Albert Frost died on Jan. 14, 2017. It was his 100th birthday, a good run.
Albert had graduated early from his class at the Coast Guard Academy. So had everyone else that year. They were the Class of 1942 but were set loose in December of 1941 after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. A few months later, Albert was on a troop ship, transporting soldiers to Guadalcanal.
Frost served more than 30 years in the Coast Guard, a career that included a voyage in 1957 up the Potomac commanding the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Unimak. It was a ceremonial trip, and what Albert remembered most about it was the congressional delegation that was aboard.
The Potomac may not be a storm-tossed sea, but it can be a tricky sail in a big ship — all those bridges — and the politicians seemed to be forever underfoot, another distraction for the captain.
Still, the trip was a success, and for his efforts Albert was given the key to the city of Washington. It was brass and in a box marked “Presented to Commander Albert Frost, USCGC Unimak, Washington, D.C. July 26, 1957.”
After Albert passed away in New Jersey, his son, John, and daughter-in-law, Elena, went through his possessions, keeping some, donating others to charity.
In the latter category was a suitcase. It probably just held sheets and pillowcases, the couple thought, but it needed to be examined all the same.
“My wife thought I had gone through it,” John told me. “She thought I had gone through it.”
Neither had. Off to Goodwill it went.
Last week, Lt. Cmdr. Jonathan Schafler, the Coast Guard’s liaison to the District of Columbia, got an email from Gary Thomas, executive director of the Foundation for Coast Guard History. Gary and a colleague, John Kauza, like to scour online auction sites looking for Coast Guard memorabilia. At ShopGoodwill.com — which assembles the best stuff from Goodwill stores across the country — they had found a key to the city of Washington along with a set of Coast Guard uniform ribbons. They were thinking of placing a bid on it.
In the office across from Jonathan, on the old St. Elizabeths campus, sat Capt. John Barresi.
Jonathan called him to his computer and said, Get a load of this old key given to a Coast Guard commander.
“When I showed him the listing, he kind of had this real funny look on his face,” Jonathan told me. Albert Frost? Why did that name sound so familiar?
Then it clicked: A few days earlier, an email had gone out seeking volunteer pallbearers for the funeral of Albert Frost. The funeral would take place at Arlington National Cemetery on Friday. It was Wednesday.
Could they get the key in time?
And would the family even want it? Jonathan pondered the possibility that it had been given away on purpose. But when he tracked the Frosts in Woodbridge, Va., and spoke to Elena, she said, “Oh my god, you found the key.” And she started to cry.
Jonathan called Goodwill and got the key taken down from the website. Last Thursday, he and a colleague went to the charity’s warehouse in Forestville, Md., to pick it up. (Goodwill was given a $100 donation.)
And on Friday at Arlington, 60 years after it had been presented to the father, the key was presented to the son. John is himself a Coast Guard veteran, an officer who served 24 years and now works for the Department of Homeland Security.
Said Jonathan: “The coincidences that had to occur for me and him to hook up were pretty amazing.”
“I never expected to see it again,” John said of the key. “I’d been lucky that somehow somebody had undone my mistake.”
We love our stuff, don’t we? I know I do. Clyde’s, the local restaurant chain, is known for its stuff, from the transportation memorabilia at Clyde’s Chevy Chase to the Adirondack trappings of the Tower Oak Lodge in Rockville.
Sometimes, though, you can have too much stuff.
“You don’t really know what you need,” said Tom Meyer, president of the Clyde’s Restaurant Group. “You buy eight airplanes and you find out you only have room for seven.”
These would be scale-model biplanes made out of wood and wax paper.
Clyde’s finds itself with too many airplanes, along with too many vintage golf trophies, ice skates, seltzer bottles, taxidermied muskellunge, fox hunting prints, papier-mâché parrots, hand-carved wooden pineapples and more.
“So it’s like, at some point, we should just cut these loose and let somebody else enjoy them,” Tom said.
These things and more — 294 items in all — are being sold by Everything But the House, an online auction site. To see it, go to www.ebth.com and search for sale number 17WDC091.
Buy it all and you can turn your basement into a Clyde’s tribute bar.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.