The Sailors of the Mad Hooligan

From Allen, Apgar, Berei, Blumer to Gorman, Graham, Greene, Greenough to Rotondi, Reimer, Sammartano to Woolridge, Yaron, Young, Zorger, the names leapt up from the ship’s roster to join with faces like a clutch of leprechauns jumping out of an Irish mist!

In a damp, dark basement, hunched over a trunk full of paper memorabilia, Brooks Hamilton stared at this list for a long time. He could see the faces, hear the voices and the other sounds of war and shipboard travel, and feel the heat and humidity of tropical seas. Yet outside was the bleak, dark cold of a Maine winter, as far removed from the exotic places in his memory as New York from Tokyo.

Most war veterans would agree with the pungent, succinct words of one of this crew who had said, “All I want from the war is a faint recollection!” Even though he and his fellow crewmen had a warm regard for the old bucket that got them back to the United States in one piece, as he said this, he turned his back on the Mad Hooligan and walked off to think about her very seldom for the years to come.

Of course, this feeling about the war was not confined to LST sailors. Most citizen/sailors and soldiers felt the same about the war and the men with whom they served. At war’s end, they just had a compulsion to get home, get back into a normal life and go on from there, The war was a lousy, dirty job to be done and when it was done, it was forgotten. But what happened after 30 years?

The war’s aftermath of bad memories had subsided. What remained were happy thoughts of comradeship and the forging of friendships in crucibles of hardship—friendships which, it suddenly seemed, had stood the test of time. A compulsion was born. Hamilton just had to find the crewmen of the Mad Hooligan and see what had happened to them. On reflection, that ship and especially those men suddenly took on a new dimension. We had all been such an important part of each other's lives.

One day, he found a crew list of the Mad Hooligan. With the list, were a few faded letters he had written home to his parents during wartime—letters from places with names now familiar to ever;y school kid who studies our recent history but unknown to us then until we got there. Of course the names of these faraway places are not on the letters, but to the writer, they were nonetheless unmistakable.

The Search

The crew list Hamilton uncovered was a mimeographed version put together by Joe Tudis, our one and only yeoman, and given out as we steamed homeward from Saipan in the early weeks of 1946. It contained sparse information, to be sure—just names, initials, addresses as they appeared on each man’s record in the files of the ship’s office. Those addresses were thirty years old. All of us had moved around several times in post war years and if anyone tried to reach us at our 1946 address, a dead end would have been the result. In studying the list and thinking about it, he decided there were several Mad Hooligans who would probably return to their roots and stay there.

There was Bill Lee, for instance. “Mr. Lee” was the executive officer and one with whom Hamilton spent plenty of time, since Lee was the designated navigator and Hamilton was navigator’s assistant. Hamilton got to know him pretty well and could hear him saying, in his soft southern drawl, “Ham, all ah wants to do in this world is get back to Arkansas, forget this misaahble war, hang out mah shingle again, and go back to bein’ a simple country lahwyer!” Beside Lee’s name of the roster was Clarendon, Arkansas, with no street name or number. A letter was sent off addressed to him in that town.

A few days later, the postal service came through and delivered a letter from Arkansas. The letterhead read Circuit Judge William M. Lee. He did it, he went back home and became a country lawyer again, even a judge!

Along with a desire to find the men came a journalist’s insatiable curiosity about the men otherwise: What had others become? Had all of them gone back home, literally and stayed on familiar ground?

Lee was a bit older than the average crew man on board the 832 and he was already a lawyer, his career set. Others came to the war in ships like ours as raw youths, many without any fixed ideas of “what to be.” What a great thing it would be, Hamilton thought, to see a compilation of this random gathering of American manhood, born and forged in the depression and tempered in the war. This would be a real cross section of the generation that brought the world, for better or worse, to the state it is in during the waning decades of the century.

This was the germination of the idea to write The Mad Hooligan Story. But before the book could take shape, Hamilton had to find the crew of the 832. There were 115 names on the crew list. Letters went to many at the address on this list. Although most came back undeliverable, there were a few surprises. In one case, the shipmate had long left his old home, however an aged parent still lived there. In another, the old family home had gone to the next generation. Thus began three years probing into the past in search of the Mad Hooligan’s crew. Not all discoveries were happy, however. In fact, some were experiences that can only be described as heart-rendering. For example, Ben Knowlton had died only weeks before Hamilton was able to contact him. Another, Dick “Rex” Rechenmacher, had passed on a few years earlier in the prime of life. After the war he became a fireman and was killed in a senseless accident between a truck and his fire vehicle while on the kind of run he made countless times during

The sad discoveries were offset by numerous others that were heart warming and humorous. For example, a phone number was located for a chap in his old home town in Ohio. This man was one of a kind, the ship’s comedian, our happy lark, yet a man with a seriousness one glimpsed only rarely. When Hamilton called his home one evening, a voice answered: “Hello.” “Hello, I’m calling Mr. Charles J. Honan. Are you Honan?” “Well, now, what would ye be wanting with Mr. Honan, if I were him, or if he were here?” Hamilton knew the voice right away. This man is an Irish leprechaun—a real one! “Well, I’m an old friend from the war and just wanted to talk with him.” “The war? What war? And would it be Honan senior or junior ye might want?” “Hey, come on! You are Honan, the Mad Hooligan, aren’t you?” There was a moment of silence and a feeling of disbelief. “Mad Hooligan! MAD HOOLIGAN you say? My Gawd, I haven’t heard that in—what—how many—hell, 30 years—WHO THE HELL IS THIS?” for a long time, the two talked, laughed and cried. The feeling of old comrades getting together like this is most unusual!

In several cases, stumped and with no help from Ma Bell’s Directory Assistance or other sources, Hamilton resorted to inexpensive classified ads in newspapers in the vicinity of those old addresses. Again, there were strange and sometimes funny results. One surprised letter came from a chap in Ohio who had been born and raised in Massachusetts. He hadn’t seen the ad in the Boston paper, of course; but his sister had seen it and forwarded it to Ohio where he had relocated years before.

In still another case, the ad brought no direct result, but Hamilton did get a call from a reporter on the newspaper in which the ad appeared. He thought it was interesting and, with the curiosity of a reporter, decided to try him for a story. The story was published and soon produced the shipmate Hamilton was after.

In another case, the ship’s roster was not much help. The address was given as Houston, Texas, but this guy used to talk to us of his hometown in Minnesota. He was visiting relatives in Texas when he decided to enlist. His hometown was Stillwater, also the home of the Minnesota State Prison. Stillwater had a small weekly hometown newspaper, in which Hamilton placed an ad: “WANTED—information, please, on the whereabouts of Richard O. Burkleo, U.S. Coast Guard in WW II, the Mad Hooligan,” and followed with his phone number.

A few nights later the phone rang; a woman’s voice inquired if I were the one looking for Burkleo, and why. I think she wanted to assure herself I wasn’t a bill collector! She then allowed as how she was a high school classmate, had kept in touch with him and had his California address!

Newspaper people were helpful. The staid old New York Times, when it received a request for a similar ad, apparently thought there might be some kind of hanky-panky going on and, at first refused to run it. A phone call to the nice young lady in charge cleared things up. When the ad finally got printed on the wrong day, because of the time it took to get it approved, the Times ran it again , free of charge.

In Connecticut, one newspaper refused all personal ads but the ad manager called Hamilton and offered to help. While waiting, he found, sadly, that this shipmate had passed away recently.

And in one final example, a phone call from a man who said, “You know the little gal that takes the ads down at the Journal? She’s a friend of mine. She called me when she got your ad. No need to print it. She’ll send your money back.”—and soon she did! That was Walt Pishko, and talking to him was a delight, like talking to a Damon Runyon character. Already retired, he was spending most of his time at horse tracks. Not long after, he succumbed to lung cancer.

The above is an edited version of Chapter 3 of The Mad Hooligan Story.

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