Naval and historic highlights at DSDI Norfolk meeting

A year ago I asked my cousin and prospective DSDI member Charles “Chick” D. Robison, III for help in making his hometown of Norfolk the site of our spring 2012 meeting.  Exercising his banker’s prowess in delegating, Chick introduced me to his friend, Anne Phillips, a professional meeting planner.  She made sure our April 20-22 agenda would be memorable, and indeed it was.

Following the Friday afternoon DSDI Board meeting, our personal tour guide for the weekend met us at the Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel and walked us to the Victory Rover for our private charter harbor dinner cruise.  In the midst of a rainy week, we caught a break and had ideal weather for sightseeing within the world’s largest natural ice-free harbor.  The U.S. Navy, in particular, has long made maximum use of this ideal East Coast location.  How impressive it was to see Navy ships of all sizes and descriptions, from stealthy fast attack submarines to super aircraft carriers.  A buffet style barbecue dinner allowed members to eat and socialize without missing the sites.

Saturday morning, we boarded an elongated flex-bus for the day’s events.  Our tour guide apprised us of the historical and current events of the areas we were transiting.  First stop was the Yorktown Victory Center where General Washington, with some help from the French, cornered and successfully defeated British General Cornwallis’s beleaguered army.  Breaking down into two groups, members participated in instructor-led hands-on and lively presentations of how the words and thoughts contained in the Declaration of Independence influenced the subsequent Articles of Confederation and Bill of Rights.  Afterwards we toured the Victory Center’s Declaration of Independence Gallery, which included a rare broadside printing of the “immortal” document.  Outside we had an opportunity to see a recreated Continental Army encampment and to learn of the ardors of being a Revolutionary War American soldier.

Following an exceptional boxed lunch, President-General John Glynn conducted the General Meeting.  Before the traditional roll call of the Signers, Bruce Laubach, President of the Virginia Society of DSDI, invited 13 members to step forward to ring his specially made “Liberty Bell” to honor the 13 original states.  We owe a debt of gratitude to the Virginia Society for contributing a pack of freshly roasted Virginia peanuts to every attendee as well as a complimentary drink ticket for the Saturday night banquet.  Tucson, Arizona resident, Amber Deforest, was recognized as the member traveling the greatest distance to attend our meeting.  Mel and Norma Livingston deserve recognition for their perseverance in conquering all obstacles to attend.

Next we headed back to Norfolk for a tour of the enormous Norfolk Naval Station.  Whereas the Friday night tour allowed us to see the Navy ships from the harbor, we were literally able to drive right by where they were berthed.  Our onboard Navy escort provided running commentary of the type and mission of the ships we were seeing.  We received special permission to stop and disembark for a group picture in front of the very building where DSDI was first organized, the Pennsylvania House, a smaller version of Independence Hall, built for the Jamestown Exposition of 1907.  A short distance away was the Maryland House where DSDI was chartered.

Doumar’s, home of the first ice cream cone-making machine, was our next stop.  Though this popular local site was extremely crowded, the “seas parted” for our members to step up and receive their freshly made waffle cone and order their choice of ice cream.  This was a refreshing break that came just at the right time.

Our last stop was at St. Paul’s Church, the only remaining structure in Norfolk from the Colonial Period.  Louis Guy, past president of the Norfolk Historical Society and our guest speaker for later that evening, gave us the history of the church as well as what led Royal Governor Lord Dunmore to order the British fleet to destroy Norfolk.  St. Paul’s famous “cannonball in the wall” is evidence of that attempt.

Our day concluded with an elegant dinner at the Norfolk Yacht and Country Club.  Having covered Norfolk’s participation in the Revolutionary War during his earlier comments at St. Paul’s Church, Louis Guy continued to enlighten us on Norfolk’s history.  Particularly interesting was a description of the momentous 1862 duel between the ironclads, USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia (formerly the USS Merrimac) that, overnight, spelled the end of wooden fighting ships.

Based on comments from the attendees, the Norfolk meeting had the right mix of history and fun.  Do not miss out; make your plans to attend a future DSDI meeting.

Lawrence “Laurie” M. Croft

1st Vice President-General of DSDI

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