Well, shipmates, it's Leap Day, March is all set to come in like a lion, and the six weeks of groundhog induced winter is about to come to an end. We have had a colder winter with more snows than normal but I'm not going to complain because I know that you Easterners have had it much worse. I just hope the late cold in Florida doesn't drive up the price of my orange-flavored Metamucil.

I spent quite a bit of my free time in retirement last summer and fall clearing on a 40-acre piece of property one of our daughters bought just down the road. Those 37 years behind a desk at the nuclear fuel plant did not condition me for that kind of activity. But the harsher winter drove me inside away from that where I have played umpteen thousand games of Hearts on the computer and have put 6-7 pounds back on my waist. But it has also given me more time to work on my "find those Sitkin crew members project." That effort was hampered by having to wait on the Naval Historical Society to provide me with new microfilm tapes which Plankie Sam Carolluzzi and my buddy Tim Stone donated the cost of. The tapes (1945-1950) came a couple weeks ago and I have been spending hours squinting at that microfilm reader screen out at the college.

So far I am up to May 1947 and have extracted the names, rates and dates of the original 278 plankies plus another 320 who followed them during the first 18 months. There wasn't a whole lot of tenure back in those days, probably due in large part to Mr. Truman putting an end to things and sending the people home who were not staying for a career. I ran the 278 names through my phone program and came up with about 75 probable finds. Counting the two calls last night, there are already 12 of the plankies accounted for. I made a mailing to 70 people on Monday so I expect to be hearing from lots more in the next few days. Since Branson, 53 new addresses have been added to the database including nine more skippers. I don't have the new finds in a separate database so I can't provide all the new addresses with this newsletter as in the past but I will bring copies of my current address list to Connecticut and, of course, will send it to anybody who requests it. I was pleased when I was able to take George Buffaloe off my "10 most wanted list" but when I found Garcie Roberts recently, he was not able to tell me where George Gross is either. Another find, that many of those who have been attending the reunions will probably recall, is QM Bob Cameron.

As I have said before, not all that I find out is good news. I received a letter from Mrs. Schild telling me that Paul had lost his long battle with asbestos-induced cancer while we were meeting in Branson. Also I have been told that Ned Grady, one of the better people that God had put on this earth, has suffered the same fate. When I called a number at the 1954 address of Frank Hendricks, his sister informed me that he had passed away at age 42. I got a real shock one day in January when I called a listing for BMC Goodloe (1967-69) to hear the lady on the other end say "Yes, this is the right James Goodloe, but he died last night." Several days ago I learned that plankie SKC Mulkey had died a week before I made the call. The world got smaller when I found out on the microfilm that he was transferred off the Sitkin in 1947 because he was made a warrant officer. I came to the Sitkin from the USS Chilton where the warrant officer in the supply dept. was - Mr. Mulkey!

Another rather unpleasant bit occurred in the fall when George Kaiser sent me a clipping from the Sep. 29, 1974 Philadelphia Inquirer showing what little was left of the Sitkin being cut up for salvage at the U.S. Ship Co. in Camden. The article stated that the operation had started in mid-March and said that all that remained in September was part of the stern. It said that they had also purchased the Diamondhead, "a sister ship to the Sitkin" and hoped to realize a profit if the price of scrap iron stayed up. Kind of sad to read that, even though we had previous indications that such was her fate. They paid $280,000 for the Diamondhead but the purchase price for the Sitkin was $152,666 according to information supplied to Gene Gaul by the Bureau of Ships.

I imagine the most important news you are all looking to hear is the 1996 reunion details. I called Tony Fusco to inquire about the status and he told me that the arrangements were being handled by VETS, Inc. in Columbia, MO. (They are the people that operate the 900-number for replies in the Legion magazine and I have had previous correspondence from them wanting me to subscribe to their finder service.) I called to ask them about the details so that I could get the word out in this newsletter. They told me that they don't make mailings to the groups until about four months prior to the reunion. I told them that I didn't think that would be sufficient advanced notice for some people, particularly those who are not retired but they said that was their "standard practice." So I sent them all 430 addresses that I have in my system and I guess they will make a mailing in about May telling everyone the cost, exact location and activities. The only thing that is chiseled in stone is the dates of Sep. 20-23. If any of you want to try to expedite them sending out the details you may reach Nancy Miller at 1-800-844-8387.

I received the latest edition of the Chilton newsletter the other day. In it was a challenge to me to show up at their 1996 reunion to be held in San Diego and chaired by the only person I know in their roster, fellow ships' serviceman Bill Paylor. I wrote him back telling him that they are going to have to schedule their reunions at some other time than the third weekend in Sep. if they hope to see me. They are just back from a cruise in the Caribbean as their '95 reunion. A discussion was held in Branson as to the desirability of our group going on a cruise, either as the yearly event or in addition to that. Please advise me of your opinions about this so that we can decide about it in CT. Also, several have asked about the feasibility of ordering patches, pins, shirts, mugs and other memorabilia. What are your desires? This is a "democratic" organization (I don't enjoy being identified in that persuasion) and we will do whatever the most of you want.

Along with the newspaper article about the last days of the Sitkin, I also receive a booklet put out when Capt. Rohrer took command in 1970. It contained a list of all commanding officers to date and, using that info, I was able to locate those nine skippers. There are only eight out of the 28 who are not accounted for and if I can ever get an answer on a number I have for "Ed C. Stebbins" I believe that number will be reduced by one. Getting the microfilm recently leaves only Jan 1957 through Dec. 1965 that we don't have muster lists for. But we still need info on most officers up to 1967. Anyone with any documents which might list them, please let me know. One of the plankies is sending me a copy of a newspaper they published in the early years. The only cruise books I know of are the 1954 and 1969 versions. Does anyone have any others?

I want to thank all the well-wishers about my health. As far as I know, everything is working about as well as can be expected in these 65 year old systems. My doctor has me taking a cholesterol pill every day along with my aspirin and Metamucil (that stuff really works!). In just four months my cholesterol level has dropped from 275 to 213. As a result of the findings last fall, I imagine he is going to want me to drink that gallon of prune juice and let them put that TV camera where the sun don't shine when I get back from CT. If I'm "clean" after a year they want me on a 3-year schedule since I have a family history of that on my mother's side where I get my traits. They all lasted till age 77 before it got them and I will be very satisfied if He gives me that kind of longevity.

It is time for someone to consider to volunteer to be elected reunion chairman for 1997 so that we can make some rather definite plans while we're together in CT. There is some work involved in coordinating one of these reunions but you don't have to travel if it's held in your backyard. This military reunion business is being sought after by every place in the country that has anything to offer. One of the guys sent me an article saying that Dubuque, Iowa had hosted 20 of them last year because they went after the business. As I said in previous correspondence, it's the people that make the reunions, not where they are held. It just helps if you happen to have Sinatra or the Radio City Rockettes performing in your town during the third weekend in Sep.

We are planning to go to the 175-acre antique show in Charlotte over Easter weekend so get your coffee pot ready, Al, because we've got 40 years of catching up to do. I hope to see the rest of you in September.