NABCA Conference Sparks Vet Reunion

[The following is an edited version of a letter sent to StateWays by Bill Applegate, product manager, Idaho State Liquor Dispensary.]

I’d like to share a story from the recent NABCA Conference in Phoenix.


Bill Applegate (left) and Robert Wright.

At the Saturday night Banquet, the Idaho group had six spots at Table 29, where we were joined by three folks from the Greensboro, NC Liquor Board: Robert Feldes, Nancy Stewart and her guest Robert Wright. I was sitting next to Robert, chatting, when my wife asked him if one of the North Carolina slides being shown was of sunrise or sunset. Robert said that it was sunrise, but that he’d seen many sunsets during his 22-year career in the U.S. Navy, 16 years served aboard ships.

I mentioned that I had been in the Navy four years during the 1960s , and I enjoyed the seven months I served on a supply ship the best. He asked what ship I was on; I told him the USS Procyon. He quickly asked if it was AF 61 (the Navy’s hull number), and I answered, “Yes.” He asked when I served aboard, and I told him May 1970 through November 1970.

Amazingly, Robert had served on the same ship at the same time as I had; he had come aboard a year earlier. He was a Chief Petty Officer operating the enlisted men’s galley (kitchen for landlubbers), and I was a Storekeeper, which meant we both served in the Supply Division. The Procyon was a supply ship carrying frozen food stuffs, fresh fruit and vegetables, and dry stores (canned goods, flour, etc.). Our job was to replenish ships that were serving off the coast of Viet Nam, sending food across to other ships via cargo nets, while the ships steamed side-by-side.

Robert and I shared stories of going into Viet Nam for replenishment, and port calls in Taiwan, Hong Kong and the Philippines. Our ship eventually returned to Alameda Naval Station and later moved to the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, CA, where it was eventually scrapped or sold.

I think that it’s remarkable that we met again after 39 years. This chance meeting is especially noteworthy when you consider there were only 292 officers and enlisted men aboard, not a huge crew. Had we sat at different tables the night of the NABCA Banquet, or across from one another instead of next to each other, of if the conversation had gone in different directions, we’d have never known we were shipmates. Perhaps the notion of six degrees of separation (or less!) really is true.


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