Monday, January 22, 2018

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Finding “Seaweed the Sailor”
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor
2017-11-22

            For some, regularly bringing a bit of humor into the life of those serving in the armed forces can be a daunting challenge.  It's not unusual that the inspiration for

creating a source and presenting that humor can come from interesting experiences faced by someone wearing a uniform.  It would be a person with a talent for expressing funny and sometimes frustrating encounters, having nothing more than a pencil and paper, and his imagination and experiences.

            Back in 1956, a young Lee Felbinger was on his way to enlist in the United States Air Force when he passed by the Navy recruiting office.  There, a sign caught his eye.  It read   "Join the Navy and see the world."  It also had a drawing depicting a hula dancer on it.

            Whether it was the invitation to see the world or perhaps the graphic of the dancer, Lee made his decision to shun the wild, blue, yonder of the Air Force and seek adventure on the seven seas with the Navy.

            His first assignment was in Norfolk, Virginia serving upon the Squadron 6 submarine rescue ship USS Kittiwake.  Someone must have noticed Lee's artistic talent because his tasks included painting and repainting the letters and signs on the ship.  But, as time wore on his desire to transfer and see the world grew.

            Felbinger was told that transfers were tedious and time consuming.  After he filled out the proper paperwork, the number of hands it would touch and approvals it would need seemed overwhelming.  He tried anyway.  Day after day; week after week with no success.

            Then one day while he was hanging over the side of the Kittiwake painting a bold "13" on the hull, a piece of paper floated by and caught his eye.  It was the most recent transfer request he submitted.  At that moment, he felt his chances for transfer were doomed.

            That is until an inter-squad softball game pitting the crew of the Kittiwake against the crew of the USS Orion, the mother-ship of Squadron 6.  Lee admitted that he was no star player, but it was during that game that he made a spectacular catch while playing left field. 

            After the game a Chief from the Orion, who was also the coach of that team, said to Lee "I could use a good left fielder, would you transfer?"  Lee couldn't say "yes" fast enough and the Chief said "Son, Monday you'll be transferred."

            Monday came and an officer on the Kittiwake asked Felbinger "Who do you know in Washington?" and added, "You have 15 minutes travel time to get to the Orion."

            Duties for Lee changed as the Orion was in need of an editor for the Squadron newsletter and he was their man.  He served in that position until his discharge in 1961.

            It was while he was serving as editor that he came up with the cartoon character "Seaweed the Sailor."  The character was described as Felbinger's depiction of the life of a sailor during peacetime, with a humorous and mildly irreverent bent.  Part opinion, part commentary, and all humor, Seaweed the Sailor was published in the newsletters until Felbinger's enlistment was over.  Felbinger took the original cartoons home with him after his time in the Navy was over. 

            In his studio in Salford Township, with his white German-Shepard named Snow at his side, this writer asked the native of Pittsburgh what brought him to the eastern half of the state? Lee told me that while his ship was docked in Philadelphia, he journeyed to the USO (United Service Organizations) for "free coffee and donuts."  While there he "ran into this redhead."  Well, that redhead's name was Sue and, eventually, they were married.

            Living first in the Pittsburgh area, they moved east because job opportunities for a commercial graphic artist seemed better in and around the City of Brotherly Love.

            After a career serving as a manger and sales promotion person in the advertising field, Lee took on the job of establishing and teaching the Commercial Arts program at the Northern Montgomery County Technical Career Center in Lansdale.

            It was the final leg of his career and he thoroughly enjoyed it sharing that "If I knew teaching was as rewarding as it was, I would have done it a lot sooner."

            In 1996, the Naval Heritage Center in Washington, DC put out a call for material for its archives.  Lee donated 20 of the Seaweed the Sailor originals to the Center.

            Now, the public has an opportunity to see, experience, and enjoy the humor and satire that went into the work.

            The Seaweed the Sailor collection is on exhibit at the Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center, 105 Seminary Street, Pennsburg until January 31, 2018.  The hours are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Thursdays 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturdays 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and Sundays 1 – 4p.m.

            This is the first public exhibit of the Seaweed the Sailor cartoons and Felbinger offered thanks the Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center for exhibiting them saying, "Before I die, I wanted the public to have a chance to see them."

            He also added that while in the Navy, I saw the world but I never did see the hula dancer."


 

 

 

 

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