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USS New Orleans- 17 battle stars and BM1c Anthony (Tony) Cresci, Fisherman's Wharf icon.

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During the 40 years I've lived in California, I've been to San Francisco many times, though not much the past twenty years. Probably because SF (for me anyway, others may certainly disagree) has changed to the point that I'd rather have my old SF memories than try to make new ones. But throughout the 80s and 90s, when I visited, no trip would be complete without a visit to Fisherman's Wharf-- tourist trap and all. And inevitably, I'd see Tony Cresci at the old Cresci Brothers, #2 Fisherman's Wharf crab stand located on prime wharf turf. The first time I saw him was around 1971 when my parents made that California summer road trip with the kids. I wasn't the only one that he made an impression on, as both locals and tourists from all over the world during the 60s through 90s would reminisce, leafing through old vacation photo albums or looking at slides. "That cool Italian guy in the funky hat with the mustache and sideburns" of the solid, working class stock that was born and came of age in the reverberations of the Barbary Coast in the old Italian neighborhoods of North Beach. A rough and tumble place that evolved into a magical land of little cable cars, climbing halfway to the stars, where Tony Bennett crooned about leaving his heart almost 60 years ago, a contender for the birthplace of the counter-culture Hippies amid the "Summer of Love" a little over 50 years ago, that was deconstructed by the turn of this century, and is known today for extreme politics and extremely filthy streets and sidewalks, where dot com IPO millionaires and billionaires live surrounded by legions of homeless, and not much in between, economically speaking. You won't find Tony Cresci or any of his brothers in San Francisco today, but you might catch him in a background scene or two from the old "Streets of San Francisco" series with Karl Malden and a young Michael Douglas. And you can find vintage postcards of him boiling crabs from 45-50 years ago, wearing his colorful, crazy hat, and sporting that too cool 'stash and sideburns. Like millions of men of the Greatest Generation, Tony Cresci served his country, years before he served customers at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco.


After graduating from Galileo High School around 1936, Tony was a sardine fisherman, along with his brothers Dominic and Frank, before enlisting in the Navy in June 1941. He reported aboard the USS New Orleans on September 5, 1941, ironically the same day New Orleans's first commanding officer when she was commissioned in February 1934, Captain Allen. B. Reed, retired from active duty. Tony Cresci was among the New Orleans' sailors that followed the famous exhortation of their chaplain, Howell Forgy, to "praise the Lord and pass the ammunition" at Pearl Harbor. Cresci was there for all 17 of the NO Boat's Battle Stars, including the one for Tassafaronga where a Japanese torpedo ignited the forward magazine and blew off the first 120 feet of the ship and sent the number one main battery turret with three 8-inch guns to the bottom. Eighteen hundred tons of ship were gone and more than 180 shipmates. Tony was a boatswain's mate first class (BM1c) by the end of the war. He returned to San Francisco and met his wife of 66 years, Pauline, an Oklahoma girl, raised in rural Arkansas, who had moved to San Francisco during WW2. He and his brothers started their business in 1946. To locals and millions of tourists oblivious to his honorable naval service, Cresci was just that quintessential, colorful San Francisco character in the funky hat, along with his brothers at Cresci Brothers, #2 Fisherman's Wharf, boiling Dungeness crabs, and serving them up along with loaves of Parisian sourdough bread (some hollowed out for bowls of steaming New England clam chowder) under the clear blue skies or foggy mist at Fisherman's Wharf. According to a 1976 news article that interviewed Cresci, back then a whole cracked crab, and a chunk of sourdough bread and butter would set you back about $6.50 in the restaurants, but you could buy a cracked crab at a wharf stand for about $3, a loaf of bread for 85 cents, and then find an empty bench for your lunch. Tony retired just before his 80 birthday in 1999. He passed away on July 30, 2014 at the age of 94. Cresci Brothers, #2 Fisherman's Wharf exists only in memories and photos.


I'm honored to share a photo from my collection of Tony and many of the WW II Big Easy CPOs by a placard shortly after VJ Day listing the 17 battles below the ship's ornate bell from the Spanish American War-era USS New Orleans. That cruiser was decommissioned in 1930 to make way for the new ship, whose keel was laid the following year at the Brooklyn Naval Yard. The bell was bought with dimes contributed by New Orleans schoolchildren. Other USS New Orleans CA-32 crewmen pictured are as follows: L to R standing, GM1c Robert C. Perry, Chief Fire Controlman Murray M. Wells, Chief Storekeeper Jake P. Mc Lemore, Chief Machinist Mate James W. Lucas, Chief Boatswain's Mate William W. Rhodes, Chief Watertender Frank D. Oliva, and Chief Machinist's Mate Edward E. Landau. Seated, Chief Boatswain's Mate Roy E. Van Pelt, Boatswain's Mate 1c Anthony (Brother Tony) Cresci, and Laundryman 1c John A. Stevenson.


Fair Winds and Following seas, Tony Cresci and your brothers. I'm sure there are others who remember seeing him from visits to Fisherman's Wharf. If any of them manage to google their way here, I hope they enjoy that memory and maybe even appreciate it a little more.




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Good one! Thanks for sharing.

"I have only two men out of my company and 20 out of some other company. We need support, but it is almost suicide to try to get it here as we are swept by machine gun fire and constant barrage is on us. I have no one on my left and only a few on my right. I will hold." (Message sent by 1st Lt. Clifton B. Cates. USMC, 96th Co., Soissons, 19 July 1918 - later 19th Commandant of the Marine Corps 1948-1952)

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