, and holdovers Ray Mendoza and Jamie Davenport. John Car, another former Pirate, takes over the pitching coach duties from Tim Ursich, who is now helping out Ramirez at his new school, Pioneer in Whittier. Car was pitching coach at Mary Star last year. We’ll explore all of these relationships next semester in “San Pedro Baseball: We Are Family.”

Lefty will be doing a lot more than coaching this year, however. He’s also just launched Future College Stars, a pet project of his that he hopes will have a lasting impact on the lives of young athletes beyond the playing field.

“The goal of the program is to academically track and support baseball in high school,” Lefty says. As a former player and coach, Lefty knows how to get the best out of his athletes on the field. As an administrator, he wants to get the best out of them off the field, in the classroom. “The whole premise is to help support the high school athlete not just for eligibility but help to get them into college.”

Lefty is hoping the foundation can raise the funds needed for people such as an academic coordinator, tutors and workshop leaders. He wants to see local college coaches speak to the students, lead clinics and promote their programs. He also wants to make sure the players have places to play year-round, with perhaps a collegiate league or instructional league. For starters, he’ll be working with San Pedro High, Mary Star and Pioneer, but hopes to expand in the summer.

“We want to put college in front of the kids instead of professional baseball,” Lefty says. “We want a consistent effort to help guarantee they get into college or a two-year program. By the time they’re getting ready to leave junior high, they’ll know what they need to do (academically). We want to try to get kids focused on college.”

Lefty is drawing on his experience of growing up in Pedro in the `50s and `60s and `70s, when he played with the likes of Garry Maddox, Alan Ashby, Joe Lovitto and the Lusic brothers. “We have a great tradition at San Pedro High of getting kids drafted,” he notes, “but there’s only a handful of them who went to college.

“Nothing wrong with signing out of high school, don’t get me wrong,” Lefty says, but he also knows a lot of great players whose professional aspirations didn’t pan out, and without a college education, their options were limited.

For more information, check out www.futurecollegestars.org. Leave it to Lefty to get it right.

The Long and Winding Road

Eight years later, and Ponte Vista is finally down to a reasonable 830 homes.

Like many, I remain opposed to changing the zoning from single-family R-1, but iStar apparently has seen the light. Testing the political wind, the new developers aren’t even going to fight for more housing, obviously hoping that the modest 830 figure will quiet most of their critics.

Of course, the devil is in the details, but at least there is now room for calm discussion on hot-button issues such as traffic mediation, which always has been my main concern, and senior units.

It looks like those goats may have to look for new grazing land soon. spt

Shutting Down The Ports Leaves Everybody A Little Bit Poorer

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in economics to know times are tough. The nation’s economy has reached critical mass. California is just a tax hike away from bankruptcy. Los Angeles is on the verge of collapse. And a glance at downtown San Pedro makes you think maybe the Mayans were right after all. How bad is it when a tattoo parlor is replaced by a real estate agency with foreclosure lists taped on the windows?

The recent strike by ILWU clerical workers has revealed just how tenuous is San Pedro’s one link to prosperity – the Harbor. A relatively small group of workers shut down Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors, all in an effort to save a handful of future jobs. How much it cost shippers is debatable (according to one source, the $1 billion-a-day figure was totally bogus) but whatever the figure, it’s small solace to the thousands of workers who lost a week’s pay days before Christmas.

The clerical workers may have made their point, but they certainly lost ground in the public relations war. In these tough economic times, anyone making $40 an hour can’t expect much sympathy from the typical man on the street, especially when that man or woman may be unemployed.

Technology changes everything, in most cases simplifying tasks that inevitably cost jobs; it cost me my job after 32 years in the newspaper business. It’s the price we pay for progress. The ILWU continues to struggle with this fact, even as competition grows more intense in a global economy. Fortunately, that same technology often creates entirely new areas of employment, just as containerization took longshoremen out of the hold and put them in UTRs or in front of computers.

Time for a GPS

An ancillary issue to the port strike, according to veteran Los Angeles business journalist Mark Lacter (www.laobserved.com), was the media coverage. In his words, “It was pretty bad – frankly, some of the worst local business reporting I’ve seen in a while.”

He blames it on the failure of the media to ask the big questions, and explains it this way: “Very few reporters have a handle on these questions because news organizations have next to no presence at the ports. Shipping, you see, is simply too much of a hassle to cover. Sources are uncooperative, the industry itself is extremely secretive and nearly impossible to follow, the stories aren’t all that exciting, and, don’t laugh, San Pedro isn’t easy to get to. So aside from rewriting port releases and covering Harbor Commission meetings, it’s basically ignored – until there’s a strike.”

We’re not laughing, Mark.

Food Trucks

The ongoing controversy over food trucks at San Pedro’s First Thursday Art Walk is ridiculous. The facts: 1.) The food trucks are attracting people to First Thursday who otherwise would not be there. You don’t think they’re coming for the art, do you? 2.) Therefore, the food trucks are not taking money away from local restaurants and unintentionally or not, are adding to the foot traffic that the artists would not normally get.

So everyone involved should reread the opening paragraph, quit their yapping and be thankful the food trucks are coming at all. I look at those trucks as an extravagant fad that in this economy won’t be around much longer anyway.

‘Suffer the Little Children’

It wasn’t hard to imagine the horror that was visited upon Newtown, Conn., a few weeks ago. My wife teaches kindergarten in L.A. Unified, and I spend a lot of time in her classroom helping out. Our granddaughters, ages 5 and 4, attend school here in San Pedro.

In April 2007, I wrote a poem in response to a similarly monstrous act of evil that took place at Virginia Tech. Five years later, it remains just as relevant. It’s titled “The Devil Walks Among Us.”

The devil walks among us, without the horns and tail.
He’s there without our knowing, in a mansion or in jail.

He’s even in our churches, in the halls of government.
He seems so kind and gentle that you think he’s heaven-sent.

But he’s also on the corners, in the darkened alleyways,
Stalking future victims as a lion hunts his prey.

He hides among the briars of our memories and our fears.
Take a glance o’er your shoulder the next time you see a mirror.

He haunts us in our nightmares, stirs the terrors that run deep.
Wakes us trembling, drenched in sweat – there’s no sanctity in sleep.

In our loneliness he festers like a wound that will not heal,
Always looking for a new way to maim, destroy and steal.

He glares from deadened eyes upon a world he despises
As he plots against creation, glad for all that terrorizes.

On the campus, at the workplace, on a crowded bus or plane,
At a mall or busy market, he wants to drive us all insane.

You won’t know when he strikes – evil doesn’t show its hand –
Just a longing to dishearten, to bring pain to every man.

He stares out and captivates us from the shimmering tubes at home,
Seduces and reduces us, especially when we’re alone.

Beware the great deceiver as he’s often draped in light.
If he catches us off guard, he knows we won’t put up a fight.

But to those who know his schemes, old Wormwood has no punch.
He can do great harm to flesh, but our spirit he can’t touch.

Though he roars and shakes the world, we stand firm like Aaron’s rod,
For while others quake and falter, we have the armor of our God. spt

San Pedro Nursing Professor Leaves Her Mark on India

Vivian Churness’s love affair with India began more than a half-century ago. A young nurse recently graduated from Hope College in Michigan, she went to India in 1960 and served the next four years as a missionary nurse-tutor at the famous Scudder Memorial Hospital School of Nursing in Ranipet.

She returned to the States, where she earned her master’s in psychology from Notre Dame, Ph.D. in nursing from Indiana University and a Family Nurse Practitioner certificate from USC, where she was a faculty member until retiring.

There is nothing “retiring” about Churness, however. She plays numerous instruments and still teaches music. Over the years, the longtime San Pedro resident has continued visiting India as a consultant in nursing education, and she has just overseen the publication of a nursing textbook that she co-authored with Leah Macaden, a native of India who also is a nursing professor.

“Another textbook doesn’t seem like a big deal to us, but it is to them,” Churness says of Indian nursing students. “There simply are no textbooks in India at a level of English that is easy to read and understand.”

Nursing Management Concepts and Skills (Including Ward Management) is in English for very good reasons. “To be registered as a professional nurse (R.N.),” Churness says, “they must know how to read and speak English. Doctors’ orders are written in English. All of their lectures are in English, as is their licensure exam. English is a second language for them. When they start the nursing program at age 17 or 18, the only English some of them know is what they learned in English classes in school. They can read it but have difficulty speaking, understanding and writing English.”

In a nation of rampant poverty, Churness also notes the book sells for only $6. “This was released as a national nurses convention in Delhi at the centenary celebration of the Christian Medical Association of India,” she says. “They were overjoyed to have the book. It was well received and will be used by Christians in mission hospitals and by non-Christians in private and government hospitals.”

According to Churness, the content is prescribed by the Indian Nursing Council in the syllabus for registered nurse education, and, “We were careful to cover all of the prescribed content so it can be used in any nursing program.”

In fact, orders for the book already have been received from three other countries, including the United States.

Churness announced the book’s publication at Trinity Lutheran Church of San Pedro, where she and her husband, David, are longtime members. She wanted to publicly thank the many church friends who had assisted her on the book over the previous 18 months. So it comes as no surprise to those who know Churness that the dedication page reads, “To God Alone Be the Glory.”

On the Gridiron

The high school football season is nearly over, but it’s not too late to remember Gene Vollnogle, the legendary coach who died at age 81 on the same day as San Pedro’s own famed sportsman, Van Barbieri.

Vollnogle was a familiar, dare I say “hated,” figure to several generations of San Pedro High coaches, athletes and fans. As first co-head coach at rival Banning (1957-62 with Paul Huebner) and then head coach at Carson (1963-90), Vollnogle compiled a 22-3-1 record against the Pirates. (He was “only” 4-2 against San Pedro while at Banning, and it was those two victorious Pirate teams, from 1961 and 1962, that were honored this year.)

When Vollnogle moved to the newly opened Carson campus in 1963, however, he began a domination of City football unequaled by anyone save his own former player, Chris Ferragamo of Banning.

Vollnogle in particular embarrassed San Pedro High year in and year out. It wasn’t just the 18-1-1 record he compiled against the Bucs, it was the way it was done: the average score was 39-7. In 15 of those 20 games, San Pedro scored one touchdown or less (seven shutouts). The competition became so lopsided, the outmanned Pirates dropped down a division in 1980, and the two teams didn’t meet for eight years. When play resumed in 1988, Carson continued to dominate. It took current coach Mike Walsh to restore order to the rivalry, but he started the year after Vollnogle retired. Walsh and Vollnogle did compete against each other once, however; the Colts defeated the Pirates, 47-0, in 1971, when Walsh was team co-captain.

The highlights for San Pedro against Carson were the one win, the famous Danny Bondon last-minute catch in my senior year (1968), and Mickey Teora’s 1973 team managing a 6-6 tie against the defending City champs.

Vollnogle was a true genius, and even though his teams left their cleat marks all over the Pirates, the San Pedro Sportswalk still saw fit to honor him with a plaque in 2012. spt