Iowa Flagship on Voyage — Queenstown — George "V" or "VI" — Twelve Aldermen of Cork — The Blarney Stone — Guest of the Kaiser — His Interest in World Affairs — Stout German Admirals — The Naval Academy at — Bergen, Norway — Home From Gibraltar — The Berth in which Sampson and Evans Slept.
My flagship was the Iowa, commanded by Captain Benjamin F. Hutchison, and the remainder of the fleet comprised the Massachusetts, commanded by Commander George R. Marvell, and the Indiana, under Commander Louis M. Nulton. My aide was Lieutenant Commander Allan Buchanan.
U. S. N.
U. S. S. Iowa, flagship of the European cruise,
With the graduation exercises over, we wasted no time at Annapolis, but got under way one morning early in June and by night had reached the Capes of the Chesapeake and started on our •2100‑mile voyage across the Atlantic. The weather soon settled. The midshipmen recovered from their seasickness and were given daily instruction and drills; each day was fully occupied. The first class was taught practical navigation daily, and I believe what they got out of it has helped them ever since. On a long northeast run, and then on a north and south run a mariner gets practical knowledge of a day's work.
Two members of one of the Junior classes were in search of "adventure" according to the diary of one whom we call "A." Several of their escapades are worth being recorded.a
On the way across the Atlantic, the Commodore (myself) had a birthday, and Lieutenant Commander Earle invited the captain, Commander Hutchison, my aide, Buchanan, and me to dinner. He had a large birthday cake with candles in my honor, and it was on exhibition p311 throughout the day, in charge of the ship's cook. About four o'clock in the afternoon we passed a British cruiser. We had sighted it ahead, some time previous, and much interest was shown. A's diary stated that all day, he and B had longed for a piece of that birthday cake. When the British man-of‑war passed on the port side, close aboard, the two youngsters came up the starboard side of the galley and shouted to everyone that there was a British cruiser passing close aboard on the port side, and advised all hands to see it. As a result, the starboard side of the deck and the galley itself, were left practically deserted. The midshipmen rushed into the galley, took the cake, pan and all, carried it below to their locker, which happened to be big enough to hide it, and presumably had a feast. A's diary commented, "We wondered how much Commodore Coontz and the wardroom mess missed that birthday cake." Of course, the officers never saw anything of it again.
We reached Queenstown in about fifteen days, entered the harbor, and were in time to represent the United States in Ireland at the coronation ceremonies of King George V. I had a narrow escape from a great embarrassment at the dinner where I spoke for the United States. The Admiral commanding the Irish coast had made some preliminary remarks and the time came for me to reply and to propose a toast to the King. I arose and started to talk, when I suddenly realized that I had forgotten whether the monarch being crowned was George V or George VI. It had been a long time since I had studied history and the reigns of the various Georges. I could not remember whether another George or two of them had intervened since George III of our revolution. I was floundering along in my address when the thought occurred to me that the wife of the British admiral who sat at my left was an American woman. I feigned a case of hiccoughs, and while taking a drink of water I leaned over to her and whispered, "Madam, I have forgotten which George this is. The next time I p312 lean down, tell me whether he is the fifth or the sixth."
I again essayed to speak and had another coughing spell. When I leaned toward my dinner companion she held up five fingers and said, "Fifth, of course."
I concluded with the peroration and toasted the right king.
Various trips were arranged throughout Ireland, one by special train to Killarney to see the lakes. We found Ireland cool — •55 degrees — and as green as we had expected. Strangely we seemed to see no men of middle age. There were only men and boys. Our consul at Queenstown told me that the money orders sent from the United States to Ireland contributed largely to the support of the people.
We had several colored lads from Annapolis with us as mess boys. They were given shore leave and went in a body to Cork. I was surprised to learn that negroes were seldom seen there. A large crowd followed them throughout the city, and the next day I had a request from the municipal authorities not to allow these boys ashore there again as they feared a riot.
I recall the visit of the twelve aldermen of Cork, who came with the mayor to see me. I invited them to the cabin and had several bottles of sherry opened. After the first drink the mayor arose to present the greetings of the city of Cork. He made an eloquent and flowery speech, and at its conclusion toasted the United States. This required another drink of sherry. I sought to reply, when he said that alderman McGillicuddy desired to present greetings also. When alderman McGillicuddy had finished his remarks I again arose to respond, but the mayor said that Alderman O'Higgins likewise wished to extend a welcome and again there was a glass of sherry. In short, every alderman in turn, and there were twelve of them, presented greetings and extended welcome to the city of Cork and what at last I had an opportunity to express my appreciation my speech was a fizzle, either because everything that should have been p313 said had been said already, or, perhaps, because of the twelve drinks of sherry which I had to imbibe out of respect to each alderman. Anyhow, we surely were welcomed to the city of Cork!
I experienced the pleasure of going through Blarney Castle while in Queenstown. While Hutchison, Buchanan, Jessop and I were discussing the trip in a club, a gentleman who was reading a newspaper nearby came over to us and said he had heard our conversation. He said that the present owner of Blarney Castle was his cousin and he would like to have the honor of escorting us there. We gladly accepted his offer and the next day he drove us in his car to the castle.
I saw the Blarney stone and kissed it, too. Hutchison and Buchanan held me by the feet while I hung head down over that •ninety-foot drop to perform the stunt. It is a dangerous procedure, especially unpleasant for ladies, but it is said that only one man was ever dropped and that even he was caught in the branches of trees below and saved. We were admitted to the private grounds near the castle. They were mysterious and spooky with the mold of centuries. Our host and guide then took us to the new castle where we were delightfully entertained by the present titled proprietor. His gardens were lovely and extensive. We had a day full of enjoyment and wishing to return the courtesies of our host, invited him to bring his family and spend the following day aboard ship. He had married a lady from Buffalo, New York. Hence he was very friendly toward Americans.
Ireland has a lure for the traveler. Our trip was the usual one by rail to Killarney, and then by the famous little jaunting car, down to the lakes. We had an appetizing lunch there, but as rain began to fall we returned by boat. The oarsmen were not very competent, so Brown and Ingram and Weems and some of the other midshipmen who belonged to the crew or to the football team, volunteered to take the oars themselves. With a full p314 crew of youngsters who had stripped off their blouses, we made fine time on the way back and escaped part of the drenching storm.
Some of our boys went to Limerick and to Dublin. I always like to leave such trips for a time when I have more leisure.
Midshipman Dalton, the famous football player, was attached to the Iowa, the flagship of the squadron. While anchored in Queenstown the ship had many visitors, and the midshipmen who were on duty on the quarter-deck were assigned to show them about the vessel.
One particularly inquisitive lady had been escorted by Dalton for two hours, and her questions touched every phase of navigation and ship construction. They stopped for a moment near the dynamo room hatch. The visitor looked down •some fifty feet at the engines and asked what the place was.
"That," said Dalton politely, "is where we generate the ship's electricity."
"But," said the lady, "you should keep the hatch closed, for anyone falling down there would be killed."
"Oh, no," replied Dalton, "it used to be that all who fell down there would die, but now they dynamo."
"Why?" persisted the inquisitor, but Dalton's further comment is not recorded.
At Queenstown, as later discovered, Midshipman "A" continued his diary and told that his friend was on the first liberty party list to go ashore when the vessel reached Queenstown. He went on deck when they were mustering the party, saw the beautiful green hills of Ireland, and the desire came to him also to go ashore that day. The desire was overpowering. He rushed to look at the sick list, and found that the name of Cadet Blank was on it. Thereupon, he hurried below and donned his best liberty clothes. Then he returned to the deck, and when the name of Blank, the cadet who was ill, was called, he stepped forward, saluted the officer and said, "Midshipman Blank, ready to go on liberty," and as he expressed p315 it, "marched boldly down the ladder to the boat, under the watchful eye of that vigilant officer, Lieutenant C. C. Soule."
At the expiration of their liberty in Queenstown, the two companions found they would be late in reaching the ship unless they took a short cut to the dock. In their desperation they jumped over a rock fence, and started across an Irish gentleman's estate. On their way they ran into a pergola, where the two beautiful daughters of the household were sitting. Naturally the two midshipmen stopped and talked for a few minutes, even though there was grave danger that they would miss the boat.
Midshipmen work fast. As soon as they had made themselves known, they asked the girls if they were going to attend the Commodore's party on board the Iowa the next afternoon. Of course, the girls wished to attend, but they had not been invited. "A" was quick-witted, and arose to the emergency.
"Have your father go on board and call on Commodore Coontz early tomorrow," he advised. "Tell him to invite the Commodore to meet his wife and two daughters, who are very good dancers and would help out at his party."
Then they made a hasty departure, and fortunately for them caught the boat.
Promptly at ten o'clock the next morning a very dignified Irish gentleman came on board the Iowa. He accepted a drink of sherry, welcomed me to Ireland, told of his beautiful place on the hill, and invited me to call. As he arose to go he told me of his two daughters. The ruse worked; I invited them as A had expected. They came, of course, and it was amazing to see how their attention was monopolized by Midshipmen A and B throughout the afternoon.
We had the usual bad weather in the English channel and the North Sea, but it cleared enough for us to see the Goodwin Sands close aboard, and we also had a glimpse of the white hills of Devon. I had read all of the sea stories of W. Clark Russell that I could possess, and p316 in 1901, when I was there, had expected to see Mr. Russell at his home in Devon, but he was too ill to receive visitors.
As we headed eastward toward the Cattegat, we passed and exchanged signals with a squadron of vessels under Rear Admiral Badger. They were just returning from the Baltic Sea. Bound south through the little belt, we expected to pick up a pilot, but as none showed up at any of the expected points, we continued our voyage without one, and made the somewhat dangerous passage very creditably.
Some miles outside of Kiel, three German destroyers joined us and sent an officer on board each of our vessels with a full programme for our entertainment in Germany for the next two weeks. Kaiser Wilhelm, we were told, was in the harbor on board the Hohenzollern, and in all there were thirty-three German ships and many admirals. We were assigned to our positions for anchorage and made the usual preliminary calls.
The following morning, accompanied by three battleship commanders and my aide, I called on the Kaiser. He came out on the quarterdeck to shake hands with us and extend his greeting. He was not as tall as I had expected to find him, nor did his moustache turn up at the corners as it did in his pictures, and he was not nearly so fierce looking as he had been represented to be. He wore a blue sack suit. We entered at once into an animated conversation which must have continued for nearly an hour. When we were about to leave he declared his desire to resume the talk and wished to see as much of us as possible. Accordingly he asked us to lunch with him on board his yacht the following day at one o'clock. We accepted and, greatly to our surprise, found some thirty at the table, including the High German Command and three of the Kaiser's sons.
I recall that Admiral Von Holtzendorff, who commanded the High Seas Fleet, was present, and also Rear Admiral Schroeder, then commanding on shore at Kiel. p317 The latter, whose name was the same as that of our own Admiral Schroeder, was quite anxious to learn about his namesake. The conversation at lunch was general, but interesting. Whenever the Kaiser stated his opinions, which he did in a very emphatic manner, they were not disputed. After the repast the Kaiser walked up and down the starboard side of the quarterdeck with me and talked of America and public affairs in general, and particularly of the "Freedom of the Press" in Germany.
Amidships on the quarterdeck of the Hohenzollern was a small portable house, •about eight feet square. The Kaiser asked me if I knew what it was used for. I told him I did not and he took me to the door and we looked inside. It contained a small square table with chairs on each side.
"When I wish to discuss any particular business with one of my ministers or admirals," he said, "I send for him and have him sit in a chair on one side of the table while I sit opposite to him. Then we look each other in the eye and proceed to handle matters."
As illustrating his control over his officers, I noted that while we were walking up and down the deck, some question came up, and he suddenly saw Admiral Von Holtzendorff forward and called out, "Von Holtzendorff." The admiral ran to him as fast as he could and saluted.
The Kaiser said he would remain in Kiel over July 4, and wanted to start our celebration with the national salute. He spoke at one time of firing thirty-three guns, but I thanked him and told him my opinion was that twenty‑one guns would be proper, and the salute was fired by all the German ships, as well as our own.
I was impressed with the Kaiser's desire for world knowledge, and the information he had gleaned from the recent visit of his brother, Prince Henry, to the United States.
At the time we were in Kiel the Morocco incident was causing some uneasiness. The Kaiser said he had been only to three foreign countries — to Turkey, as a youth, p318 to England later, and that he visited Norway every summer.
For a week my senior officers and I dined with the German admirals afloat and ashore. It seemed strange for a set of young men such as Nulton, Hutchison, Marvell and me to be dining with these officials who looked very old to us. Practically every one of them was a large fierce looking man, and they were all heavy eaters. Their wives, also, were large and ate heartily. After the three day of banquets I reached the point where, in order to keep company with them, I did not eat a morsel of food on my own ship.
I was invited by the Kaiser to review his troops. He asked if the midshipmen were going by special train to Berlin. When I told him they were, he said,
"Are they allowed to smoke?"
"They are not," I replied.
"Are they allowed to drink?"
"Do you want them to be wild?"
"No, sir, I do not," I told him.
I found when I reached Berlin that our youngsters were allowed to enter any of the dance halls and to talk to the girls, but that was the extent of their indulgence. They were not permitted to have any hard liquor, nor could they buy anything to smoke. I can imagine how such an order would result if it were to be attempted in the United States!
I was also invited by the Kaiser to visit the German Naval Academy at Flensburg. He gave us a special train and requested me to take two hundred midshipmen. We started from Kiel early in the morning, and as the boys went ashore upon arriving at Flensburg, each one of them was linked up by arm with a German midshipman who looked after his welfare throughout the entire day. I learned that at the German Naval Academy one of the entrance requirements is ability to speak the English language, also, there is a certain cash fund necessary for p319 each entry. They told me that the Kaiser, out of his private funds, paid the expenses of seven midshipmen.
Our youngsters did not expect any games, but we found there were four scheduled. We won two out of the four, one at tennis and the other at Rugby football. We were shown throughout the Academy and partook of three meals there. The instruction was much inferior to our own. When the time came for us to leave, the superintendent asked if it would be proper to him to visit our Academy the following year. There was only one reply to that question, and I unhesitatingly assured him that we would be most pleased to receive him.
En route home on the Iowa, Midshipman Homer Ingram said to me, "Mr. Coontz (the name he never ceased to call me), what do you think happened to me? The German midshipman who had charge of me at the Academy was Prince 'So‑and‑so,' and when we were hurrying to get ready to play football he stooped down, unloosed my shoes, and took them off."
"Fine, Homer," said I, "guess you're glad you came."
The Kaiser had ordered Princess Irene, of Hessen, the wife of Prince Henry, to give a luncheon in my honor at their castle on July 4th. Three captains, my aide, the wife of one captain, and our naval attaché and his wife were also invited. On entering the castle we met the ladies, and a great tall fellow, •much over six feet, who looked out for the affairs at the palace when the Prince was absent. I think they called him a seneschal. He sat at the head of the table, but took no part in the function, as I recollect, except in the eating. The princess was a very charming woman. She spoke English fluently, and her first, second and third ladies-in‑waiting also rated very high in my estimation. They told me that the only naval officers with whom they could converse freely p320 were the Americans. We had a delightful luncheon, and the Princess brought in her two sons, one of whom was named Waldemar. After the refreshments were served we conversed in the drawing room for more than an hour.
I noticed that our naval attaché seemed a little nervous when I moved about the room, speaking to the Princess or to one of her good looking ladies-in‑waiting. I had scarce got outside the castle when he said,
"Commodore Coontz, don't you know that when you are in the presence of royalty you must stand still and permit them to come and talk with you?"
"Heavens, no, I didn't," said I, "and the worst of it is that I invited the Princess and her ladies to come to the ship for tea tomorrow afternoon, and they have all accepted!"
Prince Henry was attending the automobile races in England at the time we were in Germany.
Because of the many dinners on board the German vessels, and the return courtesies which were necessary on our ships, I had but one opportunity to go to Berlin. On that occasion I was accompanied by Buchanan and two of the captains. We went and returned by way of Hamburg, so as to see some of northern Germany. I was surprised to find that part of the country not thickly settled.
The afternoon before we sailed from Kiel I asked the sixteen daughters of sixteen German admirals to come on board the Iowa for a dance. I also invited fifty good looking young midshipmen from three of our vessels. I had the wife of Admiral Koerper as chaperone. When the young ladies came aboard I was interested in learning that "Dorothy" was the given name of twelve of them. They soon became proficient in dancing like the Americans, and in making themselves understood in English, either by the use of words or signs.
At the last luncheon just before we sailed from Kiel I invited Admiral Von Holtzendorff and Admiral Schroeder on board. The usual toasts were drunk and p321 speeches made, and I expressed the hope that Germany would send a squadron over to America to make a return visit.
Von Holtzendorff arose at the conclusion of my remarks and said, "Commodore, do you mean that invitation?"
I was taken a little by surprise, but said, "Yes, of course, I do."
"Well," he continued, "I shall speak to the Kaiser this afternoon and repeat your invitation."
"Certainly," I replied.
As soon as they left us we cabled the State Department and the Navy Department suggesting that the proper thing to do would be to send them a formal invitation. The visit was made later.
Our next port was Bergen, Norway. I myself had listed it on our itinerary instead of Christiania. We had a good run until we encountered a heavy fog off the coast of Norway. It was necessary to take some chances, which I did not like to do. When I thought we were abreast the entrance to the fiord that runs up to Bergen, I asked for an accurate position from each ship, took a mean, and headed directly toward the rocky beach. By good fortune we came within two hundred yards of the entrance, where we picked up the lighthouse close aboard and ran in safely.
Conscious of our troubles at other ports, as a result of not getting acquainted with people until we were about to leave the country, I telegraphed to our Consul General that I purposed entertaining a party of five hundred people on board the Iowa the afternoon following our arrival, and requested him to issue the invitations. On reaching Bergen and anchoring in their small and too deep harbor, the Consul General came on board and informed me that many of the Norwegians had gone to their summer places, but he believed they could come back for our event. We wondered about the word p322 "summer," for the temperature was then •about fifty-five degrees Fahrenheit.
They returned, however, and had a good time, and our contacts were made at once. The Norwegian girls are the best looking and have the best figures of any I have ever met. They very quickly learn to speak English and to dance. At the first big entertainment on shore the mayor stated that half of the people of Norway were already inhabitants of the United States.
We made a trip by rail to Finse and the glaciers, and had opportunity to see the mountain scenery of the fiords. In my opinion it is not quite equal to the scenery of Alaska, but I may be prejudiced.
It was at Finse on one of the excursions that two midshipmen disappeared. The event caused great excitement in Norway and in the United States. After a first search, without avail, the Squadron, less the collier Brutus, sailed for Gibraltar without them. I left Lieutenant W. R. Van Auken in Norway with orders to find the two young men, dead or alive. Van Auken performed his duties most thoroughly and eventually found them. His adventures on the expedition make a wonderful story.b
I stopped at Vass overnight, and then went due north to the Sogne fiord. I enjoyed everything except the return trip by automobile along the high roads that skirted the lakes. The driver of my car was determined to reach his destination on time. I sat in the rear seat between two fat Germans trying to decide what I would do if we rolled over and were pitched into the cold waters of the lake.
At Bergen we were shown the fish packing industry. Strong women cooper the barrels. These women were as broad as they were tall, and seemed to be quite as strong as men.
When we left Bergen the Indiana had trouble on account of the great depth at which she had to anchor in the harbor. I think it was •forty-five fathoms. She could not rejoin us for several hours. The squadron went a p323 little north by west between the Orkneys and Faroe Islands which I knew I would never have another opportunity of seeing.
Once to the westward we made a direct run for Gibraltar to give the midshipmen a chance to work out navigation problems, running down a meridian. We passed the Isle of St. Kilda, which is several miles off the Irish coast, and ran so close that we could see the few inhabitants working in the fields or tending their sheep. It was a desolate place.
We made Gibraltar in good condition and found several of our vessels there. The commanding general gave several entertainments for us, which were particularly appreciated by the midshipmen. I went to Algeciras and attempted to get cool on the front porch of the beautiful hotel there. Returning to the ship we passed a gambling place, and I looked in for a moment. One of our officers, in citizen's clothes, was there. He had won in the neighborhood of $1,300, and the money was piled up on the table in front of him. Apparently, all the other players had lost. He was a young man from my state, and I urged him to quit and leave the place while he was far ahead of the game, suggesting that if he remained he would be likely to lose.
"No, Commodore," he said, "I am going to win a little more before I quit. Luck is with me."
I left him there and when I made inquiry the next morning I learned that he had lost not only all of the winnings which I saw piled up before him, but all of his own money and more that he had borrowed from his friends.
From Gibraltar we started homeward and had a fair westerly passage for the month of August. Upon reaching the Chesapeake, we made the usual stop at the mouth of the Patuxent River to get mail, and to send home the sick, to inspect the ships of the division, to be inspected by customs officials, and to make recommendations as to which cadets should be made officers of the p324 battalion for the ensuing year. We had a fine set of midshipmen, and made some excellent selections.
At the Patuxent we were able to get fresh milk and vegetables, and the seniors attended a dinner given by Mrs. Carroll, of Baltimore, who had a summer home on the banks of the river.
The customs officers from Baltimore made the usual inspection of the Iowa, the Massachusetts and the Indiana. They had to remain on board over night and we put them up. As I was busy with a vast accumulation of mail during most of the night, I gave the senior inspector my berth. When he came to breakfast the next morning, he said,
"Commodore, was this vessel the flagship of Admiral Sampson and Robley D. Evans?" I said that it was.
"Did they sleep in the same berth that I slept in last night?"
"Well, they must have done so," I replied, "it is the only one here."
"Now," he exclaimed, "My ambition is satisfied! I intend to have the fact that I slept in the same berth once occupied by Sampson and Evans engraved upon my tombstone."
He was very magnanimous toward our boys, respecting the few articles they had brought home, but on the Massachusetts an officer I knew made a faux pas. He had purchased a wonderful ring in India and paid $300 for it. When the customs officer valued it at $100 he became highly indignant and declared he had paid $300 for it and that it was worth the price.
"Very well, then," said the customs man, "I did not think it was worth so much, but I shall put you down for duty at $300." And he did.
On reaching the Academy we sent the midshipmen ashore for their September leave. I made my annual report about the last of August, was detached and proceeded to Washington, and then to the White Mountains, where my family was spending the summer. After joining p325 them I took my annual test walk. I used the main highway and as I jogged along one motorist after another passed me and invited me to ride, but each time I was obliged to decline their kindness. Everyone in the White Mountains, rode in automobiles, even our laundress.
My family boarded at the home of Almus Sawyer, an old man who lived near Woodstock, on the Pemigewassett River.
One day my wife received a telegram from Hon. George A. Loud, a member of the House of Representatives from Michigan, and a member of Committee on Naval Affairs of that body, stating that he and his family would motor through the town the next day and would stop and call upon her. Mr. Sawyer was very much interested and begged to be allowed to meet the congressman. Mr. Loud arrived on Sunday and old man Sawyer, dressed in his Sunday best, was sitting in the woodshed, which was his favorite retreat. Mrs. Coontz found him and introduced him to Mr. Loud.
This old man was much impressed as he shook hands with the visitor.
"Mr. Loud," he exclaimed with a voice filled with emotion, "This is the happiest day of my life. I have shaken hands with a congressman. The ambition of my life has been fulfilled, and I can now die happy."
While I was at Kiel, Rear Admiral Nicholson had offered me, through Russell, the post of Assistant Chief of the Bureau of Navigation. This was quite to my liking, and as I was waiting for a promotion to a captaincy I accepted. One night later, when I was in Bergen, Buchanan, my aide, came onboard with a cablegram stating that Admiral Nicholson had suffered a stroke of apoplexy on the Chevy Chase Golf links, in Washington; that he had been carried to the shade of a nearby tree where he died immediately. This was a terrible shock, not only to me who had served with him at various times since 1885, but also to his friends in the squadron.
p326 When we reached Gibraltar we read the obituaries in the Army and Navy papers, and thought it strange that the death of a man so prominent as Admiral Nicholson was not mentioned. When Russell received my messages he made inquiries and found that Nicholson was out of the city. He did not send him any flowers. Now, eighteen years afterwards, Nicholson is still living, hale and hearty. We never learned how the mistaken announcement of his demise came to be made.
When I returned to Washington, after a short visit to my family in New Hampshire, I reported to the Department as relief to Henry B. Wilson. Nicholson told me that a new deal was going into effect in the Bureau, on January 1; that he would be sent to China; and that Philip Andrews was to be made chief of the Bureau. He also stated that the plan contemplated making the Bureau of Navigation a subsidiary for the aid for personnel. I expressed my absolute disapproval of the scheme, and told him I was ready to go to sea, but he insisted that I act temporarily as a member of the Board of Inspection and Survey, of which Rear Admiral Fechteler was senior member. I acquiesced and served on the board for six months. I shall always remember the good it did me professionally.
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