Capt. Bryan Cairns and the “Vesparis”

After WWII Jim spent a couple of hitches in the Navy as he tried to figure out what to do with his life. For one of those enlistments he toured the Mediterranean Sea. He never shared much about this tour, nor any of his Navy experiences. What little he told about the war in the Pacific led me to believe those were tough times. He also spent time in the US South doing ordnance disposal, that was dull and dreary. His time touring the Mediterranean was different!

There were no specific stories, just a few hints here and there. This was the tour of a lifetime. These days college age people take a year off to “find themselves” in Europe or Asia. Jim found himself and adventure in Southern Europe. He seemed most proud of a Longines watch he purchased somewhere in France. I still wear that watch. It’s beautiful, but it’s quite fragile and doesn’t keep very good time.

Jim sent many postcards to a friend in South Dakota from most of the ports he visited, including a brief synopsis of his shore time adventures with banalities about the weather and inquiries about what was happening back in the states.

Even better than the post cards were the entries from his diaries of his tours of the Mediterranean Sea. I’ve included his notes from the 1952 liberty he describes in this letter. (Note that Jim’s letter says 1953 … that’s an error.)

From Jim's 1953 photo album.

From Jim’s 1950’s photo album.

This picture from Jim’s album reminds me of the one he mentions in his story. The picture he mentions is missing.

Jim writes:

The “Vesparis” was a truly beautiful yacht, a sleek, mahogany hulled 72 foot ketch rigged sailing yacht! She was moored at one of the quays in Golfe Juan harbor, France, on the Mediterranean Sea. …

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From the USS Fremont to a Cadillac – 1953

Jim starts his life story in the middle. Can you point to one incident in your life that everything else turns around? For me, it was something as simple as getting off an elevator in Sevrinson Hall in 1970. There was before, and there was after. Jim had the same kind of experience, in the back seat of a 1953 Cadillac. Jim starts his letters with the story of life’s cusp.

USS Fremont - Bridge crew - September 1953 -

USS Fremont – Bridge crew – September 1953

In the fall of 1953 Jim’s life was changing. He had spent more than ten years in the Navy, first during the war against the Japanese in the South Pacific, and then on more mundane duty stat-side and cruising the Mediterranean Sea. Soon, life would change from military to civilian, years after most WWII veterans had made the move. After being born in North Dakota, he moved East as a child. Now, in 1953 he was preparing to move back to Dakota for an adult life.

Growing up in Massachusetts and spending a decade in the Navy made an indelible imprint on Jim. He never lost the genteel nature that reminded me of Boston. He always used the slang of a Navy man. North Dakota blood flowed in his veins. The next fifty or so letters show all the traits that made him a fascinating character.

In this photo of the USS Fremont bridge crew, taken just before the events in the letter below, Jim is third from the right in the front row.

Grandpa Guy Havelick


Originally published 2014-10-06
Updated 2017-01-31


Jim writes:

The USS Fremont (APA44) docked at NOB (Naval Operations Base) Norfolk, Va. after an 8 month cruise of the Mediterranean and its seaports. After the long months and confining spaces aboard ship I was more than anxious to get off, therefore I took 30 days annual leave. There were three modes of transportation available to me … Bus, Pane and train … but I decided, with some doubts and trepidation, to hitch-hike … from Norfolk to No. Dak!

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