Good morning. It’s Friday, the federal holiday for Veterans Day. We’ll meet a 91-year-old Marine Corps veteran who builds model ships. We’ll also find out why Dr. Ruth Westheimer has just been named New York’s loneliness ambassador.
Behind Raymond Daughtry Jr., in a plexiglass case against the wall, was a four-foot-plus model of a French battleship that he had made, painted a proud red below the waterline.
“One would think when I did my military service I would have joined the Navy or the Air Force,” said Daughtry, a veteran of the Marines.
The ship is one of many scale models he has made over the years with tools like tweezers, razor blades and sandpaper — and patient, close, miniature work. One-sixteenth of an inch equals one foot in the world of ships that have never been splashed by a wave or fired their guns.
Daughtry, 91, is one of nearly 119,000 veterans in New York City, according to Census Bureau data. The state Health Department said in 2021 there were 25 veterans for every 1,000 residents in Manhattan, where Veterans Day began with a parade 104 years ago today. The date was later moved to Nov. 11 — Armistice Day, the day World War I ended, and the observance became Veterans Day in 1954.
Daughtry said he had joined the Marines for one reason. “I’ve always been a person who never shunned a challenge,” he said. “I told myself, ‘Let me see if I can do this.’” If he could make it through basic training in the Marine Corps, he could do anything.
Soon he was in the Second Division, 19th Infantry Battalion, during the Korean War.
He had put models together from kits when he was a teenager — plastic gunboats and wooden airplanes with rubber bands to drive the propellers. And, after the Marine Corps, he was trained as an architectural draftsman. He found a job in Montreal and worked there in the 1960s and 1970s. The company he worked for promoted him to project manager when it had a contract for work on Ben-Gurion International Airport in Israel.
In his spare time, he still made models — more intricate ones. He has built three Navy cruisers and a model of the battleship U.S.S. Arizona, which sank in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
“I didn’t have big, cumbersome machinery,” he said. “Whatever it takes to make it, that’s what I use.” Railings along the decks, for example, were made of thread from his wife’s sewing kit, hardened with polyurethane. Before he moved to the JASA Brookdale Village Older Adult Center in Far Rockaway, Queens, he sometimes worked at the kitchen table until his wife told him to clear out. There was a meal to cook.
The Richelieu, the French battleship with the red-and-gray hull, was 813 feet long in real life. “This particular design knocked me out,” he said. “I really loved it.”
He loved its history, too. “When France fell to the Germans, there was the Free French that never capitulated,” he said. “This particular ship was sent to the Brooklyn Navy Yard to be rehabbed and updated before it joined the Free French, fighting on the side of the allies.” (This was after the Allied invasion of North Africa, when several Vichy French ships, including the Richelieu, joined the Free French. After the trip to Brooklyn, the Richelieu was deployed with the British fleet in the Pacific.)
Daughtry remembered a write-up about the Richelieu in a military magazine and wrote away for the plans. “Of course they were in French,” he said, and they were twice the size he needed for a model. He used his drafting skills to draw his own reductions. “The words I spoke in French helped a little, but not a lot,” he said. “The fact that I had been building models all my life, really — I just used common sense to say, ‘This is how this has to be done.’”
And, like the real Richelieu, his model is mostly hollow. “It’s cross beams and cladding” except at the bow and the stern, he said.
Viktoriya Krugolets, the program director at the Brookdale center, called Daughtry’s model of the Richelieu “a museum-quality ship.”
“I myself, as a sailor, could relate to that boatbuilding hobby,” she said. “I have a few models of my own. I didn’t build them, I just collected them.” She said Daughtry had helped her when those models had to go into the model-boat equivalent of dry dock.
Expect a mostly cloudy day with temperatures reaching the mid-50s. At night, it will be mostly clear, dropping into the low 40s.
Suspended today and tomorrow (Veterans Day observed, and Veterans Day).
It is an honorary position that Dr. Westheimer, 95, wanted. She says loneliness is a need that must be addressed after the lockdowns and social-distancing rules of the pandemic left people isolated. The United States surgeon general, Vivek Murthy, issued an ominous official advisory in May that said loneliness had increased the risk of problems such as anxiety, cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression, stroke and premature death. He said that isolation could be as deadly as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.
Our writer Allison Gilbert says that Dr. Westheimer felt the effects firsthand. “Covid hit her hard,” said her 66-year-old daughter Miriam, who brought meals to her mother in the early solitary months. “She loved going out. She never had food in the house because she almost never ate dinner at home. She’d just eat out almost every night and bring home some leftovers for the nights that she was, by chance, home. This was a total, dramatic change for her.”
But Dr. Westheimer also rediscovered the diary she had kept, starting when she was a teenager, several years after she had been put on a train that was part of the Kindertransport, the British operation that shuttled thousands of children out of occupied Europe to escape the Nazis.
“I live with 150 people — and am alone,” she wrote in July 13, 1945, while in Switzerland. When she turned 19, in 1947 — living in what was then Palestine, before Israel was established — she said she felt completely alone on her birthday. “Nobody is congratulating me,” she wrote. “All the congratulations I’m reciting to myself!”
She wants to do the same stigma-bashing for loneliness that she did for taboo topics like homosexuality and condoms in the 1980s. It just “makes sense,” she said.
Perfect Autumn Night
I was visiting New York City from my native Australia years ago, staying with my cousin in the Village.
On a perfect autumn night, I went out walking. Passing a cafe, I saw a guitarist on a small stage through a window.
I went inside and sat down at a table with a man who was clearly enjoying the music. Unfortunately, the lights came up after just one song. The place was closing for the night.
Disappointed to be heading home, I said yes when my table mate invited me to join him in a walk to the post office. He needed to get something postmarked by midnight.
Because post offices closed at 5 p.m. in Australia, this felt like a decadent adventure.
“Australia,” he said. “I once lived in a building with an Australian artist living upstairs. We became friends. He gave me a painting. I still have it.”
Who was the artist? I asked.
Brett Whiteley, he said.
We parted ways at the post office, and I continued on through the perfect autumn night.
— Julie Geiser