USNA ‘65

I, John Szubski grew up in Cleveland, Ohio on the shores of Lake Erie.  Back then all American young men were obligated to serve in the Armed Forces of the United States, and I decided that I wanted to serve in the most honorable and adventurous way possible.  One of my older brother’s high school classmates had joined for the Ohio State University NROTC Regiment.  When he was home from his NROTC summer cruise, we got together, and I was wowed by his sea stories.  The Navy really appealed to me, and in the summer of 1960, just before my Senior Year at Benedictine High School, an all-male college prep, I began exploring what it would take to be accepted into NROTC.  As it turns out, during that summer, as part of the inauguration of the Saint Lawrence Seaway by Queen Elizabeth and President Eisenhower, the US Navy deployed ‘Operation Inland Seas’ to the Great Lakes.  Task Force 47 consisted of 28 ships; cruisers, destroyers, amphibs, and submarines, along with the entire USNA Class of 1963 on their Youngster Cruise.  After visiting the ships which tied-up in Cleveland, along with tens-of-thousands of my fellow Ohioans, I was totally hooked.  In autumn, my father showed me a newspaper clipping stating that Ohio Congressman Charles A. Vanik was accepting names to sit for his examination with the aim of receiving a Congressional Appointment to one of the Service Academies.  On 12 NOV 60 I sat for the examination.  On 2 FEB 61 I received word that he was a Principal Appointee to the Naval Academy.  On 28 JUN 61 I entered USNA as member of the Naval Academy Class of 1965
As I had known that I was attracted to other men since my early childhood.  I also knew that I would have to spend the next years celibate if I were to remain in the Navy, and I was determined to do so.  In today’s world it’s hard to comprehend or overstate the homophobia of the Navy, and indeed that of all of society, during the Fifties and Sixties.

Beneath USS WM. R. RUSH in dry dock next to the sonar dome with 2 of my sonar men, 1966

Beneath USS WM. R. RUSH in dry dock next to the sonar dome with 2 of my sonar men, 1966

USS WM. R. RUSH (DD-714) alongside USS AMERICA (CVA-66), 1967

USS WM. R. RUSH (DD-714) alongside USS AMERICA (CVA-66), 1967

Upon graduation and commissioning on 9 JUN 65, my first ship was the USS WILLIAM R. RUSH (DD-714) a Fram I destroyer, home ported in Newport, RI.  After attending Fleet Sonar School in Key West, my duty assignment aboard RUSH became Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer, ASWO.
During the next two years, ’66 and ’67, the RUSH made major deployments to the Mediterranean.  As part of the 1967 deployment, she was detached from the Sixth Fleet temporarily to sail south into Southwest Asia.  I count that adventure as one of the most exciting and fascinating events of my life.  I’m so lucky to have experienced it.  We sailed down through the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, stopping in Massawa, Ethiopia, the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Oman and into the Persian Gulf for a long availability in Manamah, Bahrein as the only US combatant ship in the Gulf.  Returning to the Arabian Sea we made port stops in Al Masirah Island, Oman and Karachi, Pakistan.  Heading back north, we returned to the Mediterranean Sea just in time for the Arab-Israeli Six Day War in which the USA acted as observers in the East Mediterranean, not a participants.

In July, 1967 I was rotated to the USS AMERICA (CVA-66) with a crew of 5,000 enlisted and 300 officers.  My main duty was as a Fast Attack Carrier Fleet Officer of the Deck.  Out of the 300 officers aboard there were only five of us qualified for that position.  In 1968 AMERICA deployed to South East Asia to participate in the Viet Nam Conflict.  We spent more than four months of our eight month deployment on Yankee Station in the Tonkin Gulf bringing the war to North Viet Nam.  Because the AMERICA was too wide to use the Panama Canal, we’d sailed east and south from Norfolk, VA, passing the Cape of Good Hope, and crossing the entire Indian Ocean to get to South East Asia.  For our November return to Norfolk, the Captain requested permission to sail east to Australia and New Zealand and around Cape Horn.  Permission was granted, and the adventure continued.  I take great pride in saying that I was one of the five qualified Officers of the Deck to conn AMERICA all the way around the World.

After leaving AMERICA in JUNE, 1969, just as ‘Stonewall’ was happening, I was assigned to FLEET TRAINING GROUP, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  I was an Anti-Submarine Warfare Instructor giving refresher training to ASW types from ships of the Atlantic Fleet.  I enjoyed the job because I got to go out to sea each morning, which is something I really enjoyed, and then return in the afternoon to go to the Officers’ Club to drink or swim. (And cruise my fellow J.O.s surreptitiously.)

By that time I had decided to leave the Navy as soon as they’d let me out.   I was still celibate, and about to turn twenty-six.  (My body was very mad at me, LOL!)  My Guantanamo tour of duty lasted only half a year, as the Navy allowed me to leave in November, 1969 as part of a Nixon money saving move.  I’d always wanted to study architecture, so I applied to five schools knowing that I’d have to wait until spring of 1970 for an answer, and autumn to start school.  I moved to Boston to be with young people who were eager to learn and to live.  Boston was full of Hippies and much anti-war sentiment.  There I fell in with a group of disreputable (LOL) Harvard PhD students, and I finally came out. WHEW!

In April TIMOTHY PATRICK DONOHUE and I met.  It was ‘lust at first sight.’  That began our 16 ½ year partnership.  At the same time I learned that I’d been accepted by Princeton University with a full tuition stipend.  I credit my acceptance to the fact that I’d graduated from USNA, and that I’d served as an officer in the Navy. The next three years were academic heaven.  During my second and third years I was asked to teach the History of Modern Architecture.  I received a Master of Architecture degree in May, 1973. 

Because of the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 there was very little work for architects, so Tim and I eventually moved to Philadelphia where I was employed as a civilian architect at Northern Division, Naval Facilities Engineering Command for five years.  Northern Division covered the twenty-five north-easternmost states, and I managed to design about twenty buildings for the Navy and Marine Corps, some of which earned architectural awards. Reader, you may have visited one those buildings.

By 1979 the market for architects had expanded, so I was able to get a position in New York City with Ulrich Franzen & Associates.  Tim had earned a Master’s Degree in Music Composition at Rutgers University, so NYC was a better place for him to seek employment.

In the early Eighties the scourge of HIV-AIDS hit the Gay community of New York City very hard.  Tim was diagnosed in 1985, and died on 7 SEP 86.  His illness focused our priorities, and brought us even closer than we had been.  His mother was with us at his death, and I continued to visit her in Florida for the next 23 years until she passed away.

I kept working in architecture until 2008 when I had triple by-pass heart surgery.  Some of my most notable projects have been with SEPHORA, NAUTICA, LOUIS VUITTON, HERTZ and AVIS.  In 1995 I met HUMBERTO ALERS, a former Marine Corps Sergeant, and we have remained very close since then.  I am still pursuing the passion for travel that I learned in the Navy.  At this writing I have been to All Seven Continents and to Seventy-Eight Sovereign Countries.  When I was at sea in the Sixties I began and continue to keep a daily journal.   Based on that, I have written a memoir about my love of the sea, my love of the Navy, and living ‘in the closet’ for eight-and-a-half years.  I’ve entitled it YOUNG, AND AT SEA, and have been seeking a publisher.

In 2011 I was approached by my classmate Phil Ferrara to volunteer to participate in ‘Another Link in the Chain’ for the USNA Class of 2015.  Accepting was one of the best decisions of my life, as it enabled me to relive my time as a Midshipman fifty years after it happened, and it introduced me to young men and women whom I can watch as their careers blossom and grow in the Navy and Marine Corps.  Plus, it connected me back to Bancroft Hall.  I have requested that my ashes be inured at the Naval Academy Columbarium.

We all know that everything changed when DADT was rescinded in 2012.  That’s when I learned about USNA OUT, and have gladly joined in their events.   I haven’t missed a yearly buffet since then.  When we were asked whether we were interested in donating our dress swords to worthy members of the Class of 2015, I jumped at it with only one provision, I might present it to a Gay member of 2015.  That was Ali (Alex) Marberry, a member of USNA OUT.