Senior Chief Moderator
(3/27/01 6:47:08 am)
Reply THE SECRET--THE OATH.
Preface: It had bothered me for a long time...it was kinda like being part of history and having to keep it secret.
It had continually nagged at me over the years until finally out of desparation I wanted to speak with Glenn and the pledge we had made so long ago to a man, now dead....that man who was John F. Kennedy....I had remembered Sherwood living with his wife outside the navy base in the little town of East Greenwich, Rhode Island...I dialed 411 and requested information for that city and the person Glenn Sherwood...I was told the number and the operator connected me....The voice on the phone was female and I requested was this the Glenn Sherwood residence and told the lady who I was...She remembered me, and I requested to speak with Glenn...I was totally shocked and had to hang up after she told me Glenn had died of a sudden heart attack 9 years before. I grieved the entire time I wrote this story but all the time, feeling I had maintained that pledge made so many years before...JW
The steel decks of the Jamestown Ferry vibrated and pulsed under the feet of the standing passengers. The powerful
diesel engines labored and surged rythmically, propelling the large, non-ship looking vessel through the white-capped
bow waves of Narragansett Bay. It was a crisp early morning and the sun was just breaking over the tree covered
horizon. The locals predicted an Indian Summer day.
The mishappen looking, vehicle carrying crafts destination was Newport Rhode Island.....there it would discharge
passengers, vehicles, and cargo-- turn around with a comparable load and return to Block Island, Point Judith, and
back again to Newport. Late in the 1950’s there was this early morning run, another around noon, and the final
turn-around run late in the day.
The diesel engines were not only felt from the under-foot vibrations, but could be smelled and most definately
heard. Normal conversation was impossible and when passengers appeared to be whispering to someone up close,
they were in fact shouting in that persons ear. For the boat operator, or pilot as they were called, to maintain course
and steerage, they would continually work the boats throttle, up and down, up and down and these action-reaction
processes could be felt underfoot---- they could be heard--- and very positively--- could be smelled. The black, sooty
looking smoke emitting from the smoke stack would almost made one gag, as the noxious exhaust ebbed and waned ,
reacting to the pilots throttling routine.
The two Navymen were standing with their backs to the upper deck bulkhead. Dress blues impecciably clean and
sailor hats so brillantly white they appeared to glow halo-like----unnatural---riding atop their eyebrows---squared as if
by using a carpenters level. Their black, low cut Navy shoes glistened like lacquered hard wood from the Orient.
Almost the same size and sturdy build---ruddy complexions and excellent posture made them appear to be twins. To
any casual observer and on a more positive scrutiny, the older of the two Navymen wore gold badges, stripes, and
chevrons on his left arm while the younger wore insignas and military markings of scarlet----those with an
understanding of Navy enlisted uniforms would immediately know the older man had more time in the Navy and had
been awarded the gold for good and faithful service and further recognizing the Good Conduct ribbons the younger
man was wearing, would be wearing Navy gold when he completed 12 years service. These two men were Navymen
through and through-- though not sailors as one has the impression of what sailors are, always riding ships, out to sea,
around the world---these two were Navy Seabees. Stationed at nearby Davisville, Rhode Island, the home of the
Atlantic Seabees, they were staff instructors for other up and coming Seabees. The name SEABEE comes from the
letter C and the letter B, acronyms for Construction Battalion. A new word-- a new breed of warrior--- conceived in
the early days of World War Two--- born in wide spread locals of Virginia, Mississippi, California, and Rhode Island.
No growing pains for these drivers of bull dozers, masters with the wood and sand and cement---artisans with the iron
and steel---.no humble men they--- baptised under fire on far off Pacific atolls--- shivering in the tundra of Alaska or
sweltering on the scorching desert sands of Africa---to be thrust into the old world civilizations of France, England,
and the Balkans and finally into the destroyed and rotting bowels of Hitlers defeated Germany.
Seabees rode troop transports from one island to the other, from one country to the other, from one invasion to
the other. Many times those elite construction men would ride the landing craft with their tools and construction
equipment and join the assault forces of the U.S Marines as they ‘hit the beach’.
The word ELITE to describe these construction battalions was first uttered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in
1942 and reaffirmed by Admiral Ben Morrell, who later was called the Father of the Seabees. Much later in the
century, the term elite would describe the NAVY SEALS, the NAVY BLUE ANGELS, and of course the NAVY’S
TOP GUNS. Those rugged and skilled craftsman would draw a line in the sand on some ravaged Pacific isle and there
an airfield would be gouged from the still living coral rock--- throw a stone to where a Marine tank had blasted a
Japanese pill-box seconds before and on that spot would seemingly sprout mess-halls, berthing and living spaces,
shops, and clubs---yes, built for those battling Marines or those combat weary dog-face Army troops...or even if a
feather were to fall from a Guradian Angel watching protectively overhead--- there on the spot where it landed they
would build a chapel or an orphanage or a rudimentry school---might even do a health clinic.
The two impressive looking Seabees were going to Newport to retake a battery of navy tests and in early January
they would be competing with other enlisted personnel throughout the naval service for commisioning into the Limited
Duty Officer program. Each year a dozen or more deserving enlisted men would become naval officers in the Civil
The trip was becoming boreing and cumbersome--- the early morning mist was burning away as the sun heated the
surrounding air. The impressive looking navymen moved off to the nearby lifeline and peered over the steel cable and
marveled at the threshing, rumbling bow wake below them.
The Seabees never noticed, or were even aware, that they were being watched by two well dressed and
professional looking civilians who were standing near an engine room air intake. Those two civilians were leaning close
to each other to be heard as they spoke, but all the time keeping their sunglass covered glances directed toward the
sailors....The darkened, wire rimmed aviator style sun shades masked the watching mens eyes and a portion of their
faces. The two enlisted man failed to notice the intense scrutiny. After all, why----?
One of the civilians wore a plaid, snap visor type hat. ---salt and pepper colored hair showing around the edges. A
plaid blazer with brass colored buttons, sharply creased trousers, white shirt and a very colorful tie--his shoes looked to
be the suede ‘Hush Puppy’ style that never required polishing.
The man’s companions head was not covered and his hair appeared bushy, unkempt, and very wind blown---he was
wearing clothes very similar to the other, but on the elbows of his woolen-tweed jacket were elipitical shaped leather
patches...Their complexion was ruddy reddish brown--- maybe German, Dutch or Irish heritage...the man with the
patches on his elbows had a distinct, square shaped jaw--- very prominent teeth--- large teeth, maybe with an overbite.
The man with the bushy hair was wearing shoes as impressive as the shoes the Seabees wore--a high gloss that
could only be achieved by long bouts of skilled polishing--- lots of hard work. Maybe the man was an ex-sericeman
--- maybe he owned a shoe shine parlor---. The man with the big square jaw turned toward his companion and spoke at
length directly into his ear----the listener nodded and nodded---as if to be acknowleging the plan or the plot or
The two well dressed civilians simutaneously turned and stepped off in synchronized paces--- heading toward the
lifeline where the two navy enlisted men were continuing to gaze down into the billowing bay water. They must have
sensed someone had approached them for the Seabees both turned toward the approaching civilians.
The hatless civilian extended his hand toward the younger Seabee and yelled an introduction---still having to shout
to be heard. Then he shoved his hand out toward the other Seabee, again shouting up close to the navymans head to be
He then went through the routine and introduced his friend as Larry---even though everything seemed proper and
above board, the Seabees both displayed a reluctance, a doubt....it seemed almost like children not wanting to talk to
strangers; training the sailors had been exposed too was now being adhered to.... quite suddenly the ferry engines
throttled down and all eyes were suddenly directed toward the ferry landing at Newport---all the slips appeared to be
occuppied.... The diesel engines only a moment earlier emitting ear damaging sounds, now sounded as if they were
only purring, with just enough foward motion so as not to be ‘dead in the water’ The civilians and the Navy men
could now be heard clearly what only a few seconds before had been only an open and shouting mouth--- now
accepted two-way communication.
The bushy haired man with the square jaw was complimenting the Seabees about their looking so sharp. ‘Four-O,
squared away, American Bluejackets’ were his remarks and then the introduction of his companion Larry took place
again--- handshakes and smiling all around this time; doubts and reluctance to talk to these civilian strangers had
faded. The ferry continued to idle and circle, waiting for a mooring spot.
Larry did’nt seem to talk at all but he listened as if spellbound--- clinging to every word his mate uttered,
constantly nodding his approval for some unknown reason----maybe it was some kind of a communication
impediment, the younger Seabee surmised.
The tousled headed man was indeed a gifted speaker--- words and phrases with a very distinct Boston accent--facts
about a Navy he seemed not only to have a positive knowledge of, but definately a deep love for. He spoke of being
around the sea much of his life and during the war, commanding a patrol boat in the South Pacific, to be wounded
when a Japanese destroyer, sunk the small patrol-torpedo boat by colliding and running completely over the much
smaller craft. He kept referring to it as the 107----he told the younger Seabee that he resembled so much one of his
crew members who was lost at sea when 107 sunk....said the mans nick-name was “Frenchy’. The foursome visited
for sometime and laughed and joked --- conversation seemed to fit the occasion much like a smoke after chow or a
cool beer with your buddy when he makes a rate.
Suddenly, almost in a conspirital voice, the man named Jack leaned in and asked in a hushed voice what the Seabees
thought of a Catholic becoming president and to that unusual inquiry the younger Navyman responded that his land
lady over in North Kingston, Ms. Clegg and he talked of it frequently and she had convinced him that there was no
problem with a Catholic president for the major portion of the American population. Jack smiled at that remark,
showing a prominent overbite and rather crooked teeth---and said something risque that made everyone laugh---even
Larry quit his nodding to laugh---maybe he nodded all the time and laughed sometimes but he sure nodded a lot. Again
in the same conspirital sounding voice Jack cautioned the two Seabees that they must never divulge to anyone of
having seen him and Larry--well it may have not been cautioning--- more like wanting a promise, a pledge, or an oath.
He said it was very important ---that he and Larry were traveling incognito--- that the press corp or even the local
military commands must not know of their being in Rhode Island---he hinted of a family problem up at the Cape but
The man Jack had blue eyes and lots of crows feet---a feature most blue-eyed people exhibit due to squinting from
the bright sun--- in fact they were blue eyes of a peculiar intensity--like the blue sky on a cold winter day. The pledge
thing seemed to be of paramount importance to the 109 skipper so the two Seabees sealed the promise with a firm
handshake as the delayed Jamestown ferry boat eased into the now vacant slip....Larry kept nodding even after the
hand clasps and the conversation had ceased.
A short time later after disembarking the ferry, the Seabees were waiting for the base taxi. A large black vehicle
passed nearby and slowed to a stop. The darkened rear window of the expensive looking car lowered and they
observed the man Jack salute them---a gesture they returned smartly. Not at all ‘squared-away’ for a naval officer to
salute an enlisted man first, especially if that former naval officer would, within a year, become president of their
It was a foregone conclusion for both Seabees the pledge would be kept and even in each others presence, they
never spoke of it. The younger Seabee was serving on Okinawa and the other in Spain when the spellbinding news
flashed around the world that the tousle-haired man with the laughing blue eyes and the big square jaw had been
assassinated in his own countrys heartland. The country grieved and the world grieved.
During April 1964 the younger Seabee was on a teaching assignment in Dallas, Texas. There the news of Ruby and
Oswald and the other suspected conspiritors hogged the papers and the television screens---no let up, no rest. The
young Seabee, now a Chief Petty Officer and his crew of fellow instructors, viewed the grassy knoll, the book
depository, Parkland Hospital, and Love Airport---now they call it structuring---they told each other they needed to
get a handle on things--sailor talk you know.
The Navy Chief never told his crew a thing--- never a hint of having met the 109 skipper those years before. His
crew just thought the same as most Americans did and they pondered all the whats and whys of that terrible time in
our nations history. If you have read this far, the story is finished--- that is as far as this one can be told.
John H. Wilborn Sr. USN Retired
NOTE: 3-27-2001 While back someone asked me after reading this story, who Larry was. I had no idea, so I began
to use the computer to find out . I believe it was the opening of the 1962 World Series---there was a photo of the
President tossing out the ball--a whole lot of sports ‘groupies’ and VIP’s were in the picture--one individual stood out
though--a fellow by the name of Lawrence O’Brien--that was the person who was with JFK that day on the Jamestown
Ferry--the guy who nodded all the time. He would go on and become the Postmaster General in LBJ’s cabinet. JW