Tough commodore had soft heart, sense of humor
Harry Wu / 1926-2006
American Hawaii Cruises Commodore Harry Wu turned heads when he showed up wearing a pink shower cap at his crew mate's bridal shower held on the SS Constitution 18 years ago.
Susan Van-Beek, crew member and then the bride aboard the SS Constitution, said, "He wanted to run a tight ship. ... If we didn't wear those ridiculous navy hats, he'd scold us and say in a strong Chinese accent, 'You wear your hat!'"
So when a shower cap replaced Wu's navy hat that day, topping off his crisp uniform, everyone at the bridal shower did not know how to react -- until he did. His eyes widened and he cracked a subtle smile, sending a roar of laughter throughout the ship.
"No one expected him to do that, and no one realized he had such a great sense of humor," Van-Beek said.
Wu died June 8 at his Las Vegas home. He was 79.
Wu was born in Amoy, China. In 1945 he was a student selected to enroll in the British Royal Navy. He served aboard the HMS Renown and HMS Aurora.
He graduated from the Chinese Naval Academy, served on several vessels and underwent training at U.S. naval bases in Yokosuka, Japan, and Subic Bay, Philippines. He came to the United States in 1964 and served as master of merchant ships.
Wu oversaw 300 crew members and 800 passengers aboard the SS Constitution and SS Independence for more than 18 years -- a job he took very seriously. Routine uniform inspections of his crew and safety drills gave Wu a reputation for being a strict commodore, Van-Beek said.
Wu, in fact, did have a soft side, wife Annie Wu said. After the cruise line went bankrupt in 2001, the couple moved to Las Vegas, where they enjoyed ballroom dancing and watching their favorite romantic movies every weekend.
He treated Annie Wu's three daughters like his own, his wife said. The couple prepared a Chinese feast with her daughters once a week in their Las Vegas home. Harry Wu even played a role as grandpa to his stepdaughters' children.
Van-Beek and her husband, Nicolas Van-Beek, always knew there was a gentleness to Wu despite his often rigid commands. When Nicolas was going to visit his dying mother in California, Wu pleaded with the cruise line's vice president to let Nicholas' future wife, Susan, go with him so she could meet her future mother-in-law. She was allowed to visit.
"I was crying in the hallway outside of the vice president's office," Nicolas said. "I just remember hearing him say, 'Please, have a heart, please.'"