January 1954 – A Special Start for the New Year – A Visit to the Statue of Liberty

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An excerpt from the book – Back in the Day by RG Bud Phelps

The first thing out of the box for this New Year was a request from Chief Powell for a special meeting at 8:00 A.M. on January 4th, our first official work day in 1954.  I reported to his office a little before 8:00 A.M. anxious to hear what this was all about.

Chief Powell greeted me and invited me into his office.  “Good morning Bud, have a chair.  I have some pleasant news to share with you.”

This really caught me off guard.  I had no idea what this was all about.  “I’m ready, Chief.  What’s the news?”

“Well, Bud, the Navy owes you some special treatment because of the way you were “jacked around” so many times after passing the exam for Aviation Storekeeper Third Class.   On three separate occasions you were not awarded the advancement because of the billets for this particular rank being full.  Finally on December 21st they advised you that because of your high grades on the December 7th exam you will be awarded a well deserved rank advancement. “

“I know Chief Powell, and this was very pleasant news.”

“That’s not all Bud, let me finish.”

“Sorry chief!”

“In checking your records I find that you have 3 days earned leave left over from last year.  As a bonus to celebrate your advancement, I’m matching this with 3 extra days off.  This will allow you, if you so choose, to take off as soon as this meeting is over and report back for duty a week from tomorrow.  I wish I could do more.  Anyway this will give you all of this week to do whatever you’d like.  You certainly deserve it.”

“This is a double reward Chief, and a great way to start 1954.  It wasn’t your fault the billets were full, and they couldn’t award me the rank, but your thoughtfulness is totally appreciated.”

I quickly went to Tom Vanzetti to tell him my good fortune, and to ask him a special favor.  “Tom, I want to take advantage of having the first week of January off by spending some time in New York City.  Do you think I could stay at the Hotel Vanzetti, at a reduced rate, in order for me to spend the week visiting the city?”

“Stay at a reduced rate?  Baloney!  You can stay there for the week free!  I’ll call my mom right now and arrange it.  Then I’ll come home on the weekend, and we’ll go see another play.”

I left right after noon chow and arrived in time for the Monday evening free lunch spread at Hotel Vanzetti.  Tom’s mother insisted I stay at their hotel at no charge, and she would gather some brochures for me to look over about the city.

She checked me into the same room close, to their living quarters, where I had stayed on my last visit. “Bud, I’m so glad you are visiting us again.  I enjoyed your stay with us last time and I know Tom is proud to be counted as one of your friends.  I picked up some brochures for your use during your visit.  One tells about The Empire State Building and one covers The Statue of Liberty.  I think you’ll find them both very interesting.  I’ll do my best to help you get the most out of your visit to New York City again highlighting the sights I think you would really enjoy seeing. ”

“Mrs. Vanzetti, I really appreciate your kindness allowing me to stay here at your hotel free of charge.  It makes my “tourist trip” to New York more feasible.  It will allow me to see some special sights, and I’m sure these brochures will be really helpful.”

I quickly scanned the following brochures that Tom’s mom had gathered for me and found them very interesting.  One was about the Statue of Liberty. 

The Statue of Liberty was dedicated in 1886 therefore in 1954 she will be 68 years old.  She is 305 feet high and believed to be the tallest metal statue ever made.  The Statue of Liberty was fabricated with copper sheets, a gift from France, and shipped to the United States in 1885.  Its base is an 11-pointed star measuring 150 feet across and made of granite faced concrete.

The next morning I started my “tourist” tour of the city.  I took the bus from Jersey City to the Liberty State Park.  Then I caught the Ellis Island/Liberty Island ferry for the transport to the Statue of Liberty.  The day was clear, but the air was a bit sharp, and standing on that deck watching the approaching Liberty Island a significant chill encompassed me.

It was more than the brisk air that brought on that chill; I was transporting myself back in time in my time travel machine and was trying to grasp how the immigrants must have felt when they were first coming into the New York harbor.  The approaching Statue of Liberty must have given them a feeling of welcome, just as I was feeling this special morning. Landing at Liberty Island I had to pinch myself to make sure I was awake and not experiencing this in a dream.  The Statue of Liberty looked huge! all 305 feet plus of her structure.  I walked up to the tour office and made arrangements to be a part of the next guided tour. I was impressed with the tour guide as he shared interesting little historical happenings.  The statement that will stick with me forever was when he said, “The Statue of Liberty’s torch is a symbol of enlightenment; lighting the way to freedom and showing us the path of liberty.”  After the official tour, we were allowed to walk around the various paths on Liberty Island.  Even though the air was brisk, I did take the opportunity to look at Lady Liberty from all sides.  Even though I was alone at the time, it seemed that I could feel the thoughts of the many visitors who had come here before me.  The Statue of Liberty has become such a strong symbol of our country, and the freedoms that we are blessed with.  It was very special for me to actually be here.  I made the return trip back over to the city on the Liberty Island Ferry after visiting Ellis Island.  It was also a strange feeling to visit the place where so many people had passed through on their way to become a part of our great country.

When I arrived in Times Square, I looked for a small delicatessen to have a typical late New Yorker lunch (it was actually mid-afternoon).  It was exciting to me that this country boy from Curtis, Nebraska was rubbing shoulders with a variety of people from all over the country…no, from all over the world.  I spent the balance of the afternoon just walking around the central part of Manhattan, enjoying all of the different sights, sounds and smells of the big city.

Before the official rush hour began I caught a bus back to New Jersey and to the Hotel Vanzetti.  Arriving in time for the free spread of food for the early evening customers, and enjoyed a wind-down from my exciting trip to the city.  The same groups of regulars were there.

The Musician shared with me, “I so enjoy music that I carry all of my favorites in my head, and then share them with my friends here at Vanzetti’s bar.  I’m really not crazy, but you might say I’m a bit eccentric.”

“That’s okay by me, friend.  I have enjoyed music all of my life, and when I hear you humming or singing a tune, it brings back specific memories about when and where I heard it last.”

After spending the early part of the evening at the Vanzetti’s bar, I went out to a local café that Tom had showed me on my first trip here.  It was a busy and rewarding day, and I was relaxing at a slower pace while enjoying the local fare at Tom’s favorite café.  I was just reflecting on all I had done and seen this day.

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