Friday, Nov. 13, 1942: Spotlights speared across the velvet darkness in the waters North of Guadalcanal as an outgunned group of American warships crossed paths with two Japanese battleships and their escorts. As quickly as the lights flicked on, the amber glow of gunfire shredded the intense black veil that had provided temporary sanctuary.  

Autumn, 2022: This is the climatic setting of the story Kyle von Bergen and his friend Dylan hear from a great-grandfather Kyle had never met until he moved in with the 15-year-old and his mother. It’s also the dramatic conclusion of a story that will affect Kyle in ways he wouldn’t have imagined when he heard the old man was coming to stay. Kyle had enough on his hands: adjusting to high school and dealing with a bully who harbored a long-time grudge against the young man. Would this story tip the scales or give Kyle the strength to carry on? 

That’s the set-up of The Burning Sea of Iron Bottom Bay – Local 73 (Chicago and Cook County, Ill.) retiree Rich Rostron’s recently published young adult novel. The book tells the story of Kyle, a teenager struggling to acclimate to high school, life in a small apartment with his recently divorced mother, and a new relationship with his great-grandfather – a WWII veteran whose thrilling wartime tales unexpectedly draw Kyle in.

“This is a tale of courage and heroism from a bygone time,” said Rostron. “But it’s also a timeless story of learning to deal with hard times and overwhelming challenges. It’s a story of the kind of strength we need now as much as ever.” 

Rostron worries that young Americans today have lost track of the sacrifices made by veterans throughout our country’s history. “That’s one of the reasons I wrote this book, and wrote it for young adults and teens,” he said. “But I also recall that I was about that age when I was introduced to the wonders between the covers of books in the library. It was the start of a life-long passion that I’d like to share with others.”

In addition to serving his community as a sheet metal worker since starting his apprenticeship around 1980, Rostron has spent time as a freelancer with The Chicago Tribune and numerous other publications, was sports editor with The Woodstock Independent and served as the advisor to The Tartan, the student newspaper at McHenry County College. And he isn’t slowing down now.

“This is the first in a series of books I plan to write about American history,” Rostron explained. “I recently completed a research trip to New England for several books I want to write about the American Revolution.” 

Find The Burning Sea of Iron Bottom Bay at Barnes and Noble, Kindle and other outlets.

On August 31, 2021, the Local Union Officer and International Staff Retiree’s Club met in historic St. Charles, Missouri, with 56 attendees gathering for a cocktail reception, luncheon, meeting and a trip to Missouri wine country. As part of the meeting, union woodworker Jim Langsdorf crafted a tinner’s hammer made of solid hickory (pictured) in memory of past Regional Director Mike Krasovec.

Please join the Local Union Officer and International Staff Retiree’s Club for its 2022 meeting at the Isleta Casino and Hotel in Albuquerque, New Mexico on August 30. Contact Tom Wilkens (618-407-5570/618-473-9384) or Larry Tucker (636-577-4312) for more information.

Local 19 retiree Keith Gilmer

Thanks to the strong support of his SMART pension, retired SM Local 19 (Southeastern Pa.) member Keith Gilmer has been able to spend plenty of time pursuing one of his passions: the outdoors.

“As a member, I was able to retire at the age of 55, and enjoy a few more years of good health than a lot of friends I know,” he explained. “I have been fortunate enough to make several hunting trips, and on my most recent one, I traveled to Newfoundland on a moose hunt.” Gilmer joined Mountaintop Outfitters — including the owner of the company, Art — for a successful trip: “I harvested a nice bull with a 40-and-a-half-inch spread … Previously I harvested, along with other bulls, a woodland caribou that is currently in the Boone and Crockett world record books.”

Because he was able to retire at 55 years old, Gilmer has the opportunity to devote a great number of years to exploring the natural world. It’s not something he takes for granted. “Thanks to groups like the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance, along with our local unions, we get to enjoy parts of our ‘golden years’ outdoors,” he added. “Thank you for your past support, as well as the days and years to come.”

GREAT FALLS, Mont. – A Montana resident believed to be the world’s oldest man celebrated his 114th birthday Tuesday at a retirement home in Great Falls, the Great Falls Tribune reports.

Walter Breuning was born on Sept. 21, 1896, in Melrose, Minnesota, and moved to Montana in 1918, where he worked as a clerk for the Great Northern Railway for 50 years.

His wife, Agnes, a railroad telegraph operator from Butte, died in 1957. The couple had no children.

Breuning inherited the distinction of being the world’s oldest man in July 2009 when Briton Henry Allingham died at age 113. Allingham had joked that the secret to long life was “Cigarettes, whisky and wild, wild women — and a good sense of humor,” according to Guinness World Records.

The Guinness organization and the Gerontology Research Group each have verified Breuning as the world’s oldest man and the fourth-oldest person. Three women were born earlier in the same year as Breuning.

Robert Young, senior consultant for gerontology for Guinness World Records, presented Breuning with a copy of the book’s 2011 edition that lists him as the record holder.

“Walter wasn’t in last year’s edition,” Young joked. “He was too young.”

The Great Falls Tribune reported that Breuning gave a speech before about 100 people at an invitation-only birthday party at the Rainbow Retirement Community, with a guest list that included Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and representatives from Guinness World Records.

Breuning was helped up to a lectern from his motorized cart, appearing somewhat frail but speaking with a strong voice.

He recalled “the dark ages,” when his family moved to South Dakota in 1901 and lived for 11 years without electricity, water or plumbing.

“Carry the water in. Heat it on the stove. That’s what you took your bath with. Wake up in the dark. Go to bed in the dark. That’s not very pleasant,” he said.

He said men and women may be able to enjoy life, but they can’t be content without a belief or faith. His parting message to the crowd was one of tolerance.

“With all the hatred in this world, in this good world, let us be kind to one another,” Breuning said.

Breuning has celebrity status at the retirement home, with visitors waiting in line to see him, Ray Milversted, 92, told the Tribune.

Tina Bundtrock, executive director of the Rainbow, said the home has adopted a policy of scheduling visits with Breuning by appointment, so he’s not taxed by people dropping in to see him.

Before his birthday party, Breuning declined to name a favorite among the 114 years he has seen.

“Every year is the same,” Breuning told the Great Falls newspaper.

But he criticized one modern invention — the computer.

“When the computer came out, that was one of the worst things,” Breuning said. “They laid off all the clerks on the railroad.”

But, he added, “Every change is good.”

(This item appeared Sept. 22, 2010, in the Tribune.)

PRESCOTT, Ariz. – John Stevenson can relate to the thousands of people who flock to the Peavine Trail each year to take in the imposing views of Granite Dells, the Daily Courier reports.

In a completely different era, Stevenson also spent plenty of time walking and riding through the scenic corridor. Only, for him, the trips were not recreational, and they occurred either alongside a train or on one.

Even though the Peavine route was a regular one for Stevenson in his years as a railroad brakeman on the route, he said the views were not lost on the crew.

“It was beautiful – especially when you got into the Granite Dells area,” said Stevenson, 73, now a retired railroad worker living in Clarkdale. “We had to get out sometimes and walk it. I remember walking alongside the train, looking at the views.”

(Stevenson is an Alumni Association member and retiree of Local 113, Winslow, Ariz.)

Some of those memories likely will be front and center this week when Stevenson and a group of several dozen of his former Peavine coworkers meet for a reunion at a restaurant in Prescott.

“It’s an annual get-together of all of the guys who worked on that railroad,” Stevenson said noting that the Peavine stretched from Phoenix to Williams. He expects about 40 former employees to gather for the event, including a number who still live in the Prescott area.

Stevenson, who retired in 1998 after working for the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad for 44 years, began his career in 1954, when Prescott was still the major base for the line.

For a time in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Stevenson was one of the 50 to 60 people who lived in Prescott and worked on the railroad.

He vividly remembers the day in 1960 when railroad officials announced that the company would build a new route that would bypass Prescott.

“We were pretty despondent,” Stevenson said of hearing the news. “We thought, ‘Prescott’s going to dry up.’ The town just went ballistic.”

Stevenson also recalled the event in one of several historic essays he wrote about his days working on the Peavine. “I felt bad that Prescott would probably become a ghost town, Whiskey Row would dry up, and Buckey O’Neill would ride off into the sunset,” he wrote.

By 1962, the new bypass route through the Drake area was complete, and the Prescott route became a “spur line,” which Stevenson said got less and less use. Ultimately in the 1980s, he said, “God intervened,” and a major storm washed out sections of the Prescott spur, leading the railroad to abandon the line.

Even so, Stevenson maintains that there is value in remembering the Peavine route’s heyday.

“When I was young, I used to love listening to the stories” from the older railroad workers, Stevenson said, noting that some of his early coworkers began their careers when Arizona was a still a territory.

“The Prescott portion of the Peavine was an important part of Yavapai County history,” Stevenson said, adding “there are very few people left” with personal experience working the route.

The Peavine reunion will take place at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the China Buffet Restaurant at 201 Walker Road.

(This item appeared Aug. 9, 2010, in the Daily Courier. Additional information added by UTU editors.)

UTU retiree John Hageman was recently re-elected to his fourth four-year term as city councilman in Fitzgerald, Ga.

This is not surprising, since the 84-year-old Hageman’s forefathers helped found the town back in 1895.

Fitzgerald is a town of about 9,500 residents in south central Georgia. Hageman started railroading in 1950 as a trainman on the Atlantic Coast Line, now part of CSX.

He retired in 1988 after 38 years of service. He is a lifetime member of Local 1790, Fitzgerald.

“I am an energetic person, always have been,” he said. “After I retired in 1988, a job came open on the city council, and I have always said I would try anything once.

“I am a direct descendent of those who founded Fitzgerald in 1895, so I ran for the office. I was up against some big odds; I ended up running against and defeating the son of my lawyer.

“Fitzgerald is actually a Yankee town in south Georgia,” Hageman explained. “A Union Army drummer boy, P.H. Fitzgerald from Indianapolis, got out after the war and wanted to create a place in the south where aging Union Army veterans could enjoy the warmer winters and have a good place to live out their years.

“My great grandfather was a Union Army veteran out of Indiana, and he was one of the original 2,500 who helped found this town.

“I just enjoy working and doing something for somebody,” he said. “If they come to me with a problem, I try to help them out.

“Mayor Gerald Thompson has been in office 42 years here, and we were both just re-elected to four more years.

“My campaign slogan was ‘Four more at 84.’ It has been very rewarding; I have no regrets whatsoever.”

Employers and employees covered by the Railroad Retirement Act pay higher retirement taxes than those covered by the Social Security Act, so that railroad retirement benefits remain higher than Social Security benefits, especially for career employees.

The following questions and answers show the differences in railroad retirement and social security benefits payable at the close of the fiscal year ending September 30, 2009. They also show the differences in age requirements and payroll taxes under the two systems.

1. How do the average monthly railroad retirement and social security benefits paid to retired employees and spouses compare?

The average age annuity being paid by the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) at the end of fiscal year 2009 to career rail employees was $2,690 a month, and for all retired rail employees the average was $2,125. The average age retirement benefit being paid under social security was over $1,160 a month. Spouse benefits averaged $795 a month under railroad retirement compared to $555 under social security.

The Railroad Retirement Act also provides supplemental railroad retirement annuities of between $23 and $43 a month, which are payable to employees who retire directly from the rail industry with 25 or more years of service.

2. Are the benefits awarded to recent retirees generally greater than the benefits payable to those who retired years ago?

Yes, because recent awards are based on higher average earnings. Age annuities awarded to career railroad employees retiring at the end of fiscal year 2009 averaged over $3,280 a month while monthly benefits awarded to workers retiring at full retirement age under social security averaged about $1,625. If spouse benefits are added, the combined benefits for the employee and spouse would approximate $4,550 under railroad retirement coverage, compared to $2,435 under social security. Adding a supplemental annuity to the railroad family’s benefit increases average total benefits for current career rail retirees to about $4,585 a month.

3. How much are the disability benefits currently awarded?

Disabled railroad workers retiring directly from the railroad industry at the end of fiscal year 2009 were awarded nearly $2,800 a month on the average while awards for disabled workers under social security averaged about $1,125.

While both the Railroad Retirement and Social Security Acts provide benefits to workers who are totally disabled for any regular work, the Railroad Retirement Act also provides disability benefits specifically for career employees who are disabled for work in their regular railroad occupation. Career employees may be eligible for such an occupational disability annuity at age 60 with 10 years of service, or at any age with 20 years of service.

4. Can railroaders receive benefits at earlier ages than workers under social security?

Railroad employees with 30 or more years of creditable service are eligible for regular annuities based on age and service the first full month they are age 60, and rail employees with less than 30 years of creditable service are eligible for regular annuities based on age and service the first full month they are age 62.

No early retirement reduction applies if a rail employee retires at age 60 or older with 30 years of service and his or her retirement is after 2001, or if the employee retired before 2002 at age 62 or older with 30 years of service.

Early retirement reductions are otherwise applied to annuities awarded before full retirement age — the age at which an employee can receive full benefits with no reduction for early retirement. This ranges from age 65 for those born before 1938 to age 67 for those born in 1960 or later, the same as under social security.

Under social security, a worker cannot begin receiving retirement benefits based on age until age 62, regardless of how long he or she worked, and social security retirement benefits are reduced for retirement prior to full retirement age regardless of years of coverage.

5. Does social security offer any benefits that are not available under railroad retirement?

Social security does pay certain types of benefits that are not available under railroad retirement. For example, social security provides children’s benefits when an employee is disabled, retired or deceased. Under current law, the Railroad Retirement Act only provides children’s benefits if the employee is deceased.

However, the Railroad Retirement Act includes a special minimum guaranty provision which ensures that railroad families will not receive less in monthly benefits than they would have if railroad earnings were covered by social security rather than railroad retirement laws. This guaranty is intended to cover situations in which one or more members of a family would otherwise be eligible for a type of social security benefit that is not provided under the Railroad Retirement Act. Therefore, if a retired rail employee has children who would otherwise be eligible for a benefit under social security, the employee’s annuity can be increased to reflect what social security would pay the family.

6. How much are monthly benefits for survivors under railroad retirement and social security?

Survivor benefits are generally higher if payable by the RRB rather than social security. At the end of fiscal year 2009, the average annuity being paid to all aged and disabled widow(er)s averaged $1,285 a month, compared to $1,100 under social security.

Benefits awarded by the RRB at the end of fiscal year 2009 to aged and disabled widow(er)s of railroaders averaged approximately $1,725 a month, compared to about $890 under social security.

The annuities being paid at the end of fiscal year 2009 to widowed mothers/fathers averaged $1,595 a month and children’s annuities averaged $935, compared to $840 and $745 a month for widowed mothers/fathers and children, respectively, under social security.

Those awarded at the end of fiscal year 2009 averaged $1,620 a month for widowed mothers/fathers and $1,240 a month for children under railroad retirement, compared to $820 and $750 for widowed mothers/fathers and children, respectively, under social security.

7. How do railroad retirement and social security lump-sum death benefit provisions differ?

Both the railroad retirement and social security systems provide a lump-sum death benefit. The railroad retirement lump-sum benefit is generally payable only if survivor annuities are not immediately due upon an employee’s death. The social security lump-sum benefit may be payable regardless of whether monthly benefits are also due. Both railroad retirement and social security provide a lump-sum benefit of $255. However, if a railroad employee completed 10 years of creditable railroad service before 1975, the average railroad retirement lump-sum benefit payable is $990. Also, if an employee had less than 10 years of service, but had at least 5 years of such service after 1995, he or she would have to have had an insured status under social security law (counting both railroad retirement and social security credits) in order for the $255 lump-sum benefit to be payable.

The social security lump sum is generally only payable to the widow(er) living with the employee at the time of death. Under railroad retirement, if the employee had 10 years of service before 1975, and was not survived by a living-with widow(er), the lump sum may be paid to the funeral home or the payer of the funeral expenses.

8. How do railroad retirement and social security payroll taxes compare?

Railroad retirement payroll taxes, like railroad retirement benefits, are calculated on a two-tier basis. Rail employees and employers pay tier I taxes at the same rate as social security taxes, 7.65 percent, consisting of 6.20 percent for retirement on e
arnings up to $106,800 in 2010 and 1.45 percent for Medicare hospital insurance on all earnings.

In addition, rail employees and employers both pay tier II taxes which are used to finance railroad retirement benefit payments over and above social security levels.

In 2010, the tier II tax rate on employees is 3.9 percent and on rail employers it is 12.1 percent on employee earnings up to $79,200.

9. How much are regular railroad retirement taxes for an employee earning $106,800 in 2010 compared to social security taxes?

The maximum amount of regular railroad retirement taxes that an employee earning $106,800 can pay in 2010 is $11,259, compared to $8,170.20 under social security. For railroad employers, the maximum annual regular retirement taxes on an employee earning $106,800 are $17,753.40 compared to $8,170.20 under social security. Employees earning over $106,800, and their employers, will pay more in retirement taxes than the above amounts because the Medicare hospital insurance tax of 1.45 percent is applied to all earnings.