Ships, space and reworked history

Mills Lane IV completed his first edition of SAVANNAH REVISITED in 1969 while he was in the U.S. Navy

The cover of Savannah Revisited shows the 1837 painting of Savannah by Fermin Cerveau, which hangs in the Georgia Historical Society’s Hodgson Hall.

Where is Mills Lane IV when I need him?

A Navy destroyer collided over the weekend with a freighter in the seas south of Japan, and I want to hear what he would say about it.

Immersing myself in files and letters from Mills’s time in the Navy has made the current news story pop out more than it might have previously. I keep thinking about the people on that ship, their lives, their training, their jobs, and the equipment. Of course, they were different times and different kinds of ships, but I wonder about the camaraderie of the service members and their relationships with people at home and in the ports.

In 1968 after returning from the Mediterranean on the USS SKILL, and respites in Charleston, Savannah, and Atlanta, Mills was headed back to the Med on the USS OZARK, a minecraft support ship.

He described his new duty in letters to friends and family.

“It will be hard, I think, to adjust to a much larger ship, for OZARK is much, much larger, six times larger, than the SKILL. I think it has more than four hundred men and at least twenty officers.… I have never been up an officers’ brow [gangplank] before; I have never eaten in a formal wardroom; I have never stood an OOD [officer of the deck] watch at the quarterdeck. On the SKILL there was always an element of a great joke, all of our operations were just training, really, and therefore didn’t really count.… If there was some emergency, it was simple just to scream back to the fantail to get help.… But with a larger ship, things become more serious, the job more important, and safety at sea harder to control. Certainly with Lane as Navigator.”

He mixed his tales of the Navy with updates on a book he had commenced writing, his first.

Mills Lane IV shared a Time magazine with a new friend at a Mediterranean port.

“The last prose for Savannah Revisited should be complete and turned in to my editor – Cousin Fred Waring – by next weekend. The last photographs are still expected from the Library of Congress and Duke shortly. On or about March 15th 1969 you should receive a handsome package from this youthful sailor and aspirant author.

“There will be about 120 illustrations – old maps, drawings, prints, and photographs with, of course, the anonymous author’s inspiring delightful history of a wonderful old port city.”

Mills also continued to lure his friends to Savannah with promises of entertainment.

“Life in Savannah is more and more pleasant. I have found two delightful feminine companions and an occasional stream of ex-Harvard friends keeps things amusing down here in the sticks. One of my best old friends came down with his wife and all Savannah was charmed by that delightfully radical couple from Berkeley, where they’re now studying. I gave a great bacchanalia in their honor behind my house, the garden filled with yellow flowers, a piano player, a generous bar, and all overflowing with people in the late summer afternoon. We’ll have just that sort of party when you come to town.”

When Mills was out of town, he sent a stream of requests to friends and relatives in Savannah:

“In the big chest in the upstairs hall at 14 Price, you’ll find a drawer filled with old prints, both framed and unframed. Hunt until you can find three particular items. (1)  a page from Ballou’s Drawing Room Companion showing Monterey Square, (2) a page from Ballou’s showing Franklin Square, (3) a page from Harper’s – I believe – showing a meeting of the citizens of Savannah at Johnson Square mourning the death of President Lincoln, about April, 1865. Would you take these items to Gerald Storey, the photoengraver at Standard Engraving Company, and ask him to reproduce them for me? Ask him to forward the finished prints to me … USS OZARK … (He’s very nice and agreeable, but check every two or three days to be sure he does the work.)

“The Savannah Public Library has an old print of the Telfair.… Ask Margaret Godley to let you have it … take it to Mr. Storey.… Finally, in the cabinet where my high fidelity music box sits, you’ll see a pile of folders on the bottom shelf. In a file marked Georgia Historical Society, there is a group of photographs showing the plans for Hodgson Hall. Would you please send these to me, carefully packaged to prevent damage?”

Although he had started on the OZARK with a sense of anticipation and fear, Mills soon decided that a big ship came with advantages.

“Our crossing was gentle and sweet, lasting just ten days instead of the minesweeper’s thirty days. For a few days at first, I was ready to turn in my Navigator’s badge and try another job, but now things seem to have caught on and LTJG Lane will make a good navigator after all.”

It wasn’t hard to adjust to the comfier accommodations.

“The OZARK should be called the Ozark Hilton, whose advertising could boast of spacious rooms with unending supplies of hot water, fine cuisine from exotic Philippines, and an unparalleled ocean front view.”

And he was happy that again he was able to visit sites of Mediterranean history.

Mills Lane IV completed his first edition of Savannah Revisited in 1969 while he was in the U.S. Navy.

“Our first landing was at Gibraltar.… Like Malta on the first trip, the Navy took us to a place I would probably not have visited on my own, but a unique spot, anyway. We took the cable car up the Rock, ate a ham sandwich with sweet butter and tea atop its pinnacle, and wandered through the town during the evening. By chance, we arrived in time for the annual celebration of the famous siege of 1781 and watched the Governor General of the fortress, in silver spurs and epaulettes, inspect the assembled troops, accompanied by brass bands and massed pipers in kilts.”

Mills would later sail on the OZARK when it would earn a place looking more to the future of the United States as one of the backup rescue ships for the Apollo 10 and 11 moon missions.

But in the meantime on the OZARK at Christmas in Naples, the crew celebrated with Neapolitan spaghetti instead of Georgia tom turkey or roast goose. “But deprived of all the usual social, gastronomic, and commercial diversions of Christmas, the naked truth is that we do miss our families, the most important part of the holidays.”

Over the holidays he put the final revisions on Savannah Revisited, but he worried that the engraving company was slow, “and I still have not received the last prints … which I need before the manuscript and illustrations can be sent to Vermont [to the printer]. Perhaps in the end I’ll not be able to mail it off until February after all.”

Mills worked with the Telfair Art Museum for an exhibit of Savannah prints that would tie in with his publication and happily purchased an engraving of Tomochichi, the Yamacraw Indian chief instrumental in the early English settlement, and his nephew Toonahowi.

Mills also assured his family that he had marked two milestones: “I now weigh less than ever before in recorded history”and his “little book on Savannah, [is] surely the most elaborately worked and reworked twenty pages in literary history.”

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

For more on architecture and the history of the South, click on the “Books” tab at the top of the page.

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