Sea story: Ice Off the Mark (1967)

frostbite sailing“Turn to, crew!” I barked, as I passed the Plebes’ room (Plebes are first-year midshipmen/cadets at US service academies). I kept jogging toward the stairs, confident that the two underclassmen would be scrambling after me, and catch me before I reached the door to Bancroft Hall. I knew well the exhilaration they must feel to be done with classes for the day, and heading away from upper-class harassment for a couple of hours. Continue reading

Sea story: My First Musical Audition (1965)

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Plebe year: endless disappointments

I was a weird kid. I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up – always. Be a Naval Officer. And to do that I knew that I wanted to go to the Naval Academy in Annapolis. One of my persistent daydreams as a boy and a teenager was to march in the Drum & Bugle Corps. When I started Plebe Summer in June of 1965, that was the first activity that I checked into – and my first of many disappointments. The midshipmen in the D&B Corps all were accomplished musicians, usually first chair in their high school band or orchestra with at least four years of top-level playing. I was not even eligible to apply.

Cramming for another trivia test

Cramming for another trivia test

But I liked music, and I noticed an announcement on the Chapel bulletin board about auditioning for the three Choirs (two Protestant and one Catholic). Chief Musician Joseph McCuen, USN, the organist at the Naval Academy Chapel, directed the Catholic Choir. He also directed the Naval Academy Glee Club. Slim, short and almost always smiling, the silver-haired musician made an announcement about auditions at our first Sunday in Chapel. I genuinely liked church, and I liked participating by more than sitting in the pews. I wrestled with my pessimism about auditioning after the D&B Corps experience, but my roommates encouraged me to try for it. The delay put me at the very end of a line that stretched out into the street. The odds looked terrible, I thought. It wasn’t that big a choir. At least while we were standing in that line, no upperclassmen would harass us, so I stayed.

Chief McCuen was sitting at the upright piano in his office. He motioned to the chair at the end of the piano, then asked me why I wanted to be in the Choir and about my musical background. My answers took less time than the questions, though today I cannot remember what I said. He pulled an Armed Forces Hymnal from the pile on top of the piano and opened it to a hymn near the middle.

“I’ll give you the first note, then you sing the bass line,” he said, tapping his finger on the lowest line of notes.

“Yes, sir.”

“Don’t sir me. I’m a Chief. You’re an officer.” He hit the note. I noticed that all the lowest notes were on the same line and that they were all round circles. Nothing sticking out of them.

Eternal Father, strong to save…” I sang in the steadiest monotone I could muster, careful to make each note the same length. He stopped after one line.

USNA Catholic Choir, 1965

Catholic Choir, 1965

“That’s good.” He said, closing the cover on the keyboard. “You’re a second tenor. Rehearsal is at 20:00 in the Choir Loft. White Works uniform.”

“Yes, sir,” I said.

“Don’t sir me. Everyone in my choir calls me Joe.” He smiled and shook my hand. “It’s going to be the only four hours of sanity you get every week for a year. Welcome aboard.”

Back in Bancroft Hall, my roommates were elated. I did not understand why they were so pleased for me.

“JT, you’re such a dummy sometimes,” said Larry, who was in the Drum & Bugle Corps. “You have just gotten out of all Sunday morning formations and marching to Chapel forever!”

Sixth Feet Music Show -- 7 years after that first audition

Sixth Feet Music Show — 7 years after that first audition


“Because the Choirs have to muster a half-hour before the services to warm up. Didn’t you realize that’s why there were so many guys lined up to audition?”

Thus began fifty years of singing in Choirs, Music Shows and Choral Societies. Joe asked me to join the Naval Academy Glee Club at the end of Plebe Summer, and I have been studying music and singing ever since.

©2020, JT Hine

Sea Story: Latin Interpreter (1962-1964)

DSCN0227We had been living in Rome for three years when the brand new Pope, John XXIII, stunned his own cardinals and advisers by announcing that he would convene an Ecumenical Council. No one really understood how historic it would be, on so many levels. Three years later, in October 1962, 1962-Second_Vatican_Council_by_Lothar_Wolleh_007more than 2,000 Bishops and major prelates converged on the Eternal City to answer his call. It was the first time that an Ecumenical Council included outside observers (17 denominations of Eastern Orthodox and Protestants). In my opinion, it was the first true Ecumenical Council since the Council of Trent in 1563, because Vatican Council I only had a minority of bishops (88 Italians and 4 Frenchmen) in attendance by the time that Garibaldi crashed through the Porta Pia on 20 September 1870 and scattered the assembly. Most of the cardinals and bishops were still on their way. (“Ecumenical” means everyone.)

1962-Second_Vatican_Council_by_Lothar_Wolleh_006Rome was crazy with colorful clergy of all types wandering around. The American delegation was struggling. To their great surprise, there were no interpreting services at the Council, because every priest was expected to be fluent in Latin. JTH-Cardinal Spellman 1964This was not a dead language for me and my classmates taking Latin IV at school. We were using it every day, interpreting for delegates or just helping with conversation practice after serving Mass each morning.

JTH-Fulton Sheen 1964Mom and I operated the sauna and steam bath concession in the basement of the Cavalieri Hilton Hotel, which had just opened. As the first five-star, American-style hotel in Rome, the American prelates favored the Cavalieri Hilton, and many came down to our establishment to get over the stress of the day. The joke ran around the hotel that our cool-down pool was full of holy water from the constant immersion of bishops and cardinals.

JTH altar boy 1964One night as I was closing up, I got a phone call from one of our regular clients, the Auxiliary Bishop of Newburgh, New York. He was a humble man, who did not like being called anything fancier than “Father.”

“Jonathan, could you come up to my room for a while?” he asked. “I have a document that we need help with tonight.” Thanking my lucky stars that I had finished my own homework already that evening, I took the lift up to his suite. He met me with a thick, typewritten manuscript.

“We were just given this today. I think it’s a draft Encyclical [major policy letter from the Pope]. The American delegation has a meeting right after breakfast to prepare our national response to it. But none of us can read it, especially something that thick in one night.”

“I can’t type or write that fast, Father,” I said, hefting the volume in my hands. He sat down at his coffee table, and pulled a large yellow pad of paper towards himself.

“I was wondering if you could read it to me – in English. I will take notes. I am hoping that will give us enough information to put something together in the morning.”

He was asking for a “sight translation,” something that court interpreters often do. Sight translation from Latin? Why not? I opened the manuscript and began to interpret, “Pacem in Terris…” Peace on Earth…

Today, I think that the first crack in the two-year-old Berlin Wall appeared as I read, walking a circle into the carpet of his room. On Maundy Thursday, 11 April 1963, Pacem in Terris hit the world media, and the Cold War began to come to an end. It was the first Encyclical not written to Catholics, but to all people. In it, Pope John blasted both sides of the Cold War, meaning the Americans and the Soviets, and their respective Allies. He told them to get on with taking care of their people and to start working on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

For more on both the Encyclical and the Council, check out and


© 2019 JT Hine

Sea story: Growing up on a bike (1953-1963)

1952-Austin pedal carWhen I was four and five, Mom was the buyer for a national toy company. As you can imagine, we had obscene Christmases, because she could get the latest toys and games for wholesale or less. 1952-Princess_Elizabeth_watches_her_son_Prince_Charles_playing_in_his-toy carI remember having a pedal-powered Austin car identical to that of Prince Charles (his was green; mine was cream-coloured), and such luxuries. Continue reading