My good friend Bea Cusick died the other day.
She was married to Bob Cusick, the hero of the SS Marine Electric as chronicled in Until the Sea Shall Free Them. Bob testified about all the safety code violations on the Marine Electric — and other ships in America’s rust bucket fleet.
She was an ardent supporter of Bob when many of his friends were telling him to take a settlement and remain silent — in line with the general culture. She did more than stand by his side. She actively helped him come to the point where he decided to testify and then helped him face the survivor guilt that afflicts most after such an incident.
I am convinced if Bob did not take action, we would have seen far more old ships sail out to sea and sink with their crews. And I’m convinced that Bea enabled that courage through her love and active support.
And not to be forgotten on the Bea checklist. Bob Cusick survived nearly four hours in sub-freezing waters while 31 others died in part because of Bea’s hand knitted raw wool cap, and a cutting edge insulated jacket she gave him — and over his objections ordered him to wear.
Bea was kind and loving. One should make no mistake about her resolve and dedication to cause, however.
Our last conversation came when she was in a nursing home. We talked about our lives and we were comforting each other about our various aches and pains.
“You know, Bea,” I said. “I’m feeling a lot tireder for sure. I started this book on the sinking of the SS El Faro but I’m not sure I’ll ever get it done.”
There was a pause and then this fierce voice of a lioness over the phone:
“Goddammit Bob! I don’t want to hear that! You do not let these bastards get away with this stuff!”
I laughed and promised I would write it. And in large part because of Bea, I did finish it.
Love you Bea. Say hi to Bob for me.
This from “Until the Sea Shall Free Them”
Below Kelly, at the lifeboats, Cusick still had hope. Now, as he attempted
to keep up morale, he stomped as he paced in the cold. He
noticed, even in this wind, that his coat kept him warm.
Well, Bea was right about the coat, he thought. He looked at it
now, all smeared with coal dust, just as he had told her it would be.
Oh, he had given her hell over that coat.
Hardly ever would Bob Cusick argue with his wife, Bea. He’d met
her at a friend’s home after the war and asked her out. They went to
a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta and then to a restaurant, Steubens,
which had an orchestra that played waltzes. Cusick knew the German
words to “ Vienna, the City of My Dreams,” and he sang them
to Bea as they waltzed. “ Vien, Vien nur du allein . . . ” Bea said that’s
nice, but sing it in English now. He looked at her there on the dance
floor as they swayed through the waltz and sang instead what was on
his mind: “Bea, Bea it’s only you . . . ”
There was a second date shortly thereafter. They went to a nice
restaurant, and Bob walked her home. He would write in his journal
that the evening had been enchanting. He said good night to her at
the gate to the house and then watched her walk away from him on
a path framed by snow-laden branches. He thought about how it
would be many long hours until he saw her again.
He called out to her, and she stopped. A light snow was beginning
to fall. He walked up to her and could see a light shining in her
eyes. He unbuttoned her bulky fur coat so he could draw her close
to him and enclose her in his arms.
“ Before you turn in for the night,” Bob Cusick said then, “ I
want you to know that I love you and that we should be together for
the rest o f our lives. I’ll always try to make you happy and keep a
smile on your face.”
I just finished “Until the Sea Shall Free Them.” I bought a copy at the Marconi RCA Wireless Museum in Chatham, MA, along with “Blackett’s War” by Stephen Budiansky.
I very much enjoyed your book, and learned a lot from reading it.
When reading about the impact of the Marine Board’s recommendations on the US merchant fleet (the scrapping of 70 or nearly half the its vessels over the next two years), I was reminded of another report published in the first half of the 20th century that had equally profound results: i.e., the Flexner Report published in 1910 that resulted in the closure of almost half the nation’s medical schools and initiated the age of modern biomedical teaching and research in the US.
Abraham Flexner went on to found the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton, the place where Einstein, John Von Neumann, Kurt Godel, et alia worked when they fled Nazi Germany prior to the start of WWII.
Perhaps Mr. Calicchio, if he’s still with us, would be pleased to know that his efforts are part of a long standing tradition of men and women who refused to accept the status quo and called out the liars, cons, and cowards who profited from it.