On Jan. 28, the U.S. Coast Guard held a ceremony in the rest area at the north end of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge to honor the 23 crewmen who perished in the 1980 sinking of the cutter Blackthorn in the area near the shipping channel. Dedicated in 1981, the Coast Guard's 8-foot granite monument is a thing of solemn beauty.
Why is there not a similar memorial to honor the 35 private citizens lost on May 9, 1980, when the freighter Summit Venture took down 1,300 feet of the Skyway in a violent squall?
As a St. Petersburg native, and the author of Skyway: The True Story of Tampa Bay's Signature Bridge and the Man Who Brought It Down, I have been trying for nearly a year to jump through whatever bureaucratic hoops are necessary to right this egregious wrong. The Florida Department of Transportation, the custodian of the rest area (known as Blackthorn Memorial Park), took six months to discuss my proposal, only to tell me in the end that it could not be done without an act of the Legislature.
My repeated requests for assistance were ignored by U.S. Rep. Bill Young, state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, and former governor and senator Bob Graham (who, ironically, was interviewed extensively for my book).
The Summit Venture disaster remains the worst ship/bridge collision in American history. And, as many of your readers will remember, perhaps the darkest moment the Tampa Bay area has ever known.
To my knowledge, there is not a single public mention of the tragedy anywhere in Pinellas or Manatee counties. I can only surmise that the state of Florida is trying to pretend it never happened.
Bill DeYoung, Savannah, Ga.
Set the bar higher | Jan. 26, letter
Don't put too much stock
in grade-point averages
A letter writer comments that "students who can achieve only a 2.5 GPA in college shouldn't make the cut in education schools."
At Illinois State University, the current minimum GPA for admission to the communications studies interpersonal major is 2.8. Admission into the chemistry major carries a 2.3 GPA requirement.
The ISU chemistry department is a top-rated department offering degrees in chemistry that are certified by the American Chemical Society. Our students take a rigorous course sequence that involves physics, calculus and a myriad of advanced chemistry courses, including undergraduate research. Our graduates, many of them high school teachers, are the best measure of our quality, and we turn them loose on the world with a sense of great pride.
Minimum GPA major admission standards serve a number of functions in higher education, including major population control. They should not be taken as absolutes that mark future professional quality, but alas we are living in an era where educational success boils down to the exam.
The words of a former ISU undergraduate research student who went on to earn a chemistry Ph.D. from Texas A&M and open his own successful chemical business seem appropriate here: "Look, Dr. R, I view the C in advanced literature as a mark of character."
Otis Rothenberger, emeritus professor of chemistry, Illinois State University, Bradenton
He was a voice for all | Jan. 29
A life of joyful singing
American folk-rock icon Woody Guthrie famously had inscribed on his guitar, "This machine kills fascists." Pete Seeger, who knew and played with Woody, wanted to honor that political tradition, but Guthrie's tone sounded way too violent for Pete's sensibilities.
Pete was happy with how his variation turned out. Written on his banjo: "This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender."
And that is what we should remember of a hardworking man, who — although gentle and kind — brought about change. Every time we sing out joyfully in unison, his legacy will be secured.
Adam Orenstein, Clearwater
Duke may keep coal units online | Jan. 8
Turn toward the sun
I am disturbed by the notion that Duke wants to extend the life of its dirty, antiquated coal units. I wonder why Duke Energy is not considering sustainable energy like solar instead.
We are the Sunshine State, but we are far behind other states in terms of solar energy production. Coal adds carbon dioxide and other harmful pollutants into our atmosphere. Similarly, fracking for natural gas causes numerous pollution problems, including contaminating our water supply.
Duke Energy needs to transition Florida away from fossil fuels like coal and natural gas and toward solar energy.
Gerald Prescott, Lakeland
An epic achievement | Jan. 30
With the pace and energy of a first-rate athlete, Brendan Ragan reminds us of our story — the story of mankind, with a good many "human" gods thrown in. We may laugh at times, but we hear about the power, greed, cruelty, treachery, pride, misery, mourning and loss of "those Greeks," echoed through combat and war for the past 4,000 years. We then read the same things in our newspaper today.
An Iliad at Gorilla Theatre is a fine collaboration between Homer (albeit unwittingly), the two present adaptors, the director and the actor. However, in my estimation, this is the actor's evening. With the truth of his storytelling and his evident reveling in the joy of acting, for once "tour de force" is not an overstatement.
Ian Frost, St. Petersburg
Medical pot on ballot | Jan. 28
Help to ease the pain
Thank you, Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince and James Perry for your favorable vote to allow medical marijuana to be placed on the ballot so the citizens of Florida can make the decision.
My husband died from lung cancer in 2001. He suffered for three years, but the real travesty was at the end of his life. The hospital said they were regulated as to how much pain medicine they could give patients.
It would have been good if this drug had been available for my husband. There may be some abuse, but the benefits would certainly outweigh any of that.
Vickie Adams, Sun City Center
Operation Christmas Child
I'm writing to thank St. Petersburg residents for their generosity in helping thousands of children worldwide this Christmas. Through their efforts, we collected 5,828 shoeboxes — filled with toys, school supplies and hygiene items — for Operation Christmas Child, the world's largest Christmas project of its kind.
Thanks to everyone who participated in this project. A simple gift, packed with love, can communicate hope and transform lives.
Cindy Beyer, regional director, Operation Christmas Child, Orlando
When nature calls, dogs have 'animal magnetism' | Jan. 28
A dog of a study
Just when I thought I'd seen everything regarding subjects for "study," I read this Los Angeles Times article in BayLink. Who pays for these studies, and who even cares what direction dogs face when they relieve themselves? Even if there was a scientific reason for this study (none was mentioned in the article), the scientists studied only 70 dogs.
The real question is: Who paid for this ridiculous study?
Joanne Danaher, Tampa