Story Behind Our Bell

 

It was summer of 2004 when I received a phone call from Walt Moir asking “Is this Art Sweetland who served on the USS Mars”?  I replied that it is me.  We talked for a few minutes but honestly I could not remember him at that time for it had been 41 years since I last heard that name.  All my memories of that time aboard the Mars had long been forgotten for I was too busy with family, children and my employment to remember those days which faded with everyday commitments.

I later did remember Walt and we had several nice times together at reunions.

Sometime later in that same year Gary Travis called me and I did remember him for we did have many talks near hold number two off the main deck of the Mars of which he was in charge.  He kept telling me that he would like very much for me to come to a reunion.  He told me the next reunion will be close to you, in Cincinnati, Ohio.   I told him that I would think about it?  Time passed by with several calls from Gary still saying that he would like to see me at one of these reunions.  I put it off till the reservations were closed for that reunion.  Gary still called a week before and still wanted to meet me.  So we agreed to meet each other halfway the Saturday of the reunion in Canton, Ohio.  Nancy {Wife} and I had a nice time at lunch with Gary and his wife Shirley we stayed for about two hours then we left for home.  Nancy is church organist and she played for the worship service on Sunday.  This was a twelve hour round trip day with a two hour layover for lunch.  I could never get over how someone would take time from a reunion and rent a car and travel two hours just to see me.  Since then I felt obligated to at least listen to Gary for what he had to say.  He kept calling me and I would call him.  We talked of how our ship was still in Pearl Harbor but soon to be sunk.  In one of our phone conversations he said how nice it would be if we could get the ship’s bell from the quarter master’s deck and take it to all of our ship’s reunions.  That bell weighed at best 10 pounds.  I jokingly said what about the larger bell on 01 deck just above hold 2 where you worked.  He could not remember that bell.  I told him that it probably weighs 500 pound.  We laughed and finished our conversation. 

Our next talk concluded with me volunteering to go to Mars PA and to one of their council meetings and present them with artifacts from our ship and with a framed picture of the USS MARS AFS-1.  I was scheduled to attend their next meeting in April of 2005.  My what a meeting my knees were shaking but I soon was put at ease by Mayor Richard Settlemire.  I answered all their questions and they took pictures of me with certain official town’s people.  I proposed to them at that time that I would like to see our ship’s bell from the USS MARS AFS-1 anchored in Mars, Pennsylvania of which She is named.

I used this same phrase when speaking with several reporters on my way out of the meeting for I knew that this is the perfect catch phrase so I ran with it.  {I would like to see our ship’s bell from the USS MARS AFS-1 anchored in Mars, Pennsylvania of which she is named.}

 

I was completely drained after returning home that night, it is only 45 minutes away but it seems forever.  

I talked with Gary the next day, told him that I was going to call the Mayor and have all the paper work mailed to him to start the process of obtaining the Mars bell.  I did get all the paper work to Mayor Settlemire which amounted to several forms; he then called then Senator Rick Santorum for his help. 

In October 2005 Nancy and I attended the Mars reunion in Jacksonville, FL.  We had a nice time and met a lot nice people.  At the business meeting I said that I would help with their newsletter.  I also proposed a reunion in 2008 for Pittsburgh, PA.  All was approved and I started working on that reunion upon arriving home.

In January 2006 I started the search for the perfect hotel in Pittsburgh for our 2008 reunion to be held in.  In February 2006 I retired as Membership Director of the Better Business Bureau of Western Pennsylvania.  This gave me more flexibility to secure a hotel and all of the other aspects of running a reunion. 

March 7, 2006 I got a call from the then Administrative Assistant {Cookie} of Mars PA.  She said “Art, Mayor Dick Settlemire asked me to call you and tell you that the USS MARS bell is in our township building.”  I was very much surprised, this was a dream come true, I was so over whelmed.  I asked how late the office would be opened and I decided to drive there that very day.  Forty Five Minutes later I am looking at our bell.  Mayor Dick {as he liked to be called} had the bell cleaned up at a local company and they did a nice job of cleaning it.  Sometime in March Mayor Dick called me and said that the city council decided that they wanted a bronze plaque placed on the concrete stand for the Mars Bell.  I told him that is great.  He said "and Oh they would like you to write what you would like to see on the plaque."  I accepted the job and got to work drafting the statement.  I ran the final draft by Dennis LaBoyne, a former crewmember, and author of several books.  He had one comment and I agreed with his suggestion.  I changed two words and emailed it back to him.  He was amazed that two words captured the whole meaning of what was missing in the previous draft.  I went with that proposal and emailed and mailed a copy to Mayor Dick and that is what is on the monument today. 

On Wednesday April 19, 2006 was our bell dedication day in the city of Mars.  We had four Plank Owners from the ship’s first crew on hand that day Frank Hart, Gary Travis, Art Sweetland and Joe Rydzewski.  Along with then Senator Rick Santorum, and Mayor Richard Settlemire click here to see picture.    

One of the speakers at the bell dedication was a retired Mars School district teacher - Peg Harding, she had her students write letters to the crew of the USS MARS AFS1 during the seventies and some of the crew answered back to the students.

Peg Harding got a chance to stay aboard the Mars for two days during the changing of Command Ceremony on 31 August 1989.   The Mars Middle School of 1989 gave Captain Nordeen a Nautical Mantel Clock with his name engraved on the clock.   She truly is a Martian through and through. 

On Patriots Day September 11, 2008 two Andersen Coach Buses pulled into the town of Mars, PA at around 11 am. We met with Mayor Settlemire and got organized for the start of the program.  All the pictures can be seen on the Reunion Page 2008 reunion.

After the ceremony the crew walked around the town and each business gave a little memento for all the Martians in appreciation of their service.

Captain Anderson, Mayor Settlemire & Captain Nutt.

 

We then boarded our buses and drove to the Middle School a couple of miles away to visit the school by invitation of then Principal Mr. Richard Cornell.  He retired in 2015 at the end of that school year.  Richard Cornell was a nice man and talked me into staying and visiting the school even though the bus time might run into overtime.  But our drivers saw and realized what this trip was all about, what it meant to the city and the Mars reunion.  So they worked it out and we did not go into overtime.  How nice it was for we got to visit the school where students all those years ago wrote the letter to our crewmembers. 

So this is the story of how the bell got to Mars, PA and all the events that followed.  You know I can still hear Gary's voice from his many phone calls.  But the most enjoyable ones was when he would call and say "Hey Art I found another Martian and he is from Pennsylvania do you know him?"  

 

By Art Sweetland