They looked like landlubbers until they broke out the crazy hats.

Patrick Wiley and Glenn Bubbenmoyer were sitting at a picnic table under a canopy at Paul Overly’s crowded Jefferson Township field.

“Wait ’til we get out the hats,” Wiley said Saturday night, enjoying drinks and music and getting ready for what was touted as one of the largest local private fireworks displays with a couple hundred of his closest friends.

Recreational vehicles, campers and tents lined the field that kept filling with cars on the north side of state Route 258, a few miles east of Shenango River Lake.

The scene looked like Woodstock for the senior set, with a stage blaring music and people dancing, cheering, tailgating and talking for three days straight.

Wiley and Bubbenmoyer were in the thick of it and about 7 p.m. they put on their headdresses that told all what they were there for.

Wiley wore a replica of the Daisy Mae, the beloved USS Des Moines gun cruiser, on his head. Bubbenmoyer wore a hat shaped like one of the ship’s turrets.

Had they been anywhere else, they might have looked ridiculous. Here, they were at home.

They are bound by service on the Daisy Mae between 1948 and 1961.

Twenty-eight years ago, Overly said the reunion started as a small cookout. This year about 350 people registered to attend.

They come from all over. Wiley’s from New Jersey and Bubbenmoyer lives near Reading, Pa. Several Texans made the trip north, as well as some Floridians and Virginians and one from Nova Scotia who couldn’t be singled out in the crowd.

Wally Travis sure stood out. The octogenarian from Lansing, Mich., was the bugler on the Des Moines from 1954 to 1957 and he wore the Navy whites he retired in to the reunion.

His bugle is decked out with a small banner touting the Des Moines and every once in a while he played a few jazzy bars Saturday.

Pat and Judy Miceli of Casselbury, Fla., married here four years ago and returned this year, still in wedded bliss. Pat’s 77 and Judy’s 59. Kathy Harkins, the maid-of-honor at the wedding, also made the trip north.

She and Overly reminisced about the fun times at the wedding.

Pat Miceli has known Overly since 1951, when they served on the ship together.

“Could you think of a better place to get married?” Overly said of his buddy’s decision to use his field.

The Des Moines was the flagship of the Mediterranean and sailed to ports the world over during her time at sea, most of which was spent at peacetime.

She soon will be no more, scrapped for lack of an owner.

It’s something John Beres of Columbia Station, Ohio, lamented.

“Do you know what it’s like to have a home away from home for four years?” Beres said of his affection for the ship.

That $5 million couldn’t be raised or provided by the government is lamentable, he said.

“We can spend $6 billion a month in Iraq and the government can’t spare $5 million to save our ship?” he asked.

Beres was among those who shared their thoughts about the conflict in Iraq and what differentiates it from past wars.

“If George Patton was still in, we’d be out in a month,” he said.

“My feeling is, we’re in over our heads,” Russell McWilliams of Levittown, Pa., said. “I feel for them (the soldiers) because I feel they’re fighting with one hand tied behind their back.”

“It’s a no-win situation,” John Shrader of Livingston, Texas said.

“There’s no way to stop it,” he said of terrorism.

“Any time at any place at any moment something can go wrong,” McWilliams said of terror and guerilla warfare. “Where’s the next bullet coming from?”

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