I was not even a gleam in my daddy’s eye back in 1944 when the D-Day landings took place on the north coast of France – Operation Overlord – so fortunately I had no part in that hard day! I have always wished that I had in fact taken part in Operation Thunderball back in 1965 – but unfortunately I have had to accept the fact that Operation Thunderball is just a fictional secret mission in a James Bond book and movie!
No, for better or worse, the only military mission The Working Stiff has ever been involved with is the great “Operation Fireside” which has been ongoing in Cape May since being launched in 1981, and he is very proud of it!
Operation Fireside is coordinated by the American Red Cross Southern Shore chapter in cooperation with the Coast Guard at Training Center Cape May, in Cape May, New Jersey. (Note that the Cape May Coast Guard base is the one and only CG induction and basic training center in the United States. Everyone who joins the Coast Guard goes to Cape May.) Recruits who have not yet completed their 8-week basic training program are not allowed to leave the base, for example to travel home to their families for a holiday visit. Operation Fireside is a program where local families from Cape May and other nearby towns welcome the young recruits into their homes for the day on Thanksgiving and Christmas. The program has grown over the years and is frequently over-subscribed – meaning that so many families sign up that there are occasionally not enough recruits to go around! I am one of many people who used to think something like, “that’s odd, why would they want to come spend the day with a strange family…” But boy, was I on the wrong track about that! One thing we have learned is that these recruits are generally just thrilled to be able to get off the base for a day and be able to eat normally without anybody yelling at them, be able to take off their boots and watch TV, eat some more, drink coffee, eat some more….
My family has been doing this for about 32 years with a few years off here and there to accommodate moving households, illnesses, or other issues. My father was the driving force initially, partly because he remembered being in the service during WWII and being sent far and wide and away from the comforts of home and a good home-cooked meal. Along with my stepmother, he also really appreciated the way these young people (late teens – early twenties), were doing something pretty tough but very positive with their lives at such an early age. I have always been impressed with how “together” they are, with lots of specific plans about where they want to go and what they want to do. My father is gone now but we carry on the tradition whenever possible, partly to honor his memory but also just because it is a good and heartwarming thing to do!
This year it was just my stepmother Meryl and me, along with 3 recruits. These very nice young ladies were from the same company and had become good friends. They were thrilled to be “at ease” for the day and to hang out with us and to join us for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Cape May is a beautiful area and they had not seen it at all, not yet having been off the base. It was an unseasonably warm day and sunny. We took them to the Hawk Watch platform at Cape May Point, strolled one of the nature trails there, and also out onto the beach to check out the old WWII concrete bunker that once guarded the coast. I took them on a driving tour of Cape May City and we all gawked at the ritzy mansions along the beachfront. Back at the house they spent lots of time on the phone with their families (which we have learned is one of the main things the recruits generally want to do.) We picked them up at the base at about 9:00 A.M. and had to deliver them back just before 8:00 P.M.
All in all, it was a very nice day well spent, and I think that all involved would consider it to have been a great success. I know the recruits were grateful to us for hosting them and we were grateful to them as well for their company. We thank these young ladies for their service and wish them all the best with their future plans!
The Working Stiff