A popular aphorism states each one of us can connect to anyone else in the world with a maximum of six links. If I want to link myself to Mao Zedong, for example, I might do it thus: Elizabeth, my daughter, received her Duke of Edinburgh Award from The Man himself some time ago. Therefore my links are: Elizabeth, my daughter > Prince Phillip > The Queen > Winston Churchill > Joseph Stalin > Chairman Mao.

There are others. I once spoke by telephone with Jim McDivitt, the astronaut. Through him I can link to Alan Shepard, John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, et al.

One of my shipmates was in the same class as Connie Francis at their high school in Union, New Jersey. It’s then a single step to Frankie Avalon and a whole host of ‘sixties American pop singers.

A work colleague, Walt McMorrow, was a classmate of the film actor Alan Alda at Fordham University in New York many years ago.

My history professor at Carnegie Mellon University—then Carnegie Tech or Carnegie Institute of Technology—had taught Andy Warhol in the late ‘forties. If we assume Warhol met Pablo Picasso, and Picasso met Claude Monet—not unreasonable, but certainly not confirmed assumptions—we can then link to Vincent van Gogh, although here perhaps we’re drifting into realms of fantasy.

The list goes on. Now, following my examples you should be prepared to think of some of your own.

A few weeks ago I was challenged to link myself to Benny Hill, the comic. This turned out to be easy, even easier than when it was first proposed:

In 1986 I spent five days at the Lasham Gliding Club in Hampshire near Basingstoke on a gliding course. One of our lecturers was the club CFI, Derek Piggot. He was one of the stunt pilots in the 1965 film, Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines directed by Ken Annakin. In this film, Benny Hill played Fire Chief Perkins. It’s not a safe assumption to think Derek and Benny sat around the catering tent between takes discussing the meaning of life, the universe and everything, but I think it’s reasonable to assume Derek and Benny can be linked through the director. Therefore my links are: Derek Piggot > Ken Annakin > Benny Hill.

Before I am accused of letting this exposition descend into a session of shameless name-dropping, I think it’s time to move on.

She was known as The Ship That Came Back. The USS Hazelwood (DD531) was a Fletcher class destroyer built in a San Francisco shipyard and commissioned on 18 June 1943. On 29 April 1945 she was hit by a kamikaze off Okinawa during a series of land and sea battles in preparation for an invasion of the Japanese mainland that, thankfully, never occurred. The aircraft came from aft, low, and the port wing hit the forward stack and cart wheeled into the bridge. The crash and resulting explosion and fire toppled the mast, destroyed the entire bridge and put the two forward five-inch guns out of action. Sixty-seven enlisted men and ten officers were killed. Of the remaining eight officers on board, four were wounded. Lt. (j.g.) C. M. Locke, the Engineering Officer who had survived the attack unscathed because he was below decks in the engine room, was then the senior officer on board and took command. Under his command the fires were put out and the wounded were attended to.

The ship made her way, partly under tow and partly under her own power, with a seventeen degree list, first to Pearl Harbor then on to Mare Island near San Francisco.

She saw no more service during WWII but was rebuilt and re-commissioned on 12 September 1951 and operated off the Korean coast until early 1954 when she returned to the east coast and Newport, Rhode Island, her final home port.

Following my first year and a half at Carnegie Tech, I ran out of money, as is sometimes the case with American university students, and enlisted in the Naval Reserve. Funny—but we never thought of them then as ‘gap years’. I was ordered to the Hazelwood and went aboard on a Sunday afternoon late in October of 1959. On the mess deck this large, grainy photograph was attached to a bulkhead and I was told the tale of the ship that came back. My two years of active duty were relatively uneventful except, perhaps, for the Newport Jazz Festival riots of 1960 and three days floating around in the Bermuda Triangle, but – these stories are for another day.

In the autumn of 1962 I returned to university. During a conversation with the Dean of Men, whose name I’ve unfortunately forgotten, the subject of military service came up. He had served as a Naval officer on a destroyer during the Korean War and the Executive Officer of his ship was Lieutenant C M Locke.

A Fletcher class destroyer was 376 feet long with a beam of 39 feet, a draught of 16 feet, a displacement of 2150 tons and a wartime crew of 360 officers and enlisted men. It’s certainly reasonable to assume everybody on board this ship under these circumstances had contact with everybody else—I know it was when I was on board.

So we go from me > the CMU Dean of Men > Lieutenant Locke > the wartime crew of the USS Hazelwood. And thus you who are reading this can, with only four links, connect yourselves to all those 360 men aboard that ship on that dreadful day in April, 1945.

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