Lest history repeats itself

Thu, 08/12/2021 - 9:15pm

To the Editor,
Re: your August 7 headline “Council caves to business community on masks.” I’m reminded of the song “Waterloo” by the Swedish group ABBA. It has a phrase
that fits Block Island’s experience as our leaders try to keep folks safe from the pandemic. As the song says, The history book on the shelf is always repeating itself.
Flashback to the winter and spring of 1942. The United States was at war with Germany and Japan. German U-boats had launched Operation Drumbeat (Paukenschlag), with attacks on merchant shipping along the East Coast. The ships were unarmed and sailing alone; and escort protection had not yet been provided in these waters. Ships were torpedoed close to land; people on the beaches of Miami and elsewhere could see the explosions and resulting fires.

At the time, my father Rob Lewis was serving as 2nd mate on an old slow freighter making its way from India to New York via the Cape of Good Hope, a lonely 60-
day passage. Arriving in these waters, he described the situation:

“Each day we received reports of sinkings and heard the desperate pleas for help. We’d get an S.O.S.—submarine attack off to starboard. Then later, there’d be one off to port somewhere. Then we’d get one dead astern and we wondered how we got past him. Then the next might be dead ahead, but we stayed on course, hoping he’d be gone by the time we got there.”
The ships were blacked out at night, but that provided no protection because the shore establishments were brightly lighted, illuminating the silhouettes of the vessels. Some authorities wanted to dim the lights but commercial interests objected saying that would be bad for business. So the shore lights remained on, more ships were torpedoed, more merchant seamen died.
Keith A. Lewis
Merchant seaman
Cooneymus Road