PortSide Veteran's Day update on forgotten merchant mariners of WWII

Don Horton's mother on a barge during WWII

Don Horton's mother on a barge during WWII

Last Veteran's Day, we covered the subject of a class of largely-forgotten maritime veterans, the women, children, elderly and disabled mariners who served during WWII.

Below, we provide an update on the cause to finally get recognition for all of them, thanks to info provided by Don Horton who first brought this story, and cause, to our attention. Don Horton was one of those child mariners, serving on a barge with his mother, father and siblings.

Our post from Veteran's Day 2013

Our 9/15/14 interview with Don Horton during his visit to Red Hook, Brooklyn where we took him to various sites that were strongly stamped in his memory.

What you can do for this cause

You can write /call your respective US Senator and ask that they co-sponsor Senate Amendment Sa-3548.  This is the amendment that can provide the avenue to allow for alternative methods of recognition for WW II coastwise mariners.  It is a copy of S-1361, WW II Merchant Mariners Service Act.  Background and Alternative Methods of Recognition, July 2014

The following info is from Don Horton

The bills before Congress

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate offered bills in in support of these veterans, HR 1288 and S-1361, WW II Merchant Mariners Service Act.  HR 1288 was amended in to HR 4435, 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and this bill cleared the House with the amendment intact and is awaiting Senate action for comparison with the Senate  NDAA S 2410.

S -1361 was introduced by Senator Chris Murphy, D-CT back in March, 2014.

In May of 2014, Chairman Senator Levin and Ranking Member Senator Inhofe of the the Senate Committee on Armed Forces selected a large block of amendments for possible inclusion in what is commonly referred to as a Manager’s package.  This package includes certain Bills and amendments that are generally favored by specific groups or members of the Senate. S 1361 was not included within that group. 

Shortly afterward in July, Senator Murphy introduced Senate Amendment Sa-3548. but after the offering of the ”Managers Package”. 

We are awaiting the Senatorial debate on the floor to see if they will consider any more amendments or not.  With this late bit of information, we immediately set about to reach out to all cosponsors of S 1361 (5) and request they come aboard Sa-3548 as cosponsors.  Next we asked each member of the Senate Committee of Armed Forces to become Cosponsors and finally we are asking the remainder of the Senate to become cosponsors to Senator Murphy’s Amendment.

It is our hope to obtain sufficient co-sponsors to bring attention to the exhaustive efforts to have these mariners be given their promised recognition, by court order and many congressional speeches, proclaiming full and unequivocal support for our veterans.

I received an email from the Fleet Reserves that states the Senate version S 2410 of the NDAA may be brought to the floor and may allow debate and issuance of additional amendments.  This is a departure from past Senate actions and good news for us.  Congress is scheduled for convening on 12 November. I attempted to have this confirmed by Senate contacts but was unable.  They neither confirmed nor denied.  

How many mariners are we talking about?

Don Horton at work on a barge during WWII.

Don Horton at work on a barge during WWII.

No one knows either how many served or how many were lost.  GAO asked the Coast Guard to identify how many served during WW II and they could only tell them how many credentials were issued during 1939 to 1946, about 840,000, but stated they had no idea how many served in enemy contested waters.  Historians settled on about 250,000 serving who may be entitled to veteran recognition.  To date about 91,000 have been recognized as veterans.  
 
No one can state how many were lost and presumed dead.  Numbers range from around 5200 to about 9500.  We have documentation that demonstrates that New York lost about 1300 of the numbers of 5200.  That is an eye opening figure for anyone to digest.  I have provided names of those from New York who were lost and the very few who have been recognized as veterans.

Volunteers Needed! Want to use your rigging skills or learn some? Care to help move vintage maritime stuff?

Volunteers wanted!

In preparation to leave the containerport and to make way for a tenant in the shed, PortSide NewYork is clearing everything out of the Pier 9B shed. Everything must be out by 11/17!

Care to spend a nice fall day moving interesting antique marine hardware and vintage engine parts? Want to learn some rigging? Or practice the rigging you already know?  Know how to drive a forklift? We could use you this weekend!

Saturday 11/8/14 9am-5pm
Sunday 11/9/14
9am-5pm
Pier 9B, Red Hook Container Terminal, Brooklyn, 11231

Free pizza in return!

Pizza is on us afterwards.  We can eat in the galley all cozy by the vintage stove or head to a local pizzeria; the work crew will vote to decide.

Location, RSVP info

Enter port gate at Hamilton Avenue, Summit and Van Brunt Streets
Photo needed to enter. TWIC card holders especially appreciated!
RSVP by emailing portsidenewyork@gmail.com or calling 917-414-0565.

If your tug is standing by and you're bored, you are welcome to tie up alongside and pitch in!

Work plan

Saturday work will be led by Captain Matt Perricone who owns the historic tug CORNELL and other vessels and is a principal at Diamond Marine Services. He is also a licensed  marine engineer. 

Sunday work will be led by Nobby Peers, principal of Whitworth Marine Services, a world sailor and engineer who specializes in repairing and restoring vintage engines afloat and ashore.

Most stuff will come aboard the tanker MARY A. WHALEN.  Things to move include replacement parts for the engine on the tanker MARY A. WHALEN, vintage maritime hardware and artifacts for exhibits we will save, and hardware and artifacts we will sell. There is one trip to the scrapyard to finally get rid of  stuff hurricane Sandy flooded, so a volunteer with a pickup would be really appreciated!

We will use the boom from the MARY A. WHALEN to lift things onto the deck, at that point some of it heads to the engine room and most of it goes into a cargo tank. 

Saturday: Matt Perricone will cut a hole in the deck plate so we can lower in full pallet loads of stuff.  On a subsequent trip, he will make that plate a lift-able cover so that we can get in there again easily.  On Saturday, we will focus on getting things into that newly opened cargo tank.

Sunday: Nobby Peers and crew will focus on getting things into the engine room.  The engine heads will be installed on top of the cylinders in the engine room. The pistons have not yet had restoration work to revert the Sandy-damage done to them, so they will not go in the cylinders on the ship. They will be greased, wrapped and stored. 

Davits will stay on the pier. Spare cylinders, lower engine block and fuel pump are headed to another shed.

Slide show of what we are moving

Mariners, please share your Sandy stories here for the benefit of all

Dear Mariners (ones on contemporary ships and historic ones) as we build up to the 2-year anniversary of hurricane Sandy, we invite you to tell you Sandy stories and share your photos here.  We ask you to join us in an educational project.

A goal of PortSide NewYork is to bring the community ashore and community ashore closer together. Sharing Sandy stories is one important way to do that.  We have found that most people ashore in NYC don’t know the mariners’ Sandy story, from prevention, to riding out the storm, to damages incurred, to recovery work -- usually recovery work while being damaged from Sandy.  

In the way that PortSide told the mariners’ response to 9/11 in an exhibit, we would like to do that with Sandy, and we’d like to start that project here.  

We believe that resiliency planning in NYC should involve hearing from the people who build the bulkheads and piers (and who will build any of the sea walls being proposed), marine salvors and equipment suppliers who pump the flooded tunnels, the crew and companies who move the fuel everyone was so desperate to have after Sandy, who clear the channels of debris so imports could arrive by ship, who build and run the emergency ferries, and companies that use boats like dinner boats in emergency response ways, etc.

We also believe mariners can have an important role in preparing communities for floods by helping teach awareness of marine weather, by bringing coastal living skills to New Yorkers living at the water's edge who lack those skills.

There are coastal parts of NYC where communities retain what were traditional coastal skills in abundance, the Rockaways, City Island, parts of Staten Island, where bayman, watermen, boatmen (and women) live, work and play; but large parts of NYC’s waterfront are now populated by people who have little sense of the water along which they live.

PortSide has designed some programs to share knowledge of the water with such people, and we’d like to see if we could kick off that conversation here.

What echoes in our ears is what we heard so often in the Sandy aid center we ran in Red Hook when people explained why they did not prep for Sandy either by evacuating or executing protective measures “they warned us about Irene, and nothing happened.”

This request is also on our two Facebook pages (Mary A. Whalen and PortSide NewYork) for people who would rather share there.

PortSide NewYork & hidden Sandy stories, ours & others

At the two-year anniversary of hurricane Sandy, PortSide NewYork is telling our Sandy story, a story largely hidden, like so many in Red Hook.  We believe our story offers hope and guidance for the future. That’s because our maritime perspective explains how we knew to prepare for Sandy, made us available to help Red Hook’s Sandy recovery, and is a knowledge base we want to share to make you safer from floods in the future.

PortSide NewYork was founded to help change awareness and use of NYC’s BLUEspace, the water part of the waterfront.  New York City’s area is one third water, and contains 29 islands.  PortSide’s goal is to create a place that will showcase what NYC’s waterfront can really be.  Our ship, the tanker MARY A. WHALEN, is an ambassador in that goal and our endeavor to bring the community ashore and the community afloat, the maritime community, closer together.  Here’s our Sandy story:

Please help us continue this kind of resiliency work and reporting. Buy a ticket to our fundraiser Tues 10/28/14 or donate

Sandy prevention: Saving a historic ship

Thursday, 10/25/12, 1pm, Sandy minus 4.5 days, PortSide’s crew said good-bye to a class trip of first graders visiting the MARY A. WHALEN and started hurricane prep, punching our way thru the list of what we did for Irene the year before. 

During the next four and a half days, we traded strategies with historic ships and modern workboats around the harbor. We all laid in food, water and fuel; tested generators; and moved our boats to safer places. PortSide curator Peter Rothenberg, shipcat Chiclet and Director Carolina Salguero are storm crew on the MARY A. WHALEN.  

The maritime community obsessively followed marine weather reports. “Grim installments are burned in my memory,” said Carolina Salguero. “At Sandy minus 1.5 days, we learned an 8-foot surge is coming.  At Sandy minus a few hours, I am readying for a 12 foot surge.”

Ashore in Red Hook, things were different. Sunday night, Sandy minus 24 hours, an email blast went out telling Red Hook which bars will be open and what movies are being screened.  Carolina worried, “Is the community ashore prepping for Sandy? Has anyone evacuated?” PortSide’s maritime world felt separated from neighbors ashore by more than the containerport fence. 

Peter Rothenberg was valiant. “When Carolina got word that the storm surge was expected to be 12 or 13 feet high, I had visions of the MARY tipping over onto the pier and emphatically agreed with the idea of securing a preventer line to the next pier 265 feet away.”

Due to preparations, our ship MARY WHALEN safely rode out the surge with our office aboard, enabling every form of Sandy assistance we delivered to Red Hook afterwards.  

Peter and Carolina came ashore on Wednesday afternoon to discover a devastated Red Hook, and immediately decided that PortSide’s urgent search for a publicly-accessible homeport was flooded to a standstill and that we would help Red Hook until waterfront sites recovered enough for us to resume real estate talks. 

Appreciation from Red Hook

Adam Armstrong, Pioneer Street resident and writer of the blog “View from the Hook” describes what happened next, “PortSide came ashore, quickly set up shop at 351 Van Brunt Street and proceeded to make a base - a visible and accessible storefront -  from where they could reach out, provide information, resources and assistance to their land lubbing neighbors, most of us who were desperately trying to recover from the immense damage that had been done to our homes and our unique, waterfront neighborhood.  Carolina Salguero and her team of volunteers co-ordinated clean-out crews and tradesmen to go and physically assist our residents, and they gathered and disseminated information about anything they though would be helpful - FEMA, legal assistance, insurance matters, Con Edison, National Grid, the Rapid Repairs program, etc., and provided a connection to our representatives in government. On many of these matters, PortSide organized meetings and reached out to our residents, and in the case of our street - Pioneer Street – Carolina co-ordinated the creation of a comprehensive contact list so that everyone on our block could share information and provide support to each other. It was - and still is - a wonderful way for the residents of Pioneer Street to keep in touch and get updates on our street's recovery.” 

What made that work possible was the selflessness of three people PortSide is honoring at our fundraiser on Tuesday, October 28 at Hometown. Victoria Hagman donated Realty Collective’s storefront and utilities at 351 Van Brunt, despite suffering extensive flood damage herself.  Park Slope electrician Danny Schneider walked into 351 and offered free labor. PortSide coordinated his work, and Danny reports that he inspected and certified 60 buildings and repaired some two dozen for just the cost of parts. 

Our third honoree, our Curator Peter Rothenberg worked both ends of PortSide’s recovery story, the prevention that saved the MARY WHALEN and the aid work after the storm of setting up and running 351.

Peter, Carolina and Dan Goncharoff of PortSide ran 351 for a month and then continued a virtual aid station and other recovery efforts out of view. In April 2013, PortSide won a White House award for Sandy recovery work, and in July, the New York State Senate honored our work.  

PortSide work transitions from recovery to resiliency

Carolina began attending resiliency conferences. Summer 2013, she was asked to become a member of Red Hook’s NY Rising committee to create local resiliency plans.  PortSide staff and interns did research supporting the committee (which includes bone, two, three, and four and several pages on our website) during the committee's eight months of work. 

One of Carolina’s NY Rising goals was to inject maritime issues into the discussion, hoping the State NY Rising process could influence a state agency, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), so waterfront infrastructure in NYC can be more repaired and built for both resiliency and everyday operations.  Carolina also proposed the solar-powered emergency lights for NYCHA housing which are in Red Hook’s plan and are being considered for other NYCHA developments. “I think the NY Rising committee work is good. Red Hook distinguished itself for what we put in our plan,” says Carolina; but plans are hidden assets for most people until they are built. 

Looking back on PortSide’s two years of Sandy-related work, for the sake of Red Hook’s planning better for the future, we would like to talk about some hidden Sandy stories of need and success we found in the course of our recovery and resiliency work.

Hidden Sandy stories of need and success

PortSide’s recovery work helped many people who don’t get media coverage and whose cases deserve more attention:  People without an advocacy group, without on-line fundraising.  People who aren’t comfortable using computers and needed Peter’s help to complete digital forms. People in mixed-use buildings that don’t fit FEMA homeowner funding guidelines. Renters who are not in NYCHA, and so are not in the media and political spotlights.  Seniors, immigrants. People whose divorce, estate and tax situations complicated filing for aid and kept them from speaking up in public meetings.  People who are private about their needs in general.

We learned that some affordable flood prevention was possible: The owners of Metal & Thread used a few hundred dollars of hardware store supplies to keep water from coming into their storefront and through the sidewalk hatch -- though their cellar suffered water leaking through the foundation from the empty lot next door.  Some tugboat crews saved their cars by moving them from Erie Basin to the second floor garage at Home Depot, above surge level.

IKEA’s contribution needs more attention. IKEA gave and gave and got no media coverage until the Sandy’s one year anniversary when their $250,000 investment in solar powering the Rec Center netted some articles.  

The power of connecting the community ashore and community afloat

Inland Red Hook is so disconnected from maritime Red Hook that the latter’s role in recovery is not discussed.  For example, Jim Tampakis’ business Marine Spares was significant in pumping out the Brooklyn Battery/Hugh L. Carey tunnel.  Vane Brothers provided hoses to the Hess fuel terminal at the foot of Court Street so home heating oil could be delivered. Both firms did that despite flood damage to their offices and mechanical shops.

PortSide feels the gap between inland resident and mariner is acute when we heard residents say “They told us to evacuate for Irene but nothing happened” and “I didn’t know there were two high tides a day.”  We conclude that people ashore poorly understand marine weather reports and don’t know where to get them.  

In comparison, mariners understand how to live with water, and how to prepare for hurricanes. They do the post-flood work of pumping tunnels, building ferry terminals and running emergency ferries, fixing bulkheads, clearing the harbor of debris so ships can import products as diverse as fuel, orange juice, new cars, bananas.  

To bring maritime voices to people ashore, PortSide plans programs to help folks develop coastal living and flood prep skills, such as educational events with actual mariners, exhibits, and creating a children’s book with our shipcat Chiclet as a resiliency narrator talking about riding out Sandy on the tanker.

Andrea Sansom, who founded the Red Hook flood mitigation Google group, sees the need, “We all love living at the water, and PortSide is here to help bring understanding to living with the water.”

Our ship is a great tool for this. Our tanker MARY A. WHALEN is now a maritime symbol of resiliency, in contrast to the tanker JOHN B. CADDELL, Staten Island’s symbol of Sandy, which went aground and had to be scrapped.

PortSide’s own Sandy damages

PSNY-Sandy-slide (9).jpg

A hidden Sandy story PortSide feels acutely is that of our own Sandy damages.  An electrical short left us facing thirty-five nights of relying on flashlights and one 15-amp extension cord attached to a little gas generator.  Sandy damaged the Sheepshead Bay house of our staffer John Weaver keeping him home for many months.  Everything PortSide had off the ship (antique crane, 60’ dock, electrical transformer, restoration engine parts, historic artifacts and documents, special event equipment and furniture) was flood-damaged or floated away. Our FEMA worksheet totals some $340,000, and we are still deep in that paper chase, starting six months late because we were misinformed that we don’t qualify. 

A massive Sandy effect on PortSide was the stalling of our urgent search for a homeport.  We need a place to fulfill our mission, earn revenue, and run programs. Resumption of real estate negotiations took many, many more months than we expected, and remains a major strain on PortSide.

PortSide is now focused on the future while celebrating the good in recovery. Come join us in that spirit at our fundraiser on Tuesday, October 28 at Hometown Bar-B-Que. Join us in honoring our partners in Red Hook’s Sandy recovery: Victoria Hagman of Realty Collective, Danny Schneider the electrician, and Peter Rothenberg.  Wear festive MARY WHALEN red and white.  We look forward to talking with you there and, going forward, continuing the work we’ve collectively begun after Sandy in understanding our waterfront in all its complexity and potential!

Mayor de Blasio announces new park equity plan & funding

Photo and caption from article today in New York Times:  Saratoga Ballfields, Brownsville, Brooklyn. Photo by    Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Photo and caption from article today in New York Times:  Saratoga Ballfields, Brownsville, Brooklyn. Photo by Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

News & Background

Park Equity News from Gotham Gazette

Park Equity News from New York Times

Valentino Park Comfort Station proposed Parks Department plan. This became so large, in part, due to FEMA requirements that a new building in coastal flood zone be elevated.

Message to Red Hook

Dear Red Hook:

Thinking of the Valentino Park and Coffey Park discussions, above is info about citywide discussions about ‪#‎parkequity‬ to get funding to underserved neighborhoods. Mayor Bill de Blasio will announce a new plan today with $130MM in funding to go to 35 parks.

This is encouraging news in and of itself (we support more going to communities that have less) and seems like a good time to bring to citywide level one of the issues that our Valentino Comfort station has brought up, eg, how to keep costs down.

$130MM will not go far if 4 toilet stalls cost $2.4MM.

Let's find ways to engage constructively in a citywide discussion about how to improve parks for all. Better, cheaper, smaller potties for us could be the start of something bigger for all. All word play intended.

It would be good for Red Hook to bear in mind, that though many feel this community was slighted for years, by now Red Hook has revitalized so much we are NOT as underserved as places like Brownsville are.

Thanks to NYS Senator Daniel Squadron for his work on #parkequity and to Councilman Carlos Menchaca for bringing the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation to the community table for meetings about waterfront parks in Red Hook and Sunset Park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Future plans for last of her kind, the tanker MARY A. WHALEN

We have news.

The MARY A. WHALEN is now the last of her kind in the USA. That’s because the tanker JOHN B. CADDELL, Staten Island’s symbol of Sandy’s wrath, has been scrapped. (See slide show right.)

Hurricane Sandy put the JOHN B. CADDELL on EDC property and cost the City a lot of money in fuel spill abatement, ship removal, ship storage and legal fees before the Sherriff’s auction.

At PortSide, we are very proud that we saved our MARY A. WHALEN from Sandy damage AND from damaging the property of others by breaking loose or riding up on to the pier.

Thanks to that, the MARY A. WHALEN is now a symbol of resilience, as is PortSide NewYork! Only the tough survive eight years of operating as a pop-up while looking for a home as we have.

Future-oriented mission for our historic ship

We love our historic ship and want to make clear that we use her for a forward-looking purpose.

PortSide was founded to bring change to NYC’s waterfront and waterways, by advocacy and by the example of business and programs at a place called PortSide NewYork that we will create.  The MARY A. WHALEN is our ambassador on that mission and will come and go from that place spreading the message, and our programs.

We recently retooled our official language to make the relationship of tanker and PortSide, our present and our future clearer.  Here it is. Let us know what you think. We welcome your feedback!

PortSide is a living lab creating a vision for 21st century urban waterfronts – and waterways.  Our focus is the water part, the BLUEspace, the Sixth Borough of NYC.

Our goal is to create a place that shows how to combine the working waterfront, public access and community development.

Our education, culture, workforce development and neighborhood promotion programs - all on a water theme –bring the community afloat and the community ashore together – for the benefit of all.

Building on our Sandy recovery work - which won us an award from the White House and honors from the NYS Senate - PortSide is developing flood preparedness and resiliency programs and will curate and house a resiliency center.

We export our programs via our ambassador, the historic ship, the MARY A. WHALEN, the only oil tanker in the world delivering public programs.

Help us continue this work and grow our programs

Support our fundraiser on Tuesday 10/28/14Resiliency is our HOOK.” Buy a ticket. Become a sponsor. Join the Host Committee and help sell tickets before the event. It will be a fun event with the rollicking Dixieland jazz of the Red Hook Ramblers and the great food and casual ambiance of Hometown Bar-B-Que restaurant.  We greatly appreciate your support!   As do the people and businesses who benefit from our resiliency work!



Upcoming Meeting #3 Valentino Park Comfort Station Issue 10/9/14 7pm PS15

see January 2018 update at bottom

THURSDAY 10/9, 7:00pm at PS 15

Next Red Hook meeting about Valentino Park Comfort Station:  Note, this is a change from the originally announced date of 10/8!

People for Red Hook Public Parks (PRHPP) set up this meeting. Here is their REVISED announcement PDF

Here is Parks Department proposed comfort station

For background, see our prior blogposts:

Report on Meeting #1:  9/4/14 Meeting with Carlos Menchaca & Parks at Red Hook library

Background info: Parks Dept. proposed comfort station & the process

Report on Meeting #2:  9/24/14 PRHPP meeting at 351 Van Brunt for community members only.

Info on upcoming meeting for Thurs 10/9 from PRHPP

People for Red Hook Public Parks and City Councilman Carlos Menchaca will be holding a community meeting on Wed. October 8th at 7pm at P.S. 15, The Daly School on Sullivan Street, between Van Brunt and Richards St. in Red Hook. The meeting is the latest in a series of meetings regarding the proposed NYC New York City Department of Parks & Recreation comfort station for Valentino Park.

The Red Hook community has expressed serious concerns about this project: cost, its size location and necessity.

At a cost of $2.5 million dollars, the cost to taxpayers for this project will be over $4000 per square foot. Construction costs for a luxury condominium in Manhattan are $500 per square foot.

The proposed location, Valentino Pier Park, is a quiet community gem, treasured by the neighborhood. The proposed building will cut the park in half and occupy a large portion of open green space.

With a change in city administration, the Red Hook community is counting on a reversal of the top--‐down management style of previous administrations. In order to protect our parks and our neighborhood, we need to bring the people who make decisions together with the people those decisions impact.

So please come to the meeting and bring a friend. We wish to avoid acrimony and work towards a positive relationship between community and administration, so bring your ideas and yourself!

January 2018 update

DOT has approved a sidewalk toilet.   Red Hook, we have been heard! Remember all those meetings about a big, expensive "comfort station" proposed for our charming waterfront park Valentino Park? That concept was defeated, and a small, sidewalk toilet is coming via the DOT. Thanks to everyone for participating in public meetings, on-line discussions with us, and other modes. Community action worked! A special shout out to Anne Griepenburgwho researched the Portland Loo which presented an alternative that appealed to many and may have swung government decision around to that kind of solution.

Toilet Party any one? It has the great acronym of TP.

We hear that there is a spring installation expected, but we are still waiting on confirmation.

Help PortSide continue this kind of community reporting and grow our programs

Support our fundraiser on Tuesday 10/28/14Resiliency is our HOOK.” Buy a ticket. Become a sponsor. Join the Host Committee and help sell tickets before the event. It will be a fun event with the rollicking Dixieland jazz of the Red Hook Ramblers and the great food and casual ambiance of Hometown Bar-B-Que restaurant.  We greatly appreciate your support!   As do the people and businesses who benefit from our resiliency work!

PortSide interview: Don Horton's WWII memories of Red Hook, recollections of a child in the merchant marine

Brother Jack and I, Circa 1943.jpg

Yesterday, Don Horton visited PortSide NewYork to give us some oral history.  PortSide has been corresponding with Don Horton since October 2013, and the last time Don Horton visited Red Hook was 1950.  

Starting in the 1940s, through the WWII period,  he was working as a child in the merchant marine - a paid worker - so the company knew what was going on.

Yes, such a class of merchant mariner existed, and Don has dedicated his retirement years to getting their service recognized by the federal government, along with the women, elderly and disabled who worked in the wartime merchant marine. All of that being a startling case of "who knew?" 

We wrote about his dogged efforts to reveal this hidden history in a prior blogpost.

Don knows conventional military service, what it is to be a vet.

He served in the Korean War, and he believes that the hundreds of thousands of merchant mariners who served during WWII deserve our nation’s acknowledgement of their service whether they were towing supplies to the European theater or moving cargo along our eastern shore where German U-boats came in close to sink their kind of vessels.

From age 10-18, Don Horton worked on barges, along with his two brothers, his sister, and his mother, all of them joining the father of the family throughout the summer.  

One of their main jobs was hauling coal from Norfolk, Virginia up north. The two boys learned fast how to repair a steam boiler, and they painted the barge. Mama (Sadie Horton) was the cook. The sister married early in the story and got off the boats. Papa seems to have liked drink too much, and brother Billy got off the barges to get away from that and went to work on a tug. The third day on the tug, at age 17, Billy was killed when Germans shelled and sank his boat.

In comparison, Don’s memories of Red Hook are more associated with fun. A stop in New York meant good times. Don recalled a trip to 42nd Street and the treat of a hot dog.  A trip to Coney Island netted a very big hot dog.

Yesterday, Don was in town to see some Senators on behalf of his cause which you can follow on Facebook and to contribute some oral history to PortSide's WaterStories cultural tourism effort.  Here is a preliminary glimpse of some gems we got from Don today.

Carolina Salguero, John Weaver and Peter Rothenberg spent several hours interviewing Don and recording video and sound files.  Don's tack-sharp memory and vivid story telling made for a great afternoon.

We started out talking over lunch in the galley of our Mary A. Whalen with Don and his darling wife Norita.

Ralston's WWII grocery, now the site of hip Baked

After lunch, we visited the site of Ralston's, a grocery store during WWII Red Hook: fruit under an awning out front, narrow aisles and a place where they preferred you give them a list of what you wanted instead of getting it from the shelf yourself, little shopping carts with wooden wheels.  

Don said boats liked to provision at Ralston’s and explained the allure: the captain's were given free liquor in the back in a private bar which ensured they would frequent the joint and then spend grub money in the store.

Ralston’s address was 294 Van Brunt Street, now BAKED.

Don said that the soda Spur was their favorite and that he and his siblings fought over the precious bottles on the barge trip to the next port, the ice blocks from Ralston's being their only refrigeration until they got there.

Here is a 1943 ad for Spur, "a cola with a walnut taste," he remembered with a smile.

Next, we took Don Horton past two once-twin tenements, one of which is at 415 Van Brunt, to see if those were the kind of buildings that matched his "never would happen now" WWII memories of a Van Brunt Street where women on hands and knees scrubbed little porches with buckets of water, a scrub brush and a big bar of Octagon soap.

YES, those were the kinds of buildings he remembered!

Don then explained that "doing laundry" on the barge was scrubbing dungarees on the wide rail of the barge and leaving them to dry there.

Sunny's Bar

From there, over to Sunny's Bar where we were thrilled to find Sunny himself lounging in bathrobe with friends at the end of lunch.

At age 80, Sunny is but 2 years younger than Don, and they shared many memories including swimming in the filthy water of the time which both cited as having lots of turds and Coney Island whitefish as Sunny called them, or rubbers in Don’s version.

Sunny cheekily got an old load off his conscience when he confessed that he'd "borrowed' someone's rowboat at one point, and on top of that lied to his Papa saying that he had not taken it, and apologized to Don who said they'd come back from Ralston's Grocery at times to find their boat gone.

Sunny Balzano, Carolina Salguero of PortSide NewYork and Don Horton

Sunny Balzano, Carolina Salguero of PortSide NewYork and Don Horton

The rowboats always came back, Don said, but delays were a big concern; because if they missed the tide, the current would be too strong to row against it in their little boat loaded with groceries.

Sunny shared memories of how, when he heard wartime air raid siren drills and knew that the war was being fought "overseas," thought that Staten Island (which was overseas for a little Red Hook boy) was under attack.

Don Horton gave us several copies of this book.

Don Horton gave us several copies of this book.

Here is what Don told us about shelling during the interview in the galley:  When he first started on the barges and saw flashes of light when they were offshore and asked Papa what they were, Papa fibbed and didn’t say it was German’s shelling the American merchant marine, he said it was lighting.

Later on, “I knew what those lights were,” said Don, “and something I don’t often say, I wet myself with fear.” The barges were old boats, unarmored with no weapons, three miles behind the tug, he clarified.

"Barge" of the sort Don Horton and his family work, dismasted wood schooner hulls.

"Barge" of the sort Don Horton and his family work, dismasted wood schooner hulls.

We need to clarify what "barges" means here. These were the old, creaky hulls of wooden schooners,  dismasted to turn them into barges.

Don said the vessels' intended life span was some 25 years and these were 50-60 years old and so frail that after being beat up in a storm, the caulk might be battered out. Then, they'd have to go to a shipyard for repairs.

The Red Hook Flats & Erie Basin

We walked out to the end of the Beard Street Pier so Don Horton could see the Red Hook flats and the entrance to Erie Basin. This prompted more memories.

Don had emailed us some great memories of the Red Hook flats last year which paint a picture of a harbor jammed with ships, tugs, barges, row boats and the "bum boat" or "speculator" a sort of scrap dealer and rag picker afloat who went from vessel to vessel buying what he could.

Yesterday, Don described how he and his brother scavenged whatever they could, lengths of tired rope, bits of metal they found or “liberated” from cargo on the occasions they were hauling metal.

"There's the cut," Don Horton said as soon as he saw the entrance to Erie Basin.

"There's the cut," Don Horton said as soon as he saw the entrance to Erie Basin.

Standing on the end of Greg O’Connell’s Beard Street Pier enabled Don to pin point geography in a way that looking at the map while seated in our galley had not, and he explained that the dinghy dock location was around the Erie Basin side of that pier.  During WWII, tugboats were jammed into the place where the New York Water Taxi homeport dock is today.

PortSide recently acquired this page from an old magazine showing a view of the Erie Basin during the era described in this interview.

PortSide recently acquired this page from an old magazine showing a view of the Erie Basin during the era described in this interview.

Don said there were often up to 50 barges at anchor "on the Red Hook flats" as he called them, and that Erie Basin was so chock full of ships and barges that his family had to find channels underneath the bow and stern rakes of the barges to row their way through the fleet.

During the interview in the Mary A Whalen galley, Don described how his father bought a lot of whiskey when he was ashore, and his mother would dump it over the side once they got back to the barge on the Red Hook flats, to the point that she said the flats must be full of whiskey bottles. Hello, bottle collecting divers!

We were all surprised to learn that Don's mother did not know how to swim and was afraid of the water but still spent every summer working the coastwise barges with her husband and children during the war.

The whole endeavor required a lot of courage by everyone in the family, and PortSide NewYork is helping to get this aspect of history, that's national history and local history, better known. 

[This and many other stories are also told in redhookwaterstories.org PortSide NewYork's  e-museum and neighborhood website. ]