I grew up in Hempstead, Long Island, which is a suburb of New York City. I had a great
interest in photography and after graduating from Hempstead High School in June of 1950, I went to the New York School of Portrait and Commercial Photography in Manhattan. I took one course in Black and White Commercial
Photography and then another in Color. I loved it. The Korean War was on and as I was 18 years old, I had to register with the Draft Board. I had no exemption and the idea of sitting in an icy fox hole in Pusan, Korea did not
appeal to me. I didn't mind serving my country, but if I could, I would have preferred returning to a clean bed at night. So, I enlisted in the U.S. Navy. There would be a delay of several months before they would take me and I
only hoped that the Navy got to me before the Army.
In the meantime, I was offered a one time position as assistant to the ship's photographer on the passenger liner S.S.
Brazil of the Moore McCormack Steamship Company. They ran cruises from New York to South America. I got the job through the photo school. Before I could go, though, there were a few things that I had to do.
I had to get permission from the Draft Board and the Navy to leave the country. I had to purchase a 4 X 5 Speed Graphic
Press Camera and I had to get a passport. Those things done, I boarded the ship in February 1951 to begin an eight week adventure on the high seas and in exotic South American ports.
The ship's photographer met me and showed me to the photo shop and darkroom. Then he took me down passageways and down stairs and down more passageways and
more stairs. I had no idea where we were but eventually we got to a large dormitory cabin that held about 70 double decked metal bunks. One of them was mine. This is where the non-seamen male members of the crew slept. The
barbers, musicians, food staff, and the photographer and I were accommodated here. Not exactly First Class. More like Steerage. In fact, that's exactly what it was. I found out much later that night when I finished my duties and
made my way back to my bunk. It was about 3 AM and I was exhausted. I threw myself into the top bunk and fell right to sleep. I was awakened later by terrible vibrations coming from under the deck and horrible banging noises.
"Iceberg!!!" I thought. We must have hit an iceberg. It was winter and we were still in the North Atlantic. The tragedy of the Titanic filled my befuddled brain and I jumped out of bed, found the light switch and started looking
for a life preserver.
"What the Hell do ya think you're doing?" grumbled my boss, upon whom I had stepped in my haste to climb down from the
"Iceberg!" I shouted. "Listen! We must have hit an iceberg," as I continued to search for a life jacket.
"Go back to sleep, idiot. There's no iceberg. This bunk is as far down in this ship as you can get. In fact, underneath the
steel deck plate that you're standing on is the ship's screw (propeller) and we're hitting the large waves off of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Every time the bow goes down the side of one of those swells, the screw comes out
of the water and shakes like all Hell. Now get back to bed. You've got a full day ahead of you."
He assured me that the rest of the trip would be considerably smoother. And it was. Otherwise I might have had to rethink
my plan to enlist in the Navy.
As we sailed south, the days grew balmy and the seas were smooth. I fell into the routine of my shipboard duties and made
friends with other crew members. I would share a drink in the Tourist Class Bar with the female singer who was with the band. She was a couple of years older than I and had gone to Freeport High School, an old football rival of
Hempstead High. And there were some Cadets from the Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, Long Island, who were my age. They were doing their time at sea as part of their curriculum. Unfortunately, the passenger list was made
up of senior citizens, except for one girl my age. She was the granddaughter of a Mr. Bayer of Bayer Aspirin, and she wasn't interested in an assistant ship's photographer.
The ship called in at Bermuda, for a day. Then on to Bahia, Brazil, where my pocket was picked and my passport taken.
This created a lot of problems since one of my duties was to take shore
excursions with the passengers and make photos of them with the local backgrounds in hopes of selling them prints. But, no passport, no going ashore in foreign lands. So, I was sworn in as a member of the regular shipís crew at
a dollar a week and issued seaman's papers which enabled me to go ashore. When I returned home, I had a visit from the FBI and filled out voluminous reports about the loss of the passport.
After that, we spent a few days in Rio. What a colorful place that was. Then it was Montevideo, Uruguay and Buenos Aires,
Argentina. Juan and Evita Peron were running the country, but I never heard her sing, "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina." The last port of call before coming back to NY City was Trinidad. What a heady trip for an 18 year old kid.
And, suddenly, the adventure was over.