I’ve never been much of a history buff. It certainly wasn’t my favorite subject in school and memorizing historic dates and figures always seemed dry as dust to me. But history comes to life for me if I can put it into some sort of personal context. This month’s feature on the USS Liberty is a perfect example.
Liberty crewmembers Ernie Gallo and Phil Tourney were kind enough to share their written accounts of the 1967 attack and allow FRA Today to reprint large portions of their work. Additionally, personal accounts by Don Pageler, John Gidusko and “Buffalo” Bob Casale; e-mail exchanges with Ron Kukal and a phone interview with Larry Bowen all made this tragic chapter in our nation’s military history come alive for me. Hearing their stories was like having a front-row seat to the real-life spectacle that unfolded on that fateful day. And the passion with which they continue to pursue justice for their lost shipmates — nearly 50 years later — is better than any television drama. Thank you, gentlemen, for entrusting your story to me. I am sincerely humbled to have had the opportunity to retell it to our readers.
These men lived history and were generous enough to document it for posterity. Documenting personal accounts is so critically important to preserving history, particularly in cases like this, where there are conflicting versions of the truth.
I encourage everyone to share their personal stories with others. It doesn’t have to be a dramatic account of a significant historic event, though I’m sure many of you have powerful and poignant stories of duty from WWII, Korea, Vietnam and the Arabian Gulf. But it’s equally important to share your memories of liberty calls (keep ‘em clean for the grandkids, though) and shipboard practical jokes. Write them down or share them orally with family members who can pass them on to future generations.
Today really is tomorrow’s history and we’re all writing this most current chapter in tomorrow’s history books. We might not be mentioned on the nightly news and school children might not learn our names in history class, but our family and friends will appreciate our efforts to make a difference in the world. Be sure to document those efforts so your personal history isn’t lost.
Lauren Armstrong is FRA’s Director of Communications and serves as the Managing Editor of FRA Today. Please contact her at email@example.com. Return to Table of Contents
FROM THE BRIDGE
At a Crossroads as FRA Heads for 100
During FRA’s National Board of Directors’ mid-year meeting in April, board members heard reports from our finance officer, our auditors, our investment broker and our insurance administrator about the impact our declining membership is having on FRA’s finances and its future. It’s no surprise that our dues revenue is declining in direct proportion to our membership numbers, but the impact is much greater than that. Fewer shipmates also means fewer donors to our fundraising campaigns, lower rates paid by our magazine advertisers, reduced royalties from our affinity partners and a diminished voice on Capitol Hill. The bottom line is that FRA needs to increase its member base and associated revenue if we are going to remain viable for the future. Doing so will require some out-of-the-box thinking, some uncomfortable changes to our culture and some tough choices about advancing our organization.
Board members also heard a report from Brodie-Collins Consulting (BCC), a firm hired to examine our membership challenges and make recommendations for addressing them. Based on BCC’s professional experience with organizations like ours, they believe that a membership base of at least 107,000 shipmates is required to sustain our organization. (This means we would need to more than double our current membership of approximately 51,000.) They also suggest that FRA’s upcoming 100th anniversary is a prime opportunity to launch some membership and fundraising initiatives that will help us reach that goal by 2024.
Based on interviews with many shipmates and best business practices, BCC recommends several strategies for streamlining National Headquarters operations, many of which can be implemented at little to no additional expense and without compromising service to our members. Other recommendations include more structured training for shipmates on recruiting tactics and strengthening our mentoring programs for branch and regional officers.
BCC also offers several recommendations for increasing FRA’s membership base. The quickest and least expensive strategy is to expand FRA’s membership eligibility to include spouses, children and grandchildren. Doing so would not compromise our tax-exempt status with the IRS and would allow us to attract people who are already familiar with our good work. Reaching out to prospective members who already know about our mission provides a better chance of success and, if each shipmate could recruit just one family member to support our mission, it would double our membership. Such an expanded membership criteria would obviously have an impact on the FRA Auxiliary, since their membership also draws on family members. FRA and Auxiliary leaders will be discussing this option to see how we might work together to protect the future of both organizations.
BCC also advocates the use of direct mail marketing to acquire new members who are not currently familiar with the FRA. Investing in such an effort will pay dividends in increased membership and revenue but requires a large up-front investment. To meet these costs, BCC suggests we establish a five-year Centennial Campaign to seek contributions from shipmates and other donors who support our efforts. Contributions provide the greatest and most immediate source of new funding, can close the gap between revenue and operational costs and can also be used to build an endowment fund to sustain FRA for the future. To advance this initiative, BCC recommends hiring a Director of Development to orchestrate these new fundraising initiatives.
Board members will be working with the National Headquarters staff to evaluate the BCC plan and decide how to proceed. Some resulting proposals will be introduced as resolutions to be considered and voted upon by delegates at FRA’s national convention in October. I encourage each and every shipmate to have an open mind and take a long view of FRA’s viability when considering these resolutions.
Change is seldom easy, but it is necessary to keep our organization relevant and thriving into our second century.
Virgil Courneya was elected to serve as FRA’s national president during the 2015–2016 Association year. He is a member of Branch 274 (Reno, Nev.).