They crossed the North Atlantic during hurricanes on a ship named after a war hero from Buffalo, so they weren't about to let a few whitecaps on Lake Erie spoil their fun.
More than 60 former sailors and about 45 wives from the USS Harold J. Ellison Association are holding their four-day reunion here for the first time and gathered Thursday at the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park for a memorial service followed by a luncheon cruise aboard the Miss Buffalo.
"This is nothing," Ken Moore, 73, association president, said of the blustery weather. "I sailed through five hurricanes."
Mayor Anthony M. Masiello has proclaimed Wednesday through Sunday as Harold J. Ellison Days in the city.
The Ellison was a destroyer launched in 1945 and named after a Navy ensign who lived on Bailey Avenue and was killed in the World War II Battle of Midway in June 1942.
He was a pilot with Torpedo Squadron 8, which took off from the aircraft carrier Hornet for a daring attack on the Japanese fleet.
The 15 lumbering torpedo bombers flew without fighter protection and were no match for the Japanese Zeroes. All 15 were shot down and only one of the 30 airmen survived. Still, the attack was credited with helping turn the tide, as Japanese forces were diverted while other U.S. planes attacked.
In addition to Ellison, the dead included George A. Field, a gunner-radioman, who lived on Jewett Avenue.
All were awarded the Navy Cross and a Presidential Unit Citation, and Ellison was further honored by having a ship named after him.
A front page picture in The Buffalo Evening News of March 14, 1945, showed Ellison's widow, Audrey Faye Ellison, breaking a bottle of champagne over the bow of the ship as it was launched at the Bethlehem Steel Co. shipyard on Staten Island.
Now 88 and living in El Paso, Texas, Mrs. Ellison was unable to travel to Buffalo for the association's eighth reunion, but was here in spirit.
"They call me their first lady," she said in a phone interview. Next year, the reunion will go to her in El Paso.
"Ken Moore told me I better still be around," she said.
"I told him I have no control over it," she added, "but only the good die young, so I'll probably live to be 105."
She said she knew right away that her husband of six months had been killed because news of the squadron's destruction was broadcast.
That his name lived on in the ship and continues to live on through the Ellison Association "makes me feel very proud," she said.
She was there for the ship's launch and there again at the Philadelphia Navy Yard when it was decommissioned in 1983 and transferred to the Pakistan Navy and renamed. The vessel met its end in 1996, when it was used for target practice.
Michael Matlock, 82, of North Tonawanda, served as a combat information officer aboard the Ellison from 1951 to 1953 and has fond memories of several goodwill cruises to Europe.
"I visited 15 countries, it was a great experience," he said.
During its lifetime, some 3,000 sailors served aboard the ship, nicknamed "Happy Jack" for Harold Ellison's middle name, and for the most part it was a happy ship, recalled Moore, who served as a radar operator on it in 1953-54.