Part One: The ‘LAND’ Reunion [10/11 - 10/15] New Orleans, LA
The most-attended reunion ever conducted by the Association was completed on October 15th after four nights and three and one-half days in New Orleans. A total of 178 people attended at least one day of the reunion, including the Gold crew commissioning C.O., Captain McDonald, and the second Gold crew C.O., Captain Engle. There were also nine Plank-Owners who joined us along with 23 shipmates who came to attend their first Grant reunion. The hotel location made it convenient for the large number of attendees to see the sights in the French Quarter and surrounding area. Many of the people took advantage of the scheduled ‘Grant Group’ activities, with reduced rates which had been negotiated by the reunion committee. IF YOU WEREN’T THERE, THEN YOU MISSED A GREAT REUNION! DON’T MISS THE NEXT ONE!
Even though the reunion was not scheduled to begin until Wednesday (10/11), there were already 36 shipmates/guests onboard Tuesday (10/10) and they were all welcomed into the Grant Hospitality Room for ‘refreshments’ on Tuesday evening. The opening time of the reunion also had to be moved from 1630 to 1230 on Wednesday to permit registration of the 142 people who would arrive on the reunion’s scheduled opening night. This time change added one-half day (1230-2330) to our usual three-day reunion. Our normal MidRats on opening night were very well attended and were so large we were required to expand our hospitality room into the adjoining banquet room.
At 0930 Thursday, more than 100 people boarded two 55-passenger busses to participate in either the Destrehan Plantation or Cajun Pride Swamp tours. Fifty-two of them attended both tours and were provided a sandwich lunch when they arrived at the swamp tour site. In spite of the threatening weather earlier in the week, the weather was ideal and none of the attendees had to use the rain slickers which were provided by the Association at registration.
Later that evening there was a ‘packed house’ attending the ‘Remembrance Ceremony’ to honor the shipmates who had passed away since the last reunion. Ed Farris conducted the solemn ceremony, which was completed when the shipmates were sent on their final patrol with two blasts from an actual USS Grant diving alarm.
On Friday at 0900, a Grant bus began a continuous shuttle between the hotel and the National WW2 Museum. More than 120 people took the eight-block trip to this nationally-known museum, which is recognized as one of the ‘top five’ museums in the country. The Association had decided to forgo a Grant Dinner Saturday night due to the location of the reunion and therefore scheduled a ‘Grant Lunch & Show’ at the WW2 Museum to begin at 1130. This private lunch and show was attended by 148 of the reunion attendees. The lunch was followed by entertainment from the ‘Victory Belles’ vocal trio, which provided a great finish to a good lunch. The Grant bus shuttle returned most of the people to the hotel by 1630. Then, at 2000, 52 people participated in the scheduled Friday the 13th Haunted History tour. The two-hour tour was broken up with a ‘refreshment’ stop after the first hour.
Saturday morning and Saturday afternoon provided more free time for the people to visit the French Market, the Old U.S. Mint, the Aquarium and other sites which were readily accessible by streetcar from the hotel. Sandwiched between these free times, was the paddle-wheeler tour down-river aboard the Creole Queen, which was taken by 130 attendees. The riverboat trip, to the site of the ‘Battle of New Orleans’ during the War of 1812, was narrated by a local historian. The riverboat passed by the old WW2 Algiers Navy Station (ANS) and the Chalmette Slip, which were both used by the 28 ‘freshwater submarines’ on their way to the fighting in the Pacific during WW2. These 28 submarines were all built in Wisconsin, completed sea trials in Lake Michigan (freshwater), shipped by barge down the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, offloaded from the barge at the Chalmette Slip, loaded-out with supplies at the ANS and headed for the Panama Canal to transit to the fight in the Pacific. The travel of these 28 boats provided the ‘submarine connection’ the Association has always tried to have at each of our ‘Land’ reunions.
Unfortunately, planned visits to the ‘Mardi Gras World’ (MGW) for 65 people, which were scheduled for Friday and Saturday, had to be cancelled. We were informed two days before the reunion started that the ‘American Idol’ show would be filming at that location on Friday and Saturday and that MGW could not conduct tours during the filming.
With the exception of the ‘Remembrance’ on Thursday and the ‘Haunted History’ tour on Friday, the Association limited scheduling any night time ‘Grant Group’ activities. This provided ample time for the reunion attendees to enjoy the other numerous New Orleans area activities which were not included in the ‘Grant Group’ activities and to most certainly visit the French Quarter.
Along with a daily continental breakfast, an abundance of ‘adult beverages’ and soft drinks were provided for all hands between 0900 and 2300 daily in the Grant Hospitality Room. There were plenty of ‘munchies’, sandwich material, hot dogs, chili, fresh popcorn and other snacks readily available in the room to go along with the beverages.
The 2017 ‘Land’ reunion closed at 1200, Saturday, the 15th.
Part Two: The ‘Cruise Reunion’ [10/15 - 10/22]
After the 2017 ‘Land’ reunion closed, it was time to begin the 2017 ‘Cruise’ reunion. Two charter bus trips were required to take the more than 100 shipmates/guests from the ‘Land’ reunion hotel to the cruise terminal on the Mississippi River. The first trip departed the hotel at 1200 and the final trip departed the hotel at 1330. After loading more than 3000 cruisers, the ship got underway from New Orleans at 1600 and headed down the Mississippi towards the Gulf for the start of a seven-day cruise. The USS Grant ‘Cruise’ Reunion group was the single largest group on the cruise ship.
There was plenty of entertainment and activities aboard ship to keep our members busy during the first three nights and two days at sea. During the first full day at sea the USS Grant Association sponsored an open-bar happy hour with hot finger food, which was attended and enjoyed by all USS Grant hands. Then each USS Grant stateroom received a $25 bonus from the USS Grant Association. The happy hour and stateroom bonus was a result of the number of staterooms we had booked on the cruise and a credit from the cruise line was given to the Association, which the Association decided to pass-on to the shipmates. On the second full day at sea the ship held a ‘Veteran Appreciation’ show, which was well attended by our submarine sailors. The ship also held the first of their two scheduled formal dinners during this period.
The first port-of-call was Mahogany Bay on the island of Roatan. The rain did not deter our shipmates/guests from going ashore to enjoy the sights and activities.
The second port-of-call was Belize, which is well-known for beautiful reefs. Many of our people snorkeled and SCUBA-dived in one of the largest reefs in the Caribbean. Others took trips to the Mayan ruins located close to Belize City, while others took local tours.
Our final port-of-call was Cozumel, which has changed significantly since our visit during the first USS Grant ‘Cruise’ reunion in 2007. The once quaint small town is now wall-to-wall shops and plenty of activities for all visitors. There were five other cruise ships in Cozumel during our visit. After departure from Cozumel, the ship held their second scheduled formal dinner.
The final day at sea on the way back to New Orleans was welcomed by the shipmates/guests as a time to just relax after three busy days at ports-of-call. During the final dinner at sea, specially-bottled USS Grant wine was poured at each table for our ‘Submariners Toast’. At an appropriate time, Ed Farris interrupted the dinner by striking his wine glass with a butter knife. His action was immediately joined by the more than 100 USS Grant shipmates/guests, which got the attention of everyone in the dining room. Ed then made the ‘Submariners Toast’ and all USS Grant shipmates/guests closed the toast by shouting “Dive! Dive!”.
The second ‘part’ of the 2017 USS Grant reunion ended when the ship returned to the port of New Orleans and the USS Grant ‘Cruise’ reunion attendees left the ship to go to their cars to begin their drive home or to board the chartered bus for the airport or the hotel.
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