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In early December of 1954, the crew of the Destroyer Tender USS Yosemite asked that we have a Christmas party for kids in the Newport R.I. area. I thought this was a terrific suggestion, until it was decided that this party should be handled by someone on the Health and Welfare Committee. Since I was the only person from first division on that committee, guess who got the job?

The next week found me and another “Volunteer”, in a gray Navy Chevy, heading for a Catholic home in Fall River Mass. This home was a refuge for children in the area whose parents could not afford to raise their kids. At this home we met with the Mother Superior, and informed her of our wish to give a party for 200 of her kids. She beamed with approval, and assured us that she would provide a list of 100 girls and 100 boys. And so she did. We also asked that she give us their ages as well as their sweater sizes.

With this information in hand, we went to one of the many sweater mills in Fall River. The area was famous for their sweater mills. We were given over to a very helpful and knowledgeable woman who asked for the list of kids. From the list she set aside what she thought a 12-year-old girl, or a 13-year-old boy should wear. She even made allowances for some who might be larger or smaller for their age.

Having accomplished the initial task we then thought it would be nice if we could give each kid a toy. The woman at the mill suggested a factory that just happened to be owned by a brother of Milton Berle. At this factory, we received the same kind of considerate help. Keep in mind that this is all being done with out seeing the kids. With all the pieces in place, we believed we were now ready.

On Christmas Eve day, with a Navy bus for transportation, my buddy and I set out for the Fall River home of the kids. When we returned to the Millville pier, we had 200 screaming kids on board. As we reached the pier where the ship was docked a hush came over the throng, it was an unexpected change.

As I made my exit from the bus and looked up at the weather deck of the Yosemite, I was pleasantly surprised to see the rail, from Quarter Deck to fantail, lined with sailors in their best looking dress blues. I was flabbergasted… I never would have believed that some of these guys could be like any typical father or grandfather, anxiously waiting in line to be the escorts of the children.

As each child came up the gangway, they were given a salute by the Officer of the Deck, along with a warm, “Welcome Aboard”.

The awaiting escorts each took a child by the hand and began a tour of the ship explaining how things worked and how they lived aboard ship.

I became the escort for a inquisitive 12 year old boy whose name was Andy. I showed him the different types of guns and our Fire Control shack, plus all sorts of shipboard apparatus . As I walked him along the 01 deck toward the bridge, we heard loud screams and giggles. As we came up on the bridge, we saw two sailors asking a child, “Do you want to go for a ride?” The answer was always, yes. With that, the two would grab the kid and toss him or her over the bridge rail. I rushed up to look over the rail and saw that the crew had fashioned a large canvas slide that whisked the kids down to the deck below and into the arms of two more sailors. It was a thrilling slide.

Looking about the ship I could see gun mounts swinging back and forth with laughing screaming kids, jammed aboard, having a gleeful time.

What followed, was to be the highlight of the day. From the PA system, a voice announced that every- one was summoned to the Chow Hall below. As each child stepped onto the mess deck, they where given a standard metal food tray and ushered into the chow line for a special Christmas meal. I believe that every sailor in Newport was aware that the chow served up by the “Yo Yo” was always outstanding. Today was no exception. As each child was seated at a table they received two gifts, a sweater and a toy. There were sailors who walked around, seeing that each child who had received a sweater or toy they didn’t like could swap with someone else to satisfy their pleasure. The result was that everyone seemed to be pleased.

Then came the pay off. I spotted two boys, who were wearing knickers. They were tearing out their pockets so that they could stuff their pants with fruit. This act had me concerned because I knew this would cause a large overrun in the money that I had to repay the Commissary Officer for the food. I immediately found the Commissary Officer and discussed my concerns regarding the stashing of the extra fruit. He pulled me into his office and said, “Ain’t it great. Watch this!” He brought out a very large tray of fruit and set it down on a table and in a very stern voice said, “Take what you want, but eat what you take”. He then returned to his office. We peeked through the almost closed door to observe what was happening to the full fruit tray.

No sooner had the tray hit the table, than many hands reached out and grabbed the fruit, shoving it in their pants. The Chief Warrant was smiling from ear to ear. I said to him. “Can I pay you extra money out of the Health and Welfare Allowance, for the food that was being “stolen?” He became angry, and said to me, “The Yosemite is a transit ship. There are guys coming on board one day and leaving the next, I never know how many. I feed between 1500 to 1600 men on a given day. If I can’t fit 200 kids in for a day, I’ll throw in my hat. “

The festivities came to an end and it was time to herd the kids from the ship. It had been a satisfying day. Everything had gone so smoothly. However, there was one difficult moment. I went along on the bus to take the kids back to their home, Andy held my hand very tight during the trip. As we said our good byes he asked me to take him home with me when I got discharged. That was a tough farewell.

All in all, this was the most memorable Christmas in my life. I often wonder what happened to Andy – how he grew up , how he is doing?

Merry Christmas everyone. Nick Lasorsa

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