Sunday, May 20th wasn't much of a day. The sun popped out now and then like a loose light bulb too hard to reach. It was a lazy day.
Laziness, we were taught while growing up in working-class families, was a disease and sometimes a gruff and loving father could make it sound like terminal concer.
Feeling guilty in the luxury of relaxation, I went up to the attic to clean out a whole bureau full of things past.
Dust and yellowness make our printed achievements old looking, and most of them are:
A faded telegram, the torn edges worn brown, telling me to get in touch with a managing editor for my first newspaper job, copy boy, salary $25 a week.
Then a faded clipping, a headline in the local paper back home, telling about the local boy who looked vaguely familiar who rode an open lifeboat for 30 hours after having his ship torpedoed.
Ironically it was dated May 20. It all happened in 1942 when we were only a few months into WW II.
I sat on a discarded stool, a can of beer not far away, as the quiet, cloudy, lazy Sunday came alive for some kind of celebration, because I was still here.
The offer of adventure came quickly to all of us on Dec. 7, 1941. It was a chance to escape from dull high-school routines, and lousy part-time factory jobs.
We were shooting pool and listening to the excitement coming from the radio when someone yelled, "Let's go to Boston and join the Navy."
"Wow!" Seven of us piled into a car and headed for the Boston Post Office.
The lines were long, the Navy poster outside swinging from a stand on a cold winter day showing a tanned sailor in dress blues standing at the stern of a liberty launch, with the Morro Castle in Havana harbor in the background.
Tired of waiting, one of the guys suggested we go down the hall and see what the Merchant Marine had to offer.
There were fewer men there and we were promised a chance to get into the Navy Reserve later on so we took physicals, signed a lot of papers and were taken to a big room to be sworn in.
The drive home was less exuberant as we quietly reflected on what we had done and wondered where Pearl Harbor was.
At dinner that night I acted like the kids begging to go to Ft. Lauderdale for Easter week until a reluctant father signed my paper.
A few days after Christmas I sat on a train headed for God knows where.
Somehow the other six guys I joined with were scattered off in different directions. First Wheel Watch
I was sitting next to a big 6-foot-3, 210-pound, square-jawed guy who looked a little like Randolph Scott.
It was a long time before he turned to shake hands and say hello.
His name was Walter Cash, and he came from Winthrop, Mass., and we became friends right away.
We survived boot camp on Hoffman Island, an old quarantine station way out in New York Harbor.
It was exercise at dawn, marching, rifle practice, navigation, knot tieing, handling lifeboats, diving school, mess cooking, sports.
When we paired off to box, he hit hard and we got sore at each other when I hit back.
But standing a 4 a.m.-to-8 a.m. watch, facing toward Europe, freezing to death, there would be a tap on my elbow and Cash with his long face would be holding a steaming cup of coffee.
Before taps each evening we would lean on a rail facing New York's skyline, wondering what people were doing as we matched lies and talked about letters we received.
Our first liberty was on a Sunday. We leaped off the Staten Island ferry, a bit frightened, we walked from the Battery to Central Park wearing bulky sailor suits, hats perched back on our heads, wanting to swagger but not sure how to do it.
At shipout time we found we were assigned to some ship in Baltimore and felt like kids at graduation.
The train ride was silent as we wondered if we were ready and thought maybe we needed another three months before going into war.
It was dusk when we arrived and the ship was big and painted a dark dull tone, almost black, overwhelming us. It was tied up alongside a pier in some remote part of Baltimore harbor.
Hoisting our seabags we climbed the gangplank and were met by a tough bosun mate who pointed us to our quarters.
There were four bunks to a small compartment as we made the corny jokes kids could make only five months away from their own bedrooms.
Before sleep came, there was a rought tap on my shoulder, the voice pronnouncing my name badly and also telling Cash the two of us should report to the bridge. We were getting underway and we had the first wheel watch. Maiden Voyage
The harbor pilot was the only civil human nearby as he pointed to the huge wheel, assuring us that he would be right by our side as we steered down Chesapeake Bay.
An experienced quartermaster took us away from the pier and out into the middle of the channel. Then it was my turn.
With arms holding the spokes, feeling as stretched out as the crucifixion, I felt the giant ship moving beneath me, my heart quieted only by the soft instructions of the pilot, "come left a little, now right," as the Lord Calvert, out of Baltimore, moved slowly down the bay, her maiden voyage along with Cash and mine, headed for war.
We lay at Hampton Roads for a week until a convoy was made up, running all sorts of drills, lifeboat launching, gun practice, but all we could stare at were the old street cars lashed to the forward deck.
"It would be hell to have over your grave stone the epitaph saying, 'He died for his country transporting old street cars to Russia,'" Cash would grumble.
We left early one morning in a big convoy, with destroyers dashing about the outside, signal lights flashing, and we had no idea where we were heading, only happy to be moving.
Rumors said, Port Said, around Capetown as I wished I had paid attention to geography while knowing there were some guys still back home struggling with it.
We loved the adventure, standing lookout high in the crow's nest during a wild storm off Cape Hatteras as the big ship bucked and fought the sea working as hard as we did to man it.
Dolphins racing toward the bow at daybreak brought many a panicky scream over the intercom from the crow's nest, "torpedo," but there was little kidding about it, it could have been one.
Our convoy broke up at the tip of the Key West as our escort left us and we headed out alone into the Caribbean.
We would be called out in the middle of a stormy night, wearing foul weather gear clinging to life lines to lash down a broken away funnel, thinking every kid should have this opportunity. The Sea and Superstition
The Calvert was about a day and a half into the Caribbean when the battle stations sounded one morning and we ran to our stations only to find the captain had an empty barrel thrown off the stern and the after gun crew was taking target practice.
I stood alongside Cash next to our .30-caliber machine gun high on the port side gun tub and remembered saying, "If there is a Nazi sub around we have just invited him over." Released from drill we sat around in the sun until Cash decided we should shave off our hair, promising by the time we returned it would have grown in again.
He shaved my hair off and when he saw how I looked he changed his mind.
Maybe it was an old superstition of the sea but sometime during the morning the captain let it filter down that he was furious about the shaved head and felt that it brought bad luck.
We were off watch and lying in our bunks when the bad luck came crashing into the third hold on the port side in the form of a Nazi torpedo.
Alarms went off, we jumped pulling on dungarees, grabbing a pea jacket, naked to the waist, barefoot we ran along the narrow passageway crowded with crew members.
While trying to get topside the next one crashed into our stern wiping out the gun and crew.
In the fright and nervousness Cash joked, saying, "Do you think this is a drill?" then he ran below for a clean T-shirt for some strange reason.
Topside was confusion, the captain yelling on the loudspeaker for us to get to battle stations.
We went to our gun tub, an officer shouted to us to fire, but there was nothing visible to shoot at.
I watched, mesmerized as the third torpedo churned through the water just beneath us exploding right at midship.
The lifeboat launching looked a little slow when the order came to abandon ship.
The captain still on the bridge as I remembered something about their going down with the ship, deciding he could have it.
One lifeboat had pulled away as we grabbed at the dangling lines, swung way out, dropped to the water and swam to the lifeboat.
Thrashing like a wounded bull whale, steam hissing out, small explosions going on deep in the hull, the Lord Calvert fought to stay afloat.
It was about 2 p.m. and the sea placid as she went under with a loud "woosh" as we watched everything we owned sink into the Caribbean Sea.
Confused, we sat crowded into three lifeboats, debris covering the water as a few curious fish came up to look.
A large carton floated by and someone hauled it aboard. It turned out to be cartons of cigarettes.
The Nazi sub surfaced in a slow, ominous circle, a black skull and crossbones painted on her conning tower, a damaged deck gun lashed to her deck, showing that she had been to war before.
It was silent as they approached until a voice in broken English ordered our captain to row toward then.
"Is the captain aboard?" he shouted and the captain answered all his questions.
It was too early for fright to set in, that would come later during the cold night.
We were told to raise our hands. Nazi crewmen aimed machine guns at us as Cash whispered, "I would like to get one chance at any two of them in a street fight."
They took movies, and in a gesture of contempt I thumbed my nose.
We were told to throw all arms over the side. Lashed below the gunnel was a .45 automatic and Cash whispered "leave it, if they start shooting, we'll get a couple."
Finding all the information they needed they left us and submerged but we knew they were around waiting to see if our SOS was picked up so they would have another target.
Dipping a soiled handkerchief into the water with the corners tied in knots I placed it on my steaming bald head and cursed Cash.
Sharks followed from a distance attracted by all the activity as the nights turned to freezing and the days boiled us alive. Saved by the Cavalry
Our landfall, after what seemed like a week but was only two days and two nights, was a small coastal village with a name I never knew. The local constabulary greeted us at rifle point.
They locked us up in some sort of chicken wire enclosure until they could contact authorities and we could be identified. Identification rode into town the next day in the form of a pair of lean, leathery U.S. Cavalry troppers.
They pushed back their Smokey Bear campaign hats, swung a leg up over the saddle and leaned down to talk to the man running the village. Waving their arms and without a glance in our direction they rode off.
We found later that they were coast watchers and as we clung to the wiremesh fence Cash said, "We have just been saved by the 7th Cavalry."
We were a pretty bad looking bunch, tired, sunburned, our clothes in pieces as we wandered aimlessly about the village.
Cash bartered away the lifeboat malted-milk tablets for two pairs of tight-fitting rubber shoes.
We tasted our first dish of fish heads and rice together sitting on a bench in the only cafe, sipping warm beer, listening to a baseball game on the only radio in the village.
It was Cash who saw the kids playing baseball and organized a game for all of us.
That night we saw our first cock fight but had no money to bet.
A tugboat came early the second evening. We boarded it, waving goodbye to new friends as we went on a long overnight trip further up the coast.
It was a long bus ride to Havana and on the way we were held over at an Army security post.
In Havana the Cuban Navy took over, we were questioned by Naval intelligence, released and the Red Cross gave us money for clothes.
We roamed the streets of Havana now wearing Panama suits and wide-brimmed straw hats.
Our stay lasted about 10 raucous days before being flown to Miami where we rode to Baltimore by train.
We were given survival leave and returned to Boston. The 20-Year Hitch
We got together a few times but I went into the active Navy Reserve and was sent on a long patrol to Key West.
Eventually I ended up in the Pacific on submarine duty and at war's end went off to school in New York and that became my home.
Once in awhile on vacation in Boston I heard that Cash had remained in the Navy to serve a 20-year hitch.
Then I heard that he was on the Winthrop police force, but our lives never crossed again.
After reading the clipping, I felt nostalgic and dialed information. I found there was a Walter Cash in the Winthrop directory.
The voice answered and said he was Walter Cash, but it was a younger voice.
I explained why I was calling and he said, "Sure, Walt was my uncle, I was named for him and he often told stories about the torpedoing."
Then he went on, "I'm sorry, he passed away three years ago. It was a heart attack. He was a great guy."
I agreed and placed the phone back sitting quietly for several minutes, not believing and then knowing.
I went to find an old photo of the two of us, looked at it for awhile and then went to the refrigerator for a cold beer, wondering why people never get together again and wished that I had. CAPTION: Picture 1, no caption; Picture 2, Joseph P. Mastrangelo, left, and Walter Cash.