Ship Bottom

The coast of New Jersey, 1817. An era before Long Beach became inundated with godawful tourist shops selling T-shirts that say, “What’s up, beaches?”

It was March. A foggy night at sea. Captain Stephen Willets stood on the deck of his schooner when he heard cries for help. He gathered his crewmen into rowboats and went to lend a hand.

The crew came upon a capsized ship, rudder up. Corpses were adrift in the icy Atlantic. All passengers dead.

Willets climbed atop the overturned hull and heard light tapping coming from beneath the hull. “Someone’s alive!” he shouted.

He fetched an axe. His crew began hacking away at the barnacled wood.

Trapped inside was a raven-haired woman who spoke no English. She was the lone survivor of the wreck. Once ashore, the woman was so grateful and could only express her thanks by drawing a cross in the sand.

And that is how the the community of Ship Bottom got its name.

Of course, today, the borough of Ship Bottom is your prototypical New Jerseyan beach community, complete with fried-crab-leg joints, donut shops, and mini-golf courses out the wazoo.

But even after 200 years, residents of Ship Bottom are still pretty good at rescuing those in need.

Which leads me to the story of 94-year-old Paul Roberts. One night, after Paul had finished a shower, he was shaving when he saw smoke coming from beneath the bathroom door.

“I took one breath,” says the old man, “and I knew right away I would never take a second breath and live. So I dropped to the floor and then had to get outta the house.”

Everything was consumed in the fire. Not just his home, but all those little things people don’t think of when they read about fires. His clothes. His underwear. His socks. His coffeemaker. His family antiques. Gone.

Paul is a member of a generation that is practically forgotten in our culture. He was born in 1927, when movies were still silent and Babe Ruth was selling Old Golds. He grew up during a time of Depressions, dust storms, boll weevils, and global war. He remembers Blitzkrieg, Pearl Harbor, Bing Crosby, Ovaltine, and Rita Hayworth.

He also remembers the day shortly after his 17th birthday when he begged his mother to allow him to quit high school so he could join the U.S.Marine Corps to fight Hitler. She did. Paul joined the Corps only weeks later. Semper Fi.

After the war, Paul got a job with the U.S. Postal Service as a mailman. Thus, he spent his adulthood on foot, carrying a satchel, walking upwards of 10 to 20 miles each day.

He is a father. A grandfather. A great-grandfather. He has survived two children, Hurricane Sandy, four wars, disco. He survived a bout with COVID last year.

But now he had nothing.

“I remember the night of the fire,” said Paul’s neighbor, Richard. “I hear on the window, ‘BANG! BANG!’ I look up and it’s Paul…”

Paul was half naked, standing on his neighbor’s lawn, begging for help. His house was an inferno. Ash and soot were floating in the air. The fire department arrived shortly thereafter, but they weren’t in time.

And here’s where things get worse.

After the fire, Paul called his insurance company. They offered him a pittance. And bonus: as it turns out, because the old man’ house is considered a historic home, the city mandated—this is why you have to love America—that Paul’s house be torn down.

And just like that, a 94-year-old World War II veteran was homeless.

The situation was bleak. And in a country where veterans have all but been erased from public consciousness, things didn’t seem to be looking up.

But before you lose faith in the human spirit, you should know something. A few days later, a young woman named Erin Obermayer created a GoFundMe page for Paul.

If you ever feel your confidence in humanity waning, consider this:

In less than a month, Paul Roberts has received $173,000 in donations from thousands of neighbors, New Jerseyans, and total strangers. More contributions keep coming in.

No, It’s still not enough money to build a house, but things are getting closer.

“How many people do I gotta thank for all that?” said an overwhelmed Paul. “How DO you thank people?” he added.

Well, I’m no expert. But he could always draw a cross in the sand.


  1. Elizabeth Clark - May 16, 2022 6:30 am

    Tears rolling down my cheeks

  2. Barbara - May 16, 2022 10:18 am

    Wow! Just wow! Thanks for a great story!

  3. Gay - May 16, 2022 10:53 am

    We all need crosses in the sand at some point in our life

  4. Tom Flowers - May 16, 2022 11:18 am

    Sean, Another wonderful story. It has probably encouraged a bunch of old farts like me to go figure out how to make a GoFundMe donation…Southerners helping Northerners, it has a nice ring to it.

  5. Ruth Mitchell - May 16, 2022 11:37 am

    The whole story is inspiring and flawless! As for the ending, I offer you my cross in the sand.✝️

  6. Paul McCutchen - May 16, 2022 11:45 am

    As usual the government will forget about the vets but the public always will respond.

    • Debbie Donaldson - May 16, 2022 2:39 pm


  7. Sonya Tuttle - May 16, 2022 12:04 pm

    Last line is EPIC!

  8. Don Rutledge - May 16, 2022 12:58 pm

    Loved this story Your tale was good, your delivery even better. Your writing has improved every year. I like your style, I like your smile, your thinkin’s good, so I’ll keep ya for a while.

  9. Farris Jones - May 16, 2022 1:20 pm

    And all God’s people say Amen!!!

    • Debbie g - May 17, 2022 4:54 am


  10. Patricia Gibson - May 16, 2022 1:35 pm

    Thanks for that wonderful story!!

  11. Dale Parsons - May 16, 2022 2:43 pm

    Beautiful story. I hope Paul is in a new home. I’m not a vet, but I believe there should not be a single homeless, unemployed or needy veteran anywhere in the US. God help us, we’ve lost our moorings and settled for media hype and celebrities.

  12. Donna W - May 16, 2022 3:24 pm

    Your stories ALWAYS makes me think. And it’s the kind of “think” that I sometimes need to reminded to do. Love this.

  13. Suzanne - May 16, 2022 4:51 pm

    You are a fine writer, storyteller, and a wonderful listener. Just keep reminding us all that goodness and kindness are truly alive and well.

  14. throughmyeyesusa - May 16, 2022 5:16 pm

    I don’t contribute to GoFundMe pages, generally. But I’ll find this one!

    This country has gone “Bottoms Up” and no one – no unified, concentrated force – shows any signs of looking for the surviving remnants of our glorious Republic….or that milk of human kindness, respect and patriotism we used to show one another, or our nation. It feels like there’s an evil little guy behind a green curtain somewhere, pulling levers & cackling at the chaos he’s creating in America (think of the Wizard of Oz).

    You keep us on the yellow brick road, Sean. Keep writing your tales of decency, human kindness, and the America we all knew and loved. It’s still out there somewhere. Let’s pray she triumphs and goodness prevails in the end.

  15. Layne Barrett - May 16, 2022 6:32 pm

    For some reason you sometimes comment that you’re not a religious man. I kinda disagree. Seems like through your posts that you unwittingly walk the walk. Keep it up. Thanks, Layne a retired mailman.

  16. Jan J Binney - May 16, 2022 6:44 pm

    Is that GoFundMe page still active?

    • Vince - May 18, 2022 3:12 pm

      yes. Just checked it.

  17. Linda Moon - May 16, 2022 8:38 pm

    I love the history-telling here of the Ship Bottom’s name. I love the GoFudMe for Paul. And, I love your suggestion for Paul’s “Thanks”. Thanks for these stories, Sean. I think you’re an expert for Life Itself.

  18. Mary Ann Crawford Borchert - May 16, 2022 10:40 pm

    Oh Sean, you capture the essence of life and share it beautifully..thank you! I look forward every day to your postings! You share my perspective of life, express it beautifully and thanks to dear friends who suggested that I read you daily. You have been very blessed with a wonderful gift!

  19. MAM - May 16, 2022 11:02 pm

    Oh, Sean, how much you teach us about humans, the good and the bad, and God, and how Americans do take care of one another. Thanks for your everyday missives and reminders.

  20. Karen - May 16, 2022 11:13 pm

    You remind us of all the fine people in this country. I hope some organization volunteers to rebuild him a home. No one at 97 should have to worry about having a roof over their head.

  21. Michele Sandstead - May 18, 2022 2:49 pm

    One of your best stories! Totally captivating from your first words! You are so gifted, Sean! Your way of drawing your readers into the world of words is amazing. I’ve been following you for years now and look forward to your writings every day. Even ones about suicide. You share your life with us and that’s what makes you so special. Keep on writing and your loyal readers will keep on reading! Oh, and if you ever are back in Destin, come antiquing at my antiques shop I own, Flutterby Antiques. I’d love to meet you in person, not just in words! Blessings to you and your sweet bride, Jamie. She’s amazing too!!

  22. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - May 20, 2022 6:01 pm

  23. Brenda - May 21, 2022 1:08 pm

    I read your column every day. Sometimes I laugh some I cry but whatever the emotion I always think about your words/insight many times during the day. Your words have a very profound message to my heart and soul. Thank you

  24. Susan A. Royal - May 23, 2022 1:28 pm

    I wake up feeling less than chipper most days. Some days I feel downright sorry for myself. And then I read your column. It never fails to make my day better. Thank you, Sean.

  25. cat718 - May 23, 2022 2:30 pm

    Your stories always remind us to count our many blessings, name them one by one. God bless Paul.

  26. Susie - May 26, 2022 10:33 pm

    You are right, throuhmyeyesusa, there is an evil orange-skinned little guy spreading hate constantly, but he’s NOT behind a green curtain….. he’s out there for all of us to see; those of us with brains can see right thru him. He cannot gaslight me. I have a brain
    , can think for myself and I know lies and hate speech when I hear it.


Leave a Comment