More than 70 Navy veterans of the U.S.S. Conyngham Association from around the U.S. gathered in Skenesborough Park this morning for a memorial ceremony with the addition of a large rock to honor the vets that have lost their lives. The association plans reunions every year and Whitehall was their destination this year.
“We typically vote at the present reunion for two years from now,” said association president John Burkhard. “So, due to COVID, we didn’t have last year’s reunion at Myrtle Beach and it was the second time we struck out at Myrtle Beach because hurricane Florence was two years before that. So, we decided not to go to Myrtle Beach anymore because we figured it had this dark cloud hanging over it.”
The U.S.S. Conyngham Association was founded by Jack Dawson. Born in Alliance, North Carolina, he was denied twice by the Navy but finally was accepted and was stationed on the U.S.S. Conyngham. The association’s website explained how the group was formed.
“In 1987 Jack realized a long-time ambition by organizing the first reunion of shipmates that had served on U.S.S. Conyngham DD 371 during World War II,” the site reads. “The reunion was a success and it was decided that a reunion be held every year. The group was expanded to include all who served on DD 371.”
With voting for the next location every year at the reunion, it leaves two years for the association to plan for the event. Burkhard explained that a member brought up the idea of going to the birthplace of the Navy for the 25th ceremonious reunion.
“Our bond here is that we all served on different times the first ship there was three ships named the Conyngham, one from WWI, one with WWII, and the WWII ship was in Pearl Harbor in the attacks but came out unscathed. Was able to fight that day, their members began in 1987, and we joined them in (19)96 which was 25 years ago today.”
The men honored the new memorial by not only laying a rose on the rock, but also laying stones next to it. Some vets saluted after laying their rocks.
Larry Whitaker of Chesapeake, Virginia, spent five years on the ship.
“I retired in 1994, I spent 30 years and this was the second ship I was on,” Whitaker said.
Whitaker joked that he joined the Navy over being drafted by the Army because he didn’t look forward to Army sleeping accommodations.
“I didn’t intend on staying in the Navy. Back in the 60’s, you got drafted to go in the Army and I said, ‘well, I don’t want to sleep in a fox hole,’ so I saw the Navy recruiter and joined the Navy,” he chuckled.
Whitehall’s Carol Greenough opened and hosted the association’s visit in the Skenesborough Museum and was glad to be able to host so many Navy vets in the home of the Navy.
“I think it’s very exciting to be recognized as an example of the birthplace of the Navy and to know those who served in the U.S. Navy recognize it, and also have come and created a memorial that will not be forgotten and will draw the eye of a lot of other people to know about what these men really did over the years,” she said.
Kirk Williamson of Vallejo, California, vice president of the association, said he was glad he was able to not only witness but participate in such a historic event.
“Today was extremely heartfelt,” he said. “This is something that will be remembered by everyone that’s here and then hopefully those that are lost, which is what the memorial is for, and it pleases me that now future generations can come here and we’ll be able to recognize, see, and understand what the Conyngham meant to us.
“But the being here at the birthplace of the Navy, you can’t get a better start than this,” he said.