(Note: Jerry Blanchette, guest writer for the TIMES, has been featured in Profiles of Courage)
Jerry Blanchette was a young man of sixteen when he became drawn to ships of the United States Navy. Portsmouth, New Hampshire has a long connection with ships and with seafaring, and Jerry, in the midst of World War II, felt a call. He went to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, the first Federal shipyard of the new United States in the early 1800s. In Jerry’s time submarines were being constructed for his country, and he signed on to help build them. He had tried to join the active Navy, but had been sent home, so he saw this as the second best option for service.
As the war ended in Europe with Germany’s surrender, Jerry Blanchette finally made it into the Navy. He became a radioman. “I became a radio operator because my first assignment was on a heavy cruiser, and they did not call us ‘swabbies’ for nothing” Jerry said. He then served in a destroyer, the USS Steinaker, in the Atlantic.
And then Jerry Blanchette came home. He became a brick mason, and worked construction, and eventually moved to Florida. But then another kind of call came to him and to his wife Joy: the call of mission work. Regular readers of his columns know about their service among the tribes of Brazil.
Retired again, and living in Jackson County, Jerry keeps busy with a local church, where one day recently a visitor, the son-in-law of a member, told of being selected as commanding officer of the Gold Crew of the USS ALASKA (SSBN 732), a nuclear submarine. He invited Jerry to come to the change of command ceremony at Kings Bay, Georgia.
Nuclear submarines, the descendants of the World War II boats that Jerry helped build, have two crews, a Blue crew and a Gold crew, for they stay at sea six months at the time and the submarine must be ready to put to sea with a fresh crew after a day in port. The crew that is ashore trains so that they can be ready.
So, on a bright southern day in September, in southeastern Georgia, Jerry Blanchette stood proudly as Commander Craig Gummer was relieved by Commander Eric Cole as commanding officer of the Gold crew of the ALASKA, a U. S. Navy submarine so unlike those in his memories of long ago.
But, in a sense, the ALASKA and Jerry’s ships are alike. Both were this country’s first line of defense, only with years separating them. Captain Cole and his crew are truly worthy to be recognized in the TIMES ‘Profiles in Courage’.
And we, as citizens of this great country, can rest easy knowing that the Navy, as always, is in capable hands.