U.S. Navy, U.S. Navy Reserves
Petty officer, 1st class radioman
Served in Korea from 1952 to 1956
Frederick Nelson Summerton, U.S. Navy
Total military service - 29 years
Radio operator ship USS Laffey DD 724; Radio operator shore dutyport Lyautey French Morocco, North Africa
Married: May 22, 1955 to Nancy Alys (Nash) at the Presbyterian Church in Dunkirk
Children: Kathleen, James, David, Thomas and Linda
Grandchildren: Ashley, Alexander, Benjamin, Katie and Kayla
Frederick Nelson Summerton was born in Silver Creek on July 27, 1932, in the old Silver Creek Hospital. His parents Henry and Marie (Ludeman) raised their only child in their 22 Hanover St. home.
Fred's father was a brick mason who was employed by the glue gactory located in Gowanda. Fred attended the Babcock School. While in grade school, he enjoyed playing basketball. When it was time to go to the big school, he loved running track and later found a love for football. Fred held varsity letters in both sports.
After doing his daily chores, it didn't take Fred long to leave his house to have fun with friends David Wells, Ronald Harvey, Allen Foster and Dick Blanding. Anyone looking for Fred would probably find him at Foster's Soda Bar or Valvo's Candy Store. When the boys wanted to play some baseball, they headed to the park behind the soda fountain. Fred claimed that downtown Silver Creek was a fun place to grow up. The kids always had fun without getting into any trouble. Being a teenager was a great time for Fred.
On weekends, the Summerton family made their weekly trip to Dunkirk. The day usually started with a ride to one of the local farms just outside the city to get some fresh fruits and vegetables. Fred's mother loved cooking all kinds of Italian meals. The day later brought shopping.
Dunkirk was the best place to shop for the Summerton family. The first stop was at one of two Polish bakeries located in Dunkirk, either the one in the First or the Fourth Ward. The doughnuts and pastries were still warm and a dozen consisted of 13 doughnuts. Homemade rye bread and cakes had to be kept to a minimun in order to have room in the car for clothes.
Finding clothes was easy. The men had the New York Store, the Boston Store, and the Safe Store. The ladies had Jayne's, Diane's, Woolworth's, Sidey's and Kresge's. After the clothes were in the car, it was time for the fun things. One could find items at Walt's Sporting Store and Bing's Army Surplus Store, which featured various items from World War II to even crossbows if one wanted to test one's marksmanship.
As evening came, dinner could be found at almost every corner. Dunkirk had many family restaurants. There were many choices for Italian or Polish meals. The Dunkirk Diner or the Triangle Diner were visited the most. The evenings brought a movie at either the Capitol, the Regent or State theaters.
All was going well for this young man. The times were great. One day in September 1952 when returning from helping a friend, Frederick came home to find a letter from his uncle. While opening the letter, he noticed he had been requested to present himself in Buffalo. The ride there had Fred on pins and needles.
Because he didn't enlist in the Navy, Fred knew that the next six years he would be marching and digging fox holes. By not enlisting before his 18th birthday, he would be drafted as a soldier in the U.S. Army. As he walked up to his induction and saw soldiers in uniforms lined up to accept the new recruits, Fred smiled when he saw that an old friend was now a Navy corpsman. His friend Bill Wells approached him and asked if he would possibly be interested in joining the Navy instead of going into the Army. There was an opening in the Navy for one person!
Without one second of hesitation, Fred quickly burst out, "Hell yes, I'd love to go into the Navy!" With the opening for one more in the Navy, having a friend like Bill paid off big time.
Fred attended boot camp at Bainbridge, Md., for 11 weeks of marching and training. Each day Fred had somewhat of a smile knowing that he at least would have a bed each night and three meals a day! After Bainbridge, he was sent to Lehigh Valley for radio school.
After all his training, Fred received orders to report to the commanding officer aboard the U.S. Navy ship the USS Laffey, a Navy destroyer with the hull number 724. Aboard the Laffey, Fred's duties were in communications and the ship's radio equipment. The Laffey's home port was Norfolk, Va.
After Fred boarded her, the Laffey headed for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for patrol duty along the Cuban coast. Later the Laffey was sent for duty off the coast of Korea. While in the Korean conflict, Fred's duties were to do night patrols and look for smugglers.
Later, Fred's ship was assigned to a carrier task force whose duties were to find and rescue pilots who were forced down in the waters off Korea. The Laffey was assigned duty that was kept from the entire crew except for the captain. When out at sea, the destroyer teamed up with the battleship Wisconsin and was ordered to be her escort. While out at sea, both ships slowed down and the captains announced that any personnel not assigned to any duty station come up to the ship's main deck. After all men were assembled, the crews of the Wisconsin and the Laffey witnessed the very first surface to air guided missile launch from a United States naval ship.
With his sea duty behind him, Fred was stationed at Port Lyautey in French Morocco in North Africa.
Here, as a first class radioman, he helped run the land communication station. While in Africa, Fred's wife Nancy joined him. The couple found a great place to live near the water and enjoyed walking the beach. The area was beautiful. The base had all the conveniences of any other base with a supermarket, gas station and whatever else was needed.
While in Africa, the couple received a gift from God. A daughter, Kathleen, was born on June 22, 1956. Duty in North Africa lasted until September 1956 when the Summertons returned home to the States with their new daughter.
Fred has many stories from his duty with the Navy. He claims that it made him the man he is today. While in the Navy, he learned respect for his senior officers, to be independent and to provide for his family. It's hard for Fred to say that had we not been in a war with Korea that he probably would not have been drafted and been in the Navy or any other service.
To Fred, the Navy was great. They had dry beds, clean clothes and great food, and they never had problems with sanitation or keeping clean. He has so much respect for those Marines and soldiers that had no idea when the next meal was or where they would end up sleeping if and when they got the chance.
Fred witnessed a lot while being in the Navy. Sailing through a typhoon really shows why many sailors respect their senior officers when they put their lives in the hands of those who guide the ship through harm's way and a tropical storm. Fred also went on a Naval world tour where, from the captain's deck, he witnessed the Laffey sail through the Panama Canal just making it through without a scratch. He later sailed through the Suez Canal and saw the waters of the Mediterranean.
Duty was stepped up when Fred decided to have his wife join him while in North Africa. The young couple was lucky to find themselves a nice apartment near the water. Living there was like living in a paradise.
With the regular Navy days behind him, Fred was eligible and ready to join the Navy Reserves. Most men, when the time was up, just wanted to call it a day, go home and restart their lives, but not Fred. Joining the reserves brought new training.
He learned the Navy's latest radar. On one of his summer cruises in the reserves, Fred was excited to receive the orders that took him to Montreal to represent the U.S. Navy. Another cruise took Fred to Guantanomo Bay, Cuba, an extremely hot but beautiful island. With all those summer cruises came a lot of memories such as the warm welcome the Russian sailors gave Fred and his crew as the two once enemy navies sat side by side and talked about life on the seas and their families back home. Another memory that sticks with Fred is the pleasure of experiencing the Arabs gaining their freedom from the French in 1956 when he was stationed in Morocco.
In the Navy reserves he now held the title of being a weekend warrior. All Fred owed the Navy was one weekend a month for drilling and learning the latest radar. Living on reserve pay with a daughter didn't cut it for Fred and his wife so he applied and received a position with the New York Telephone Co. as a lineman, a job he held for 39 years.
His territory was the Dunkirk area but if a storm hit, it was only a few minutes before Fred and his line truck were heading for the storm area. Besides the Laffey, Fred, while in the reserves, did get to sail a mine sweeper, an exciting adventure which lasted for about one month.
Yearly two-week cruises consisted of the Mediterranean; Alaska; Italy; Halifax, Nova Scotia; and Montreal. One year he went on a Great Lakes cruise for showing off the Navy's best to help boost new recruits.
Retirement finally came for this hero who, after all those Navy and telephone company years didn't just find a recliner and sit back and snooze. Fred is now surrounded with a lot of friends.
When it's fishing season for Walleye and Northern Pike, Fred along with Rick Ludeman, Jim Ludeman, David Ludeman, Charlie Cowan, Dave Ludeman, Pete Criscone, Peter Criscone Jr., Dave Criscone, Robert Knowles, Michael Knowles, Robert Tripp, Jack Larson, Philip Maslak and Jim Wright all pack their gear and head for Angliers, Quebec. It is a tradition that has actually taken place for 40 consecutive years. It is a week of nonstop fishing, campfires and stories that keep this group going. They are all close friends, and when they return, they show off their trophies.
When the snow hits and you can legally deer hunt, most of the fishing group heads for Arkwright to Fred's hunting cabin, named the Arkwright Hilton. This cabin has been the home of Fred's friends Pete and Dave Criscone, Robert Tripp, Jack Larsen and Reno Olivieri who come out to hunt deer and turkey.
Another group of Fred's friends got together to form a new club. The group who set standards to be slim and trim started this new group and named it Fat Man. The group, when the new season starts, picks a Saturday to meet and weigh in. If any member gains weight from the last weigh in, they must forfeit a predetermined sum of money. If a member drops weight, they pay nothing. When the season of Fat Man ends, the group will use the money collected to go out as a group on a small trip and enjoy themselves.
The group consists of members Reg Corsi, Ron Pucci, Tom Murphy, Larry Wollert, Dennis Karin and Fred.
Along with the hunting, fishing, and the Fat Man's club, Fred also finds time to participate in the Meals on Wheels program and volunteer at the Red Cross. He participated in the 9/11 disaster in New York City at the site distributing food, water and medical supplies.
This is another story of a local veteran who went and did his duty. Fred was even ready to go in the Army knowing that that wasn't what he wanted. At first he was going to do his share and then go on with life, but in the Navy something changed his mind.
There was something that was right that made Fred spend the next 29 years serving his country. It's men like Fred Summerton who have made our navy what it is today. All those years, all those ports, all those stories, great stories that all one needs to do is sit down and start asking about his years of serving and protecting our country.
Thank you Fred Summerton for your service. Thank you for taking care of our ship the USS Laffey. Thank you for your story, a story that only Fred could tell. This a story that is still here with us, all one has to do is just ask. Fred Summerton is our hero of the week.