I call it the 37 Club because almost all of us were born in the year of 1937. There were two exceptions — one in 1935 and one in 1938.

After graduating from Phelps Central High School on June 27, 1955, we all chose different directions for our lives. I don’t know where everyone ended up, but I believe everyone made a good life decision for themselves.

The following members of our class chose to serve our country, all joining the United States Navy: Harvey Robert Eggleton, Clark Lewis Iddings, Frederick Lee Johnson, Edward Charles Nayaert, Alfred Stanley Pickard and Gerald Walter VanCamp. One other, sophomore student Tim Henecke, joined with us.

The majority enlisted on July 7, 1955, in Buffalo ... except me. I didn’t enlist until Aug. 24, 1955. Our enlistment was referred to as a “kitty cruise,” which meant you enlisted at 17½ years old and were discharged the day before your 21st birthday. Clark L. Iddings didn’t qualify, as he was born in 1935. He served the longest — three years, 11 months, six days.

From Buffalo, we were flown to the United States Naval Training Center at Bainbridge, Md. Harvey, Clark, Ed, Alfred, Jerry and Tim all stayed together at boot camp. They were in the 305th Company, 53rd Battalion, 5th Regiment. I was in Company 412 (Hall of Fame), 43rd Battalion, 4th Regiment. Here, we underwent eight weeks of intensive training.

Transitioning from civilian to military life was an eye-opener. We will never forget that experience, with our service number stenciled into every piece of clothing and our brain.

This naval training center was originally the Jacob Tome Institute for Boys and included 1,132 acres on the northeast bank of the Susquehanna River. It was purchased by the Navy and activated Oct. 1, 1942. At the conclusion of World War II, more than 244,277 recruits had been trained there. The Training Center was deactivated on June 30, 1947, but reactivated Feb. 1, 1951, at the start of the Korean Crisis.

Here are brief biographies of our patriot enlistees:

  • Harvey Robert Eggleton, born October 1937 to Harvey Sr. and Ruth Eggleton. Eggleton was a 2nd Class Electronics Technician (ET) and served on two submarines, the USS Menhaden SS3-77 and the USS Queenfish SS-393 (San Diego).
  • Clark L. Iddings, born in November 1935 to Ernest and Jessie Iddings. He was a 2nd Class Aviation Boatswain Mate (AB), serving on the USS Saratoga CVA- 60 aircraft carrier out of Mayport, Fla. Iddings died in November 2005.
  • Frederick Lee Johnson, born December 1937 to Lloyd and Pauline Johnson. A 2nd Class Electrician Mate (EM), Johnson was assigned to three submarines: the USS Conger SS-477, the USS Jallao SS-368 (Groton, Conn.) and the USS Tirante SS-420 (Key West, Fla.).
  • Edward Charles Nayaert, born July 1937 to Al and Margaret Nayaert. A 2nd Class Builder with the Sea Bees, Nayaert served in Guam.
  • Alfred Stanley Pickard, born in March 1937 to Benonia and Anna Pickard. An Electricians Mate (EM), Pickard died in August 1970 and is buried at Oaklawn Cemetery in Oaks Corners.
  • Gerald Walter VanCamp, born November 1937 to William and Edith VanCamp. He was a Class Hospital Corpsman (HM), serving on the USS Cascade AD-16 Destroyer Tender out of Newport, R.I. VanCamp died December 2012.
  • Tim Leslie Henecke, born July 1938 to Everett Sr. and Bertha Henecke. He was a 2nd Class Radioman (RM) and served on the USS Neosho AO-143 refueling oil tanker based in Bainbridge, Md.
  • Donald James Ulmer, born August 1937 to Carl and Raechael. Ulmer attended Alfred State and enlisted in the U.S. Army in January 1960, achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel. He was deployed to Vietnam in 1967-1968 to command the Nike Hercules Air to Surface Missile Battery. Ulmer also served two tours in Italy. He received total disability due to Agent Orange and was discharged May 31, 1981 after 21 and a half years of service.

To my knowledge, all these men received an honorable discharge at the end of serving their required time. Thank you all for your service to our country, and for the three patriots who have passed, “Sailors Rest your Oars.”

Johnson, of Phelps, is interested in the history of Phelps and writes occasional articles for the Phelps Historical Society.

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