MARCH 24, 1997

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The last of the Great White Fleet sailors

Basil Bond

The Eastside's Basil Bond was the last of the 14,000 sailors who had spent 3 years seeing the world through the eyes of a former farm kid.
Photo by Oscar Roloff.

Oscar Roloff by Oscar Roloff
Years ago, the Eastside had the last of the 14,000 sailors who in 1907-09 had made a world-girdling trip to tell certain unruly nations to get back in line. It was a show of force. That man was Basil Bond, and often I'd visit his home and have coffee with Basil and his wife, Dorothy.
   At 16, Basil left home and soon joined the Navy. Though short of age by one year, he was accepted. At that time, President Teddy Roosevelt became wary of far-off nations who sought new encroachments. He told his fleet boss to paint 16 of our warships white and send them on a goodwill trip around the world. Then aboard the battlewagon USS Connecticut, Bond was one of 14,000 who had the distinction of seeing the world.
   When I interviewed Basil, he said it was one of the most remarkable experiences he'd ever had. At every stop, the local people wined and dined the sailors. They'd give them the keys to the city.
   Some wags called it Uncle Sam's "Greatest Show On Earth." Dressed in peacetime white uniforms, the laboring warships enjoyed the 14-month, six-continent, 45,000-mile journey.
   Basil said they focused attention on Japan's looking outward and it worked to quell them. "Receptions at Australia and New Zealand was one of frenzy, as girls galore rushed down to the docks to kiss the young sailors," he recalled. "We got all kinds of pets such as dogs, cats, monkeys, deer, pandas, kangaroos, bears, goats, and parrots. Back home, enlistments soared as other young men wanted to see the world and those glorious girls."
   At some ports, missionaries saw that sailors did not get to drink the rough stuff, but tea instead. The young complained. This was true in Japan. The Navy brass wanted no fisticuffs. The church people had scads of doughnuts to give the sailors. The latter we upset. They wanted some fun.
   All in all, the trip served a good purpose and the fleet came home on 22 Feb. 1909.
   Having served in World War II as a Navy officer, Basil and his wife settled on the Eastside near where I lived. Years passed, and one day, Basil went aboard a ship, told the navigator to cast off all lines and rig sails to make the final journey to that far-off land where all is in peace and harmony.
   That's where the gallant old sailor now resides with his 13,999 shipmates who made that nearly 3-year trip around the world, where in nearly every port, they'd pass off fake Civil War money to buy gifts to take home. No one really cared.