One U.S. veteran and his life of service

Navy hero William D. Brinson honored by cornerstone SALUTES!

Little did William D. Brinson know upon graduating St. Bernard High School in Alabama that he would live through war and into his senior years only to fight cancer. After his departure from his ordained seminary education, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1953, and this would put him on the road to many brave endeavors during the next quarter century. He would lay down sophisticated sound cables to enable our first nuclear-powered submarine called the USS Nautilus, travel the globe completely submerged, and a few years later meet President John F. Kennedy who would have Thanksgiving dinner catered for his unit stationed in a secret staging area in the Dry Tortugas, just west of the Florida Keys.

“My cousin made me do it,” says Winter Haven resident Brinson of his cousin Fritz Brodrick, who dangled in front of him the adventures of seeing the world by joining the Navy. Then 18, Brinson enlisted in his hometown of Savannah, Georgia, where he was soon placed on a train that would take him to his boot camp training in San Diego, California. Once done, back east to the naval base in Norfolk, Virginia, to board the USNS Geiger (T-AP197), about to sail for Naples, Italy and then to France where he was assigned to the USS Wrangell AE12 where he would spend the next three years on the deck force. But his next big deployment was to the USS Tanner AGS15 anchored at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York.

As the USS Tanner headed out to the Atlantic, the Chief Radioman asked Brinson if he could learn the Morse Code over the weekend (a daunting task), pointing out that if he did, he’d see to it for Brinson would be sent to radio school. Brinson inadvertently forgot to mention he was an old hand at Morse Code, which he had learned while in the Boy Scouts as a kid.

Scanning North Atlantic Ocean floor paving the way for USS Nautilus

The USS Tanner was assigned to scan the bottom of the ocean floor to run sophisticated sound lines from Turkey to Greenland so the nation’s first nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Nautilus, could travel around the world completely submerged, especially during the Greenland leg of the voyage, which would open the door for the sub’s crossing of the North Pole under the polar icecap, a feat which had never been done before. The Nautilus’ nuclear propulsion allowed travel to locations previously beyond the limits of conventional diesel or electric-powered submarines. The sound cables permitted the Nautilus to be in constant communication with U.S. naval bases anywhere in the world.

President Kennedy dropped-in (literally) unannounced during Cuban Missile Crisis

Once the USS Tanner deployment was concluded, Brinson was sent to the U.S. Naval Station in Guam. After two years there, it was on to Little Creek, Virginia to the Beach Jumpers Unit 2, which was an early version of today’s Special Forces unit. Destiny would have the unit to be stationed at Dry Tortugas at the height of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. While Brinson’s unit was deployed at Tortugas, President John F. Kennedy made a completely unexpected, unannounced visit, surprising the unit’s men upon the landing of the two huge Marine One presidential helicopters landing in front of them. Brinson witnessed so many secret service agents come down from the helicopters and heard the President tell them: “I don’t need you guys right now, I can’t be in any safer place, these guys are sailors like me.” Brinson recalls, “The President spent all his time on our Dry Tortugas camp talking to us as if he were one of us guys.” As it was Thanksgiving eve, President Kennedy had a complete Thanksgiving dinner with all the bells and whistles, one you would expect of a dinner back home that was catered and flown in from Miami.

When the Cuban Missile Crisis was over, many of the Beach Jumpers Unit’s guys were sent to Binh Thuy, Vietnam, where Brinson was wounded and exposed to Agent Orange (code name for a herbicide/defoliant used by the U.S. military as part of its herbicidal warfare program). After thirteen months in Vietnam, Brinson returned to the States on the USS McCaffery DD860, stationed out of Mayport, Florida, and finally retired in 1976 from Norfolk, Virginia after a career of twenty-five years, six months and seventeen days with eighteen years, six month of that at sea. Bill Brinson’s rank upon discharge was First Class Radioman RM-1.

During his more than a quarter century in the Navy, Brinson has been around the Cape of Good Hope, across the equator and across the Arctic Circle several times. He has been to Spain, Greece, Ireland, Denmark, most South Pacific territories, Africa, Vietnam, Egypt, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Greenland, and other places too numerous to mention. Brinson believes his exposure to Agent Orange brought about his cancer and he is currently under the nonprofit Cornerstone Hospice care team of Dr. Lucy Ertenberg; Shontina Moment RN; Sylvia Leddy SW; and Hospice volunteer Jeff Vose who is also a Navy veteran and keeps Brinson company by talking up stories of their time in the service.

Pat Ludemann, RN and Regional Team Manager at the Cornerstone Hospice operational center in Winter Haven, points out that “at Hospice we recognize the challenges and special needs of military families throughout Polk county, home to more than fifty-two thousand veterans. That’s why our medical and social work staff, along with other hospice disciplines, have received training designed by a national VA expert to meet the unique needs of veterans under an individualized plan of care based on the patient’s medical, emotional, physical, social, and spiritual needs.”

Yvonne Cannon RN and patient care supervisor, adds that many veterans experience traumatic conditions still present today, several decades after military service on behalf of their nation.

Brinson was recently honored at his Winter Haven home under a Cornerstone SALUTES! program, spearheaded by Deborah Harley MSW, executive director at Cornerstone Hospice for the nonprofit’s Polk, Hardee, Highlands tri-county region. Present were Brinson’s wife plus a sizable number of friends of the family; Sherry DiSimone, volunteer specialist; and hospice volunteer Jeff Vose. Vose presented Brinson with an “Honored Veteran” pin and a Certificate of Appreciation signed by Cornerstone Hospice CEO Pat Lehotsky, who makes the point that “this program aims to recognize and honor the service and sacrifice with which these veterans have rendered our nation.”

Brinson currently lives in Winter Haven with his wife Phyllis. He has three boys, William David Jr. in Orlando; Michael and David Brinson both live in Texas. Brinson also has a granddaughter, child of Michael and his wife.



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