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Four Years at the Mount

Junior Year

The First Forgotten Tale

Kyle Ott
MSM Class of 2015

(3/2014) If you will allow me to paint you a pictureÖ

A young man attending a private university in the Northeast of America is walking to eat with a few of his companions for dinner. Autumn is in full swing and the trees have begun to change the colors of their lives, turning the mountains that surround his school into a quilted patchwork of oranges, browns, and yellows and casting the old stone buildings of his home in a new light. On the way to the meal he decides to check with the mailroom and see if he has anything of note waiting for him. On any other day he would flip through the combination nonchalantly, see the empty mailbox, and move on to a boisterous conversation with his classmates. On this day, however, he finds a small envelope and a battered newspaper clipping attached to it. Curious, he waits until he reaches his table to tear open the manila shield surrounding the letter and read what it has to say. The note, in all its humble small-ness, simply says:

"I thought youíd be interested in this, itís the story of the ship I was on. We were also part of the Cuban Blockade. We and other warships were shadowing Russian Transport Ships for several days. Tell your brother hello. Take care, Grampa and Grandma."

The young man, even more curious than before, turns the newspaper clipping over in his hands a few times before deciding to read what it contained.

The tale within the two short columns of small type was almost too amazing to believe. It told the story, not of his grandfather, but of a young sailor, trapped with 157 other crewmen on the Arctic Sea by a fierce storm. Winds reached almost 100 miles per hour as they rattled the metal walls of the boat as well as the souls of the men inside. The water wrapped around the ship, yanking it this way, tugging it that way. The coffee pot in the mess room came loose as plates and china smashed in a cacophony around the men who were stumbling and falling trying to maintain some semblance of footing. Suddenly, everything came to a head when walls of deathly green water began to crash over and over into the hull of the ship, sending the sailors who could barely stand into a frenzy of activity as they tried to save their ship and their lives. The walls of water eventually climbed to unbelievable heights.

The young man reading the paper suppressed a sharp breath when he read how casually the waves were described, going from "mountainous" to "phenomenal." Despite the fact that the storm had already passed and the ship had undergone its ordeal years ago, the young man still struggled to read on.

The waves crashed again and again, tearing apart anything that wasnít tied tight enough or reinforced properly. The worst damage came when the 2,000-pound piece of equipment used for gunnery training, complete with real torpedoes, was torn loose. Suddenly everyone was threatened by a storm outside and the chance of a deadly explosion from within.

Despite everything, they did it. The brave men on that ship survived the storm; the green water finally giving way to something that looked far less like the angry hand of God. An almost 24-hour ordeal had finally given way to some tentative peace. Even so, the sea was still so rough that the ship had to limp on toward the North Pole before finally being able to turn back toward England for much needed repairs. The ship had been saved, the people on it had persevered, and in the face of titanic odds they had come out on top, somehow surviving the worst that nature could throw at them.

The events that Iíve described to you didnít begin during the opening sequence of a book or at the start of a young Indiana Jones movie (although, George Lucas, if youíre listening, Iím open to negotiations). Rather, the scene that took place for you occurred to me, after opening a humbly marked letter from my grandfather, Clarence Ott, who served on the U.S. S. Rhodes in 1962 as a radio operator. The Rhodes was one of many destroyers that stalked the sea during that time period: part weapon, part deterrent against any who would seek to encroach on America, or its tons of allies. It was the kind of story that you watched on TV or read about in books, and certainly not the kind of story youíd picture your grandfather being an integral part of. Yet there I was, sitting in Patriot Hall reading this story in a newspaper that I had never seen before about an incident that I had never known happened.

For a little personal perspective, my grandfather is a tall, jolly man with a balding head that never seems to be without a ball cap of some sort. In the 20 years Iíve been alive I can count on both hands the times Iíve seen him without his signature, long-sleeved plaid work-shirts. Furthermore, I can count on one hand the times heís referred to me by my Christian name rather than "Kyley Boy." Heís the kind of man that speaks more in chuckles and good natured laughs than actual words. Heís the kind of man that when something needs done, he does it. Not because itís particularly pressing or important, but because he simply likes to work. Heís at home on a ladder balancing a full can of paint in one hand and a hammer in the other. He wasnít the kind of man that went out on giant adventures, and he had certainly never braved a perfect storm and come out on the other side with a tale to tell. Heís my gramps, the man who falls asleep at 9 oíclock on the dot, the man who lent me books on the Wild West and kindled a love of history in my heart, and the man who takes us with him to volunteer for Meals on Wheels.

Astoundingly, here I am, writing this article. Telling my grandfatherís forgotten tale to all of you in the hopes that it might never be forgotten, and in the hopes that you might go and seek out your own beloved family members and see what stories they have to share. My own father had never heard the story of his dadís battle with the storm. As far as I know, Iím the first one of the grandchildren to be privy to this amazing account of my grandfather, Petty Officer Clarence Ott, and his battle against the storm. How many other amazing tales are there just waiting to be told? How many adventures and epics have we missed because we never thought to ask our parents, uncles, and siblings? My whole life has been one big quest to tell the stories that no one had the chance to hear, to weave the tales that were almost forgotten. Thank you for being here with me, for listening to my grandfatherís story, and hopefully for going out and finding some forgotten tales of your own. Who knows what brave and wondrous adventures you may discover. Iím Kyle Ott wonít you sit and read for a while?

Read other articles by Kyle Ott