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MV RHEA Bell Given Permanent Home
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L-R: Br 410 Legion President Paul Caldwell,
Gary Cambridge & Robin Roper

Before he passed, Ray Gilleno, shown here aboard the RHEA in earlier times, wanted the ship's bell donated to the Port Stanley Legion so it could have a permanent home in the port from which she sailed so often as a reserve navy training vessel.

Built by William F. Stone and Sons Co. of Oakland, California and launched on November 14, 1942, the U.S.S. RHEA was originally commissioned as the YMS 299 on April 7, 1942 under the command of Lieutenant F.H. Gentry USNR. She was a wooden-hulled minesweeper with an overall length of 136 feet and a beam of 25 feet, with a draft of 9 feet and a displacement of 300 tons. Two 500 HP General Motors diesel engines turned her twin propellers for a maximum speed of about 15 knots. Armed with one 40 mm and two 20 mm rapid fire anti-aircraft guns, her complement was 4 officers and 30 enlisted men.

The RHEA spent the Second World War serving in the Pacific, earning her first "Battle Star" for her participation in the assault and occupation of Okinawa Gunto. She earned her second and third Battle Stars during operations with the U.S. Third Fleet in the Philippines during July 1945. When the Japanese surrendered to General MacArthur, the RHEA was one of the minesweepers that led the U.S.S. Missouri into Tokyo Bay.

After the war and the end of her minesweeping duties, the ship was refurbished to become a Naval Reserve training vessel. At this point her allowance became 1 commissioned warrant officer and 9 enlisted men. In September 1947 the ship was reclassified as AMS 52 - a designation identifying her as a class of ship known as motor minesweepers, the US Navy's largest wooden-hulled ships - and then named RHEA. Like its sister ships, this ship was named for a bird, a RHEA being a South American member of the ostrich family.

In November 1951 she was again equipped as a minesweeper and in June 1952 became an active member of the Mine Force, US Atlantic Fleet. The RHEA was decommissioned in December 1957 and struck from the Navy List November 1, 1959.

In 1962 the Courageous Sailing Club was formed in London, Ontario for the purpose of purchasing and operating the RHEA. Since obtaining its provincial charter in October 1962 "to encourage and foster the ideals of good seamanship and related subjects among the youth of the area", the MV RHEA maintained between 1,000 and 1,500 cadet training days per year in training cruises on Lake Erie. 36 cadets could be accommodated per trip.

Many of those cadets were from Port Stanley, St. Thomas, London and surrounding areas and have fond memories of their time spent aboard the RHEA and of Port Stanley, complete with pictures which include a wedding reception held aboard the ship. Ray Gilleno became the self-appointed historian and memorabilia keeper of MV RHEA. Before he passed about a month ago, he wanted the RHEA's bell - in his possession - donated to the Port Stanley Legion because he felt that's where it belonged. On December 21, 2013 two former RHEA cadets, Robin Roper and Gary Cambridge presented Port Stanley Royal Canadian Legion Last Post Branch 410 current President Paul Caldwell with the bell from MV RHEA, beautifully polished and with the bell's clapper newly chromed.

Completing a long and sometimes perilous journey from its California origins, the MV RHEA's bell has finally come to rest in the port where the ship is so fondly remembered. The bell, pictures and other artifacts will now be on permanent display at the Port Stanley Legion.


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