Tributes & Stories


The Captain's Kangaroo
I Remember 
A Public Nuisance - Model Airplane Flying Near Bancroft Hall

The Captain’s Kangaroo

By Marty Read

The phone rang near midnight at our home in San Diego in February of 1968, waking our children and me. The person on the other end of the line in Darwin, Australia, was husband, father and all-around hero, Commander William “Bill” L. Read ’49, skipper of the USS KING. After surprised and delighted greetings from all of us, he said a kangaroo could accompany the ship home. Would I please phone someone at the San Diego Zoo to make sure they would take it after a visit to our house?

Bill was an animal lover and enjoyed thinking up diversions for the crew during a long passage, but even so, I was startled by this unusual request. The next morning I called the zoo and was transferred to the mammal keeper, soon to be my new best friend. He was delighted to know he would receive a young and healthy (and free) kangaroo, and I was relieved to know that I wouldn’t be a kangaroo’s keeper for years to come. He told me that he would be on the pier when the ship arrived, but I explained that we had promised our children and neighbors that we would have the animal at home for a visit. There was a short pause, and then he said that anytime we wanted to bring it to the zoo, just phone him.

A week later I learned from a letter from Bill just how this gift came about. The KING was nearing the end of a seven-month deployment to WESTPAC, having spent most of the time in the Tonkin Gulf. The ship was on its way for 10 days of R&R in Australia before returning to San Diego. During a short fuel stop in Darwin, the governor of the Northern Territory came aboard for lunch with Bill. After the meal, he noticed an open note in large handwriting on Bill’s desk. Our son John, age 11 (USNA ’77), had made a list of items to bring home from Australia: a flag, poster, boomerang and wallaby.

“I can send John most of these things,” the governor said as he began taking notes, “but you don’t really want a wallaby—too nervous for a pet. You want a kangaroo.”

“Since you’re sailing tonight, there’s not time for me to get you one here,” the governor continued. “I’ll contact someone in Brisbane and it can be arranged there. Of course, they’ll have to get special permission from Canberra.”

The KING departed Darwin a few hours later, heading south inside the Great Barrier Reef. Everyone on board was looking forward to the stay in Brisbane. The hospitality there was well known in the Pacific Fleet. It went as expected with parties, receptions, picnics and sporting events filling the calendar every day. At one large affair, someone introduced Bill to the Governor General, stating, “Sir, the commander here feels it would be nice if he could take a kangaroo back to the States.” The Governor General stepped back a bit. “Well, I think I might be able to take care of this if we can obtain one quickly from the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary and those in Canberra agree.”

The day of departure arrived. When Bill reached the pier, he saw a small delegation bearing an 18-month-old Eastern Grey kangaroo, a hefty bag of cracked corn, a leash and harness and a thick folder of medical records and permits so she could leave the country. But here was the catch: in return for the kangaroo, every officer and crewmember on the bridge must wear a digger hat (wide-brimmed; turned up one side) while leaving port. Everyone enthusiastically agreed. A local band struck up “Waltzing Matilda” and the KING headed out.
Four hours later the ship was in the center of a raging storm, by far the worst weather during the deployment. The kangaroo had been housed in a large cleaning locker on deck, renamed the “kangaroo locker,” sporting a brass plate to that effect. Bill decided that he ought to check up on the passenger with gunner’s mate, the official kangaroo keeper for the trip. The ship was rolling and pitching and the wild rain was slanting across the deck. Bill and the gunner’s mate slowly opened the hatch and peered inside. There was the kangaroo, perfectly content, munching away on her bowl of cracked corn.

The next morning, the new passenger was officially inducted into the crew when it was decided she needed a uniform. Bill gave $20 to the kangaroo keeper and told him to go ashore at their next port, Pago Pago, Samoa, to locate a seamstress who could make a sailor’s uniform for a kangaroo quickly. Just before the ship got underway, the kangaroo keeper ran up the brow with said uniform consisting of a middle blouse snapped up the back with a collar and a fine little sailor’s white hat with holes for her ears and elastic to fit under the chin.
That evening in the Captain’s cabin, five sailors and Bill tried to get her in uniform. She peeled it off just as fast as they put it on. Her agile front paws were fast and strong. It was obvious that she would not be in uniform when the ship sailed into San Diego Harbor, but she would be standing in the ranks along the rail with her crewmates. After cleverly avoiding being dressed in uniform, she hopped upon Bill’s bunk and relieved herself. This move moderately dampened Bill’s affection for her, as he had her up in his cabin each evening for a short while so they could bond, but he returned to that routine and she made no more mistakes.

The members of the crew became crazy about her and all took turns walking her around the decks. She never learned to “heel,” as our John would later find out. She was treated to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, devoured with no ill effects, and was photographed constantly during that three-week passage. The crew even held an election to vote on her name, and the winner by a substantial margin was “Kingaroo.”

About one week later the KING steamed  into San Diego Harbor. It was the usual happy, excited scene on the pier as families waved and called to their loved ones, reporters crowded in to take pictures, the band played and flags and banners whipped in the breeze. Kingaroo was standing with all the others on the rail, with her keeper next to her in his digger hat. Friends, wives and children now swarmed on board to see Kingaroo and have pictures taken.

Several weeks later after an extended visit with our family, on the fantail of the KING, Bill and the crew made a formal presentation of Kingaroo to the director of the San Diego Zoo, the affair was duly recorded on film. The next day our family visited the zoo and found the kangaroo enclosure… and there was Kingaroo! We were all certain that we recognized her. There on the railing in front of the area was a plaque that read, “The young Eastern Grey kangaroo was a gift from the people of Brisbane, Australia, to the officers and crew of the USS KING. March 1968.”

Marty Read is the widow of Vice Admiral William L. Read ’49, USN (Ret.), and mother of Allison Read Walk, William L. Read, Jr. and Captain John A. Read ’77, USN (Ret.). With her dog and cat, she divides her time between Easton, MD, and Boothbay, ME.



I Remember

By David Sprague ‘49

On May 10th, 1928, the U.S. Army landed one of its blimps, reportedly for the first time, on a merchant vessel while underway in the Atlantic Ocean.  I was present at the time and here is the story to the best of my memory.

In 1928 my father was a Professor of Decorative Arts at New York University.  He was given a research assignment which would require several months of work and travel in England, France and Egypt.  With this length of time involved, my mother, my brother Andy and I accompanied my father on the sea voyage to Europe, and while my father did his work there, we took up lodgings in Annecy, France.  It was an exciting and educational time for us.

In May 1928, we embarked aboard the ship American Trader, a United States Shipping Board steamship.  I remember the sight of the Manhattan skyline as we sailed down the Hudson River and past the Statue of Liberty and out into the Atlantic.  After a while there was not much for me to see except the distant horizon and the sky above.

On the first or second day out, my brother burst into our cabin and announced that there was something big going on outside on deck.  Out we went, and I saw that the attention of all the passengers and crew was skyward.  Approaching the ship’s stern from the sky was a giant air balloon.  It was descending upon us as if to engulf the whole ship.

My father calmed me down and told me that it was a dirigible, like a big balloon, and it apparently was going to attach itself to our ship.  I was positively thrilled.  All assembled on deck were fascinated and the Kodaks were clicking.

My parents read in a newspaper later that this enormous balloon was actually an Army airship that had caught up to our ship and when only a few feet above our stern had dropped down and attached itself to us.  Everybody cheered and clapped.  The press later reported it to be “the first attempt ever made by a dirigible to land on a merchant liner.” 

With the airship secured with ropes to the deck, the pilot stepped out an envelope to the ship’s captain and was greeted by a welcoming committee.  There was great cheering and laughter everywhere, and the passengers kept taking pictures.

The pilot went back into the airship and the ropes were unfastened and it lifted off and back up into the air.  We watched until it disappeared.

That evening, brother Andy asked my father a thousand questions which he answered as best he could.  All I remember was that my father said that the dirigible was filled with a light gas that lifted it up and that the airship people were trying something new.

For the remainder of our voyage to Plymouth, the landing of the dirigible was the most exciting part and the main topic of conversation.  And so the topic was for years after.  We saved newspaper clippings and the photographs.  I shall not forget the experience.

Full Article with Photos and News Clippings (PDF)

About the Author

David Sprague has had a lifelong interest in aviation.  It was enhanced an possibly started by the sight and sounds of the dirigible landing at sea, in the accompanying story.  During World War II, he volunteered for pilot training with the Navy, but was unsuccessful during flight training.  As a navy enlisted man he obtained a fleet appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy and graduated with the Class of 1949.  When a commissioned officer, Sprague served on various ships including two destroyers which were attached to the Atlantic and Sixth fleets.  Upon completion of active duty, he joined Worthington Corporation’s engineering-sales department and remained with that company throughout his civilian career.  He and his wife, Betty, live in Maplewood, NJ.  They have eight grandchildren.


A Public Nuisance - Model Airplane Flying Near Bancroft Hall

An Executive Department Correspondence and Response provided by CAPT John E. Draim '49, USN (Ret.), May 1949:

U.S. Naval Academy
Annapolis, Maryland
18 May, 1949

From:  Midshipman J.E. Draim, first class
TO:  The Commandant of Midshipmen
Via: 36th Company Officer, Sixth Battalion Officer
Subject: Public Nuisance, Report of
1. I wish to report the existence of a situation which can be classified under only one category, that of a public nuisance.
2. I am referring to the flying of control line airplane models in the vicinity of Bancroft Hall, generally, and on Thompson and Farragut Fields in particular.
3. The noise from these models makes it impossible for a normal human being to sleep, study, or do anything which requires the least amount of concentration.
4. The exact nature of the noise defies description, but I shall attempt a reasonable facsimile:
The exact tone varies for different type airplanes, but all types have a common characteristic- they are too loud.
5. The ordinary times that this practice occurs is during the afternoons, and on Saturdays and Sundays. Many midshipmen utilize this time to rest and recuperate from the daily routine. When they start to go to sleep and one of the aforementioned airplane models starts off, the normal reaction is to:
(1) Get a shotgun and shoot the airplane down
(2) Punch the person, who is flying it, in the nose
6. In order that one person should not be allowed to disturb a large number of persons, I suggest that an Executive Order be promulgated requiring that model airplanes be flown only on Hospital Point, where they will not be heard.

J.E. Draim (signature)


Response that followed from the Executive Department:

Annapolis, MD

23 May 1949
Seriel 4041-49


Subject: Model Airplanes
1. Model Airplanes will be flown only on Holland Field.

Time received 1530
Action taken 5/23/49

Carlton R. Adams
Commander, U.S. Navy
Executive Officer