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Elk and Elk Honoree, CBJ elevator operator Bill Reed reflects on service

Reed has been with the organization 17 years

by Brian Hedger JacketsInsider /

Elk & Elk Honoree Bill Reed

We thank Bill for his service to our country

On October 19, the Blue Jackets and Elk and Elk honored Bill Reed for his service to our country. Thank you, Bill!

  • 02:59 •

The former U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, Essex, was headed home from a "People to People" cruise in January 1962, after making ports of call in the Netherlands (Rotterdam), Germany (Hamburg) and Scotland (Greenock).

Aboard was Bill Reed, a 19-year old radar technician from St. Marys, Ohio.

"We got a call saying that a commercial airliner went down in the North Atlantic," said Reed, 74, a retired purchaser for Columbus Southern Power Co., who's now in his 17th year as an elevator operator at Nationwide Arena. "They wanted us to go look for them, but there was a big storm in the North Atlantic. Until then, we'd stayed South of it."

The Essex turned and headed North. The ship went straight into the storm, and it didn't take long for things to get bad. Reed, who served in the Navy from 1962 to 1964, remembers it vividly.

"We were playing cards below deck," said Reed, who was recognized for his service during the Elk & Elk Military Salutes presentation at the Blue Jackets' game Oct. 19 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. "We were watching one of the inclinometers, which tell you how far over the ship is tilting. They always told us that if it goes beyond 18 degrees, the ship will roll on over. We're looking at it, and it's at 18, then 19, 20, 21, 22. The ship would lean way over to the side, hang there for a few seconds and then roll back up."

At one point, everything that was on the tables - playing cards, mostly - ended up in their laps. Several sailors became seasick.

"We took water in the bow, so the bow was flooded," Reed said. "We quit going up and down over the waves. We started going through the waves, and we lost four miles. We got pushed back four miles, in an aircraft carrier."

That's not all they lost. When the ship emerged from the storm, it returned to Brooklyn Navy Yard. After its unsuccessful search for the airliner, there were severe structural damages to repair.

"The mast fell off," Reed said. "So, we'd lost our radar antennae, which was about 10-to-12 feet in diameter. When we got back, we spent three months getting a new mast put on."

The storm was one of the most harrowing experiences of Reed's military career, but is one of many memories from his stint in the Navy. He also traveled to the Mediterranean, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Halifax, Nova Scotia and other locations.

He remembers watching, in awe, as the Essex barely fit through the Suez Canal in Egypt. He rode a camel in Pakistan, where he "spent a week in one day."

He liked to snap photos of planes landing from the flight deck, and once, in Cuba, Reed and a fellow sailor rented a boat for a river cruise. They spotted an armed militant on a hill ahead, checking them out with binoculars.

"We turned around quick and got out of there in a hurry," Reed said. "[Fidel] Castro had just taken over, and there were water shortages and things like that, so I was like, 'Turn around!'"

Reed also discovered hockey while he was in the Navy.

During the Essex's repair overhaul from the storm damage, he explored New York through the United Service Organizations (USO). He watched the New York Knicks play basketball, including a game against Wilt Chamberlain, and took in his first hockey game.

It was a Rangers game at Madison Square Garden.

"We must've sat in the last row of the upper deck, as far away as you could get," he said, laughing. "Those guys looked like they were six-inches tall."

After leaving the Navy, Reed headed back to his home state. He enrolled at Ohio University, while his childhood sweetheart and future wife, Susan, attended Miami of Ohio.

They were married 17 years and had three daughters, while Reed worked with Columbus Southern Power Co. Susan died in 1987, from complications associated with breast cancer, and Reed eventually met and married wife, Vicki.

His association with Nationwide Arena began in 2000, during the Blue Jackets' inaugural season. His oldest daughter got a job working for the arena, and he decided to follow suit. Reed checked into job openings, was told that elevator operator was the only position open, so he went for it.

Reed is still operating the elevator, which he does with a friendly smile and sharp sense of humor. Some of Columbus' most famous people have ridden with him, including Jack Hanna and some zoo animals in cages, but Reed's favorites are those who play along with his commentary.

"You meet all kinds of people in there," he said. "I always say in the press elevators they have fun, but in my guest elevator, we have a heck of a lot of fun. I remember one night, a lady got off and said, 'If the game's half as much fun as the elevators, we're going to have a great time.'"

Hearing that was like hearing, "mission accomplished," to Reed, who's always enjoyed the fun in life. That goes all the way back to his Navy days.

"My parents told me, 'Get a job or get into the service, one or the other,'" Reed said, chuckling. "I chose the service, because the only thing open [in St. Marys] was Goodyear. I always say my parents ran that place for a while. My father worked the first shift, my mother worked the second shift and my brother worked the third shift."

Reed wanted something different. So, he joined the Navy and soon found himself aboard the Essex, a boat that had fought in World War II and even played an unwitting role in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

"For me, it was an adventure," he said. "When we got on the ship, we went to Cuba three times, Halifax, Nova Scotia, went through the Mediterranean, England, France, Denmark … it was an experience for me. I was just learning about the world."

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