Riding calmly around Lake George on a warmer-than-usual October morning, it seems Dave McComb could not have found a better a place than his boat to tell of the fruits from his lifelong love affair with ships.
As the 58-year-old Bolton native slowly navigates through waters so still they reflect like mirrors, he describes how what was once just a hobby has morphed into over 20,000 hours of interviewing, organizing, and hunting down leads - and in the meantime, the fostering of a most unlikely fellowship with those that served on naval destroyers in World War II.
McComb is the founder and president of the Destroyer History Foundation, an online project he started about two years ago. Though he likens the work to fitting pieces of a puzzle together, he said the foundation has become a nexus for World War II destroyer veterans.
At his own expense, McComb has preserved and pieced together first-hand accounts to create a collective history.
He has also organized reunions for destroyer veterans, such as the one that began Thursday in Lake George.
"The Destroyer History Foundation is an attempt to capture that which would otherwise be lost, in close collaboration with the people who really did it," McComb said.
Expert, without having served
Though he has never served in the Navy or any armed service, McComb has become an accidental source of accuracy and understanding among destroyer veterans nationwide.
"I think it's the first definitive and accurate account of destroyer history ever. There's nothing like it," said Ballston Lake native Roelmer "Doug" Turpen, who was the navigator and torpedo officer of the USS Nicholas in 1944-1945. "Dave's done a remarkable job placing together an incredible history."
Destroyer veteran Captain C. Raymond Calhoun of North Carolina shared Turpen's sentiments.
Calhoun, whose ship, the USS Dewey, repeatedly rolled to its maximum limit and threatened to overturn while in the midst of a Typhoon in 1944, calls McComb's continued efforts of "inestimable national value." Calhoun has urged McComb to author a book on destroyer history - something McComb has said he's looking in to.
"The point is them, not me," McComb says, though he acknowledges that originally the point had been purely aesthetic.
"Why destroyers? Because when I was a kid growing up in Diamond Point, I quickly - by age 3 - acquired an eye for a pretty bow wave."
McComb said the Mohican, which he saw go by his home daily growing up, sparked the interest because it "carves the water beautifully."
His eye for boats led him to Navy destroyers - warships that have evolved throughout centuries of warfare. McComb said destroyers, especially those built during World War II, are beautifully constructed ships "with incredible lines."
The Fletcher Class, which were thought to be the most the successful of the World War II destroyers, stretched 376.5 feet, with a standard displacement of more than 2,100 tons.
Through the Web site, www.destroyerhistory.org, McComb has collected first person narratives of World War II destroyer veterans, along with myriad pictures, artifacts, models, and maps. His fondness for bow waves has introduced him into a community of men he said he respects far too much to dote over.
"Another term for the destroyer navy is the dungaree navy. They're not spit and polish," McComb said. "They don't think of themselves as heroes - they were doing the same thing everyone else was doing, with the same objective of going in, getting it done, and going home. The greatest homage I could pay them is to take the time and get it right."
To date, McComb has written several articles and done several presentations for the Navy. He has lectured on three trips to the South Pacific, something he admits made him a bit nervous at first.
Going back to another time
"What can somebody who was not yet born when all this happened say to the people who did it? Telling them how wonderful they are is merely an exhibition of how much you do and do not already know. I figure if I understand 2 percent, I'm doing pretty well," he said. "When you can understand intellectually what it's like to live in the heat below deck in the tropics, unless you have to do it and have no hope of going home for an undetermined period of months and you may never get there, then how can you say you understand?"
In terms of information gathering, McComb said much of it has been through "convergences of coincidences."
"Several years after graduating, I discovered my instructor at MIT was a destroyer veteran.
"Then, I knew Doug (Turpen) through the Lake George Club. And it wasn't until he came over and saw the destroyer model on my mantelpiece that he mentioned he was a destroyer veteran - and he had boxes and boxes of photographs.
"Meetings like these just kept happening. Veterans know other veterans, and the interviews and artifacts just kept coming and coming."
"Think of me as the hub of a lot of 80- and 90-year-olds, and they're always laughing. They know I get it as well as anyone could today. They're among the funniest people you could ever know."
McComb said the foundation has no membership requirements and no revenue stream except donations. Reunions, such as the one that begins Thursday, are for anyone who wishes to come.
His said this weekend's event will make history while also reflecting on it.
"Bill Cole, son of Admiral William Cole, the commanding officer of the USS Fletcher, is emptying out a lock box of previously unreleased information. He'll be bringing correspondence, photos and records relating to the ship - which went to the Solomon Islands and was in Guadalcanal," McComb said, audibly excited. "We may see an 8-foot model of the Nicholas as well."
Other events of the reunion included a hospitality room at the Fort William Henry Hotel on Thursday night, for displaying memorabilia and swapping stories.
On Friday, a slide presentation from McComb on the Solomon Islands and the Philippines, and what they're like today, in addition to a separate presentation on the local area and its history.
"We'll do a dinner cruise Friday night on the Lac du Saint Sacrement - Bill Dow, owner of the Lake George Steamboat Co. is a destroyer man himself."
On Saturday night is tentatively planned a group dinner and visit to Fort William Henry. They'll head to Fort Ticonderoga on Sunday, he said. The group may also go to Albany to see the USS Slater, a World War II destroyer escort on display.
McComb said he's uncertain and unconcerned about attendance numbers.
"Some won't decide until the day-of if they're going. Even if attendance is low, the point is the history. They're thrilled to know we're doing it, even if they don't come. And for those that do come, you can be sure I'll be having a good time with them."
All of this is designed
with the veterans in mind, he said.
"So, why, for me, the Destroyer History Foundation? For the raw joy, the mix of wonderful people, and, of course, those gorgeous ships."