The Tale of Mimi, A Broken Champagne Bottle, and The Missing Englishman

Please welcome our first guest blogger, my Pop.  Check out this story about my grandmother christening, um, I mean, sponsoring, a WWII Navy vessel.


The lady that swings the champagne bottle against the prow of an about to be launched ship is known as the “sponsor.” It’s a high honor, especially for someone sponsoring a US Navy vessel. Nancy Reagan sponsored CVN Ronald Reagan, a nuclear aircraft carrier, and Sue Getty Brant, my Mom, sponsored YW 86.

In April 1943, my dad, Vane, worked on the supervisory staff at Zenith Dredge, a harbor construction company in Duluth, MN. Zenith built seventeen tenders for the Coast Guard and 10 Water Tankers for the Navy. YW 86 was one for the Navy. Dad was commissioned in March of ’42, so he was probably an Ensign at the time of YW 86’s launching, but he had served at another boatyard in Wisconsin, so he might have been a Lieutenant jg by
then.

Mom was always very proud she had sponsored her ship (the ribbons that wrapped the bottle and the bracelet she was given were kept in the safe) and told me as I was growing up that an English officer had sailed her ship away as a lend-lease vessel.

In the 1980’s she was showing me the pictures of the ceremony again and I pointed out that the officer she indicated as the Englishman was wearing the same hat as my Dad so she must be mistaken about the lend-lease part. She explained the whole thing to her idiot younger son again, who promptly went home and wrote to the Pentagon to get the official scoop.

Three weeks or so went by and I got a letter from the Naval Historical Branch that told me YW 86 was a service vessel and kept no permanent log, but had served in the Pacific (an all US show) and was in the moth-ball fleet at Pearl Harbor.

I hurried back to show her the letter, which carried a very impressive Navy seal and was signed by a Lieutenant Commander.

She didn’t bat an eye. “They’re mistaken” she said, and I gave up; never told her that her ship was later used as a target and sunk.

Not an aircraft carrier or a battleship, but Mom’s ship won the war just like the big boys. That’s the story of WW II. Millions of Americans making and using the big and small stuff that turned the lights back on.