Leonard Arthur Blaisdell (1930-2018)

In memorium by his brother Michael

Leonard Blaisdell was born in Casper, Wyoming in April 1930, two years after his sister, Shirley. He was named after both his father Leonard Gordon Blaisdell (1906-1938), whom he never knew, and his maternal grandfather—Arthur Edwin Lidderdale (1865-1951).

Although Leonard probably never felt part of a large family, his mother’s presence in Casper was due to his grandfather’s employment in the oil industry, which had begun back in the area of Buffalo, New York, where his own parents had settled upon immigration from England after the American Civil War. Arthur’s older brother, George, became an oil driller, and all Arthur’s sons became machinists of one sort or other. The family moved along the route of oil discovery, and in the 1920s the remaining child of Arthur and Elizabeth at home was Mildred, an attractive blonde who was the apple of her parents’ eyes. Protected or not, Mildred became pregnant as a freshman in high school, an event that evidently brought about the marriage to Leonard Gordon Blaisdell, three years her senior. That first pregnancy did not produce a living child but the next two did.

The American (soon to be world) Depression began after the stock market crash of 1929. It took some time before nearly all employment opportunities were affected, but Leonard Gordon was certainly an early casualty. Leonard Arthur had no memory of his father, but Shirley had very vague impressions. Clearer were her memories of living with her paternal grandmother, Mary Ella Blaisdell (1868-after 1940). Leonard Gordon was the son of Mary Ella with William Blaisdell, but William disappears early in the public record, and she remarried in 1915. That husband also disappeared, and she was living with another man in Casper when Mildred and her two kids came into existence. Leonard Arthur had no memory of this living situation but Shirley remembered it clearly as well as the fact that at sometime after Mildred and her two children left the house of Mary Ella, a large package of gifts for the two kids arrived wherever the little family was at the time (Shirley thought California). Leonard Arthur had no memory of this event.

The evidence is that upon the marriage of Mildred and Leonard Gordon, the couple—later with children—lived with Leonard Gordon’s mother, Mary Ella Blaisdell. Leonard Gordon disappeared early from this arrangement. The little family carried on, probably without external support, until Arthur Edwin “rescued” his daughter and grandchildren, taking them to Michigan to stay with Arthur Edwin’s son, George. Records show that Arthur Edwin and Elizabeth lived in Billings, Montana in 1932, so perhaps 1933 saw the little family move to Michigan. There is no record for 1934, but in 1935 Arthur Edwin and his two subsequent generations were living in or around Santa Cruz, California. Life could not have been comfortable for the Michigan folks. George was on his second marriage, children were arriving, and the house couldn’t have been that big.

One possibility is that Arthur Edwin’s older brother, also named George (1863-1948), put up enough money for the move of his younger brother and the family he’d created to Santa Cruz, where George had been in residence since at least 1920. Although no one I know has seen an oil well in the Santa Cruz area, George is listed as an “oil driller” in city directories from this time until his death. Perhaps, this means that George had been successful enough working in the oil industry (mostly in West Virginia) that he could retire around 1920.

There is no evidence that Arthur Edwin worked after 1932 (although during WWII he would again find work as a machinist). It appears likely that once established in Watsonville (near Santa Cruz), a beauty shop was created and intended for Mildred to become the family breadwinner. Elizabeth died in 1936 (goiter-related), and Mildred probably worked as a hairdresser until at least 1938 when she met and married Roland Broschat. Roland, who left the North Dakota family farm at 16, was eight years Mildred’s junior and had become a butcher through the help of a family member who had escaped to California some years before and was in the grocery business. It has been said that Arthur Edwin preferred another—almost certainly more suitable—suitor, but for whatever reasons Mildred chose Roland.

So Roland became the step-father of a ten-year-old daughter and an eight-year-old son. Although it would seem quite a burden for a young man, Shirley suggested that it didn’t bother Roland because he paid no attention at all to his step children. Roland’s later children by Mildred—Michael and Lyle—might have thought that they were alone in waiting outside bars for the social hour to end, but Shirley assured them it was established practice by the time they came into existence.

From 1938, the new family took up residence in various sites around Redwood City, California. As the Second World War unfolded, Roland held out until October 1943, finally joining the Navy as a cook. The remaining family, deprived of a wage earner, lived in a converted chicken coop in Menlo Park. Roland was eventually sent into the Pacific, his first (and only?) base appearing to be Guam in December 1944 (Guam had been retaken by American forces in July of that year). Presumably, Roland returned to the family in 1946.

Shirley graduated from Sequoia High School in 1946, Leonard in 1948. He worked—evidently as a house painter—until February 1949 when he entered the Navy in a curious one-year program. In San Diego, he trained aboard the USS Tilefish, and left the Navy after the year was up in 1950. He told me that when he later re-joined the Navy, he did not have to re-do submarine training. He talked often of working for the post office, and perhaps that is what he did all the time between 1950 and February 1958 when he re-joined the Navy. Seeing that he left the Navy in 1972 with 21 years service, that work would have to have been federal to count in his service record.

1958 reminds me that my first memory of Leonard was when he came out to Bowman, North Dakota—where Roland had taken his family in 1953—to visit on some kind of leave. He brought a fellow sailor with him. We had occupied the same house, of course, upon both my birth and that of our brother Lyle, but leaving in 1949 and then we ourselves leaving in 1950 for Guam meant that Leonard would not share our house again until this brief North Dakota leave. We moved back to California in 1959, settling into our San Jose house in 1961. I see that that became Leonard’s home of record in the early 1960s. He also used our San Jose home to stash at least two cars (serially) that I can recall. The most remarkable one appeared about the time I began to drive (1963)—a champagne gold Ford Falcon convertible. I don’t know how long it was with us, but I do recall driving him to Mare Island to begin yet another voyage in his career. I also remember that our living room furniture was his gift to his mother, but we enjoyed it, too.

And here is an excerpt from a Web Topic I wrote several years ago about the summer of 1964.

In the early summer of 1964, when my older brother, Leonard, was evidently on leave from his Navy career, he noted that here I was 17 years old and hadn’t started working yet. He’d grown up at a time when both the country and, especially, his family had no extra money, and anything he had he earned for himself. Life was better for his much younger brothers, which is not to imply there were many loose bucks floating around. So one day, when he happened to be reading a local newspaper that functioned much as does a modern shopper advertiser, he saw an ad for a “part-time photographer.” Perfect, he said, go answer this ad. So I did.

I doubt that I had any serious inclination to find work while still in high school, but thanks to Leonard I did, and it was a wise move. It was worth more than the money, as his own lifetime of working had shown him, and remains a clear stepping-stone in my life.

His first submarine was the USS Spinax, which I vaguely remember. The USS Halibut was the first ship I remember clearly, and that probably just because I was old enough to have a memory. The Halibut was notable for being an early nuclear sub (and not designed for nuclear power) and would become infamous after Leonard’s time for some Cold War shenanigans. His 1960 voyage on the Halibut, its first, reached as far as Australia, and Leonard was even interviewed for an article in the Sydney Herald.

Most housewives have spent many hours planning their ideal kitchen, with the latest gadgets, plenty of room and everything designed for utmost efficiency. Few would think it possible to achieve this in a space of 27 square feet, yet that is the kitchen area aboard the US Navy’s latest commissioned submarine, the USS Halibut.

The Halibut can remain underwater indefinitely and only needs to surface for food supplies. Usually supplies to last from 60 to 90 days are taken aboard, said Commissary Steward (2nd class) Leonard Blaisdell, who was on duty preparing lunch yesterday.

Three cooks work around the clock to feed the ship’s complement (about 110 men at present) with the three “official” meals a day, and constant between-meal snacks.

The gleaming stainless steel kitchen, below sea level even when the Halibut is surfaced, measures only three feet across and nine feet long. Across the passage from it is the scullery, where dishes are washed up, salads prepared, potatoes peeled, and similar chores carried out.

Halibut has a small chute in the scullery where the garbage goes down into steel containers. It is then sealed into plastic bags and “shot” to sea out of the garbage ejector. The kitchen has built-in cupboards from the floor to the ceiling, separated by a serving bench. A cupboard that resembles a steel filing cabinet has drawers filled with flour, sugar, and rice...

His ship assignments also include the USS Tiru, a short posting until about two years of shore duty into 1965. At that time, he joined the crew of the USS Wahoo at least for a trip to Hawaii. His record also includes mention of a very brief assignment to the USS HL Stimson from which he moved to the USS Thomas Jefferson, the ship on which he served the longest (1966-1969).

It was in January of 1969 that Leonard flew to Las Vegas with Louise Wilson, and married her. I cannot recall that the family knew anything of this before (or even after!) it happened, but of course it eventually came out that the perpetual and very handsome bachelor had married at the age of 40.

I received a letter from him at the end of that year, when I was in basic training in Texas. Leonard was assigned to the Chemung, a WWII tanker that was evidently still being used now and again but that would be retired and dismantled the next year. He was in the Philipines at the time, and besides complaining about the weather wrote “Wish I was back on subs but I guess I never will get there.” He also included some jibes at “the surface Navy.”

I write this because Leonard kept his evaluations among his Navy records. Throughout his career, he received an overall A (an occasional A-) rating, but I need to tell a story before I continue.

When I was in my last year of my Air Force enlistment, an older guy in my group was looking very sad as he told me that he was leaving the Air Force. He seemed a career person to me, and I asked him why he’d leave. “Well,” he said, “this is how it works. There’s a ten-point rating scale during evaluations, and everyone gets 10 points. If you don’t—and I just got a 9-point evaluation from our master sergeant, then you can’t get promoted. If you don’t get promoted, you can’t stay in the service past a certain number of years. I’m an E-6, and without a promotion I have to leave. Having received a 9, I won’t be promoted.”

At the time, this rolled off my back, although I liked the guy and thought it a shame that if he wanted to stay in he couldn’t. And the situation I’m about to describe isn’t quite the same. Leonard made E-8 in 1969, and was eligible to stay in for 30 years, but clearly something changed. Was it the disatisfaction that he expressed in his letter to me, or had his domestic situation (now married) changed his thinking? Whatever the reason, his evaluation for 1971 can be summed up as: “overall: C; D for Cooperativeness, Reliability, Initiative, Resourcefulness; C for Conduct, Potential, Leadership, Expression.” Whoever did the evaluation might as well have slit Leonard’s throat.

He probably wasn’t the least surprised with this evaluation, and left the Navy the next year—1972. I was stationed on Okinawa at the time and cannot recall what I might have known of this. My brother Lyle wrote me in late 1972 “...[Leonard is] staying in Campbell, hoping for a job” and in June 1973,“Leonard and Louise are buying a house in Campbell. They’ve decided to stay awhile.”

I did not return to the States until fall 1973, and can’t recall whether I looked in on Leonard and Louise when I went down to California (from Seattle) to see my folks, but probably did. Leonard had taken a job as chief nutritionist in the Santa Clara County hospital, and would keep that job until 1990. Louise was killed in a freak accident that year. Leonard stayed in the Campbell home for a couple more years, then decided to put some distance between family and his residence, moving to Clear Lake Oaks in Northern California in 1994. There he remarried—Beatriz Baily in 1998.

He had expressed an urge to move from Clear Lake Oaks at least a couple years before he did, and looked at various retirement-type situations via the Internet, sometimes visiting in person. He began to have trouble with his health in 2017, and in May received the diagnosis of Stage 4 lung cancer. This prompted an immediate move to Phoenix, and to one of the retirement situations he had researched. He died there in Janary of 2018.

I think it safe to say that everyone who ever knew Leonard liked him. He was smart and well-read. Had he been of a subsequent generation, he would certainly have gone to college. As it was, he used his public service jobs to create a comfortable life for himself and two wives, indirectly serving his community throughout his working career. He was extremely responsible, especially financially, characteristics for which there appear no genetic reasoning. And he was generous. I’m sorry he’s gone but am so glad he was part of my life.

Ships on which Leonard Blaisdell served:

Spinax1958-59Wikipedia W Pacific, Mare Island
Halibut1960-63Wikipedia Australia, Pacific
Tiru1963Wikipedia WestPac deployment
shore duty1963-65
Wahoo1965Wikipedia Pacific (Hawaii)
HL Stimson1965-66 (one month)Wikipedia
Thomas Jefferson1966-69 (Jan)Wikipedia Conn, 2 deterrant patrols, last ending in Rota, Spain
Chemung1969-70Wikipedia oiler; decommissioned