Waterfront Guys: Friendhip Forged by the Sea

Two men, separated by the years, are reconnected by a love of the sea.

Italian native Antonio Mellone, left, reviews his growing collection of handmade model ships with retired Navy officer Thomas Gorman at Mellone's work station in his Lincroft home.
Photo by John Emerson

It is a small world after all. Just ask Lincroft residents Antonio Mellone, 70, and Thomas Gorman. Their story is one of friendship built on a shared passion for the sea. It began on a pier in Naples, Italy, was lost to time and circumstance, then rediscovered in New Jersey.

Mellone remembers Naples, the city of his birth, as “a piece of paradise that fell on the earth.” Best of all was the waterfront. As a youth, Mellone spent countless hours at the water’s edge watching freighters, passenger ships and naval vessels traverse the bay. At home, he carved hundreds of miniature ships out of scraps of wood. “I had the desire to own a navy,” he says, “to see a whole navy at once.”

One day in 1958, when Mellone was 15, he was stopped by a young American naval officer who needed directions. Lieutenant Thomas Gorman—whose own childhood was spent near the waterfront on Manhattan’s East Side—was stationed on the USS Elokomin, a fleet oiler that refueled in Naples. “We started to talk,” says Mellone, and through broken Italian and English, hand gestures and facial expressions, they recognized a mutual fascination with all things nautical.

The two met again about three months later. Gorman, who was on deck duty, noticed Mellone pacing the pier. Leaning over the rail, Gorman called out, “Antonio, you want to come aboard?”

It was Mellone’s first time on a ship. “I was looking up and down, all around, asking all kinds of questions,” he says. The engine room fascinated him most. “It was something that made me feel a dream came true,” Mellone says.

Gorman spent another year on the USS Elokomin, but did not cross paths again with his younger friend.

Mellone earned an accounting degree at a university in Naples and met his future wife, Lilliana, at a local dance. Seeking a better life, the couple moved to America in 1966, settling in Brooklyn, where Lilliana had family.

Mellone found work with A.G. Ship Maintenance Corporation cleaning ships in New York Harbor. Destined for bigger things, he quickly ascended to the company’s presidency. When the firm relocated to Newark, Mellone set out to convince his wife they should move with their five children to suburban New Jersey. “She said, ‘I see no houses over there, only trees,’” says Mellone. “So we got a real estate agent and started to see the houses hiding between the trees, and then we started to see how beautiful is New Jersey.” In 1981, they settled in Lincroft.

Gorman rose through the naval ranks to serve as the surface operations officer on the staff of the Eastern Sea Frontier under Admiral John S. McCain Jr. He met his future wife, Marie, a nurse, in 1959. A year later, they married and headed to Lincroft, where they would raise their two kids. Before retiring in 1974, Gorman got involved with the state’s application to bring the USS New Jersey to Jersey City. The battleship ended up in Camden, but to this day, Gorman lobbies for it to be moved north.

In 1992, Mellone decided to sell his wife’s old green Lincoln Continental. “Somebody called me, wanted to see the car,” he says. “I gave him the address. The guy came around.” After haggling over the price, the stranger handed Mellone a business card with the image of the USS New Jersey. The two began to talk ships, and suddenly, a gap of 34 years was closed. “We met again,” says Mellone. Without knowing it, they had lived three miles apart for more than a decade.

The two have remained close, celebrating good times with the occasional glass of wine and counseling each other after the deaths of their spouses.

Gorman has encouraged Mellone to continue his miniature ship building, which now includes a more refined fleet of sailboats and a complete navy. Both men have owned real boats, but they’ve never sailed together. Still, they share an unbreakable bond. “We’re waterfront guys,” says Gorman.

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