In Memory

Serge Yonov - Class Of 1957 VIEW PROFILE

Over the course of his life, Serge (Sergey in Russian) completed many journeys in thought, time and space, but the most important was his journey in time from the Soviet Union to America and back.  Except for a small administrative problem in the Russian Orthodox Church, Serge’s family would have become Argentines instead of Americans.  Before the US entered WWII, Stalin made his infamous pact with Hitler and the Germans took over the Baltic republics of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.  Since neither leader was a reliable keeper of treaties Stalin’s armies were soon pushing into Latvia where Sergey’s grandfather had established a church and where his father, The Right Reverend Alexis Yonov had a church in Riga.  The Soviets arrived with a price on Father Yonov’s head for having re-opened churches on Soviet territory.  The family stayed as long as possible.  Serge’s younger brother Cyril (’59) remembers bursting shrapnel and bombs blowing out church windows.

The Yonovs had no choice but to leave with the retreating German armies.  They boarded an overloaded ferry from Riga to Danzig, a German and now Polish port on the Baltic.  They went overland to Berlin. 

As the Soviets were closing in on Berlin, they made their way south into Austria.  In the small village of Mondsee south of Salzburg Father Yonov's daughter Tatiana ('62) was born. Father Yonov held Orthodox services in the St. Maria of Pilzburg Catholic church when its masses had finished. 

When the war ended, the Yonovs took a place on the immigration lists for Argentina because the quotas for the US were full.  As they traveled north toward the departure port of Bremerhaven, word reached Father Alexis that the Orthodox Metropolitan in New York needed a replacement for the old and retiring priest at Our Lady of Kazan in Sea Cliff, the small, brown shingled, onion domed church near the bottom of Littleworth Lane.

The family boarded the SS Marine Swallow with some 600 other passengers and set out across the north Atlantic in hurricane season.  The ship narrowly missed a head on encounter with a category 4 hurricane by increasing normal cruising speed to 21 knots, but seas were heavy and all the furniture was lashed down.  Capt. Elisha Cooper said of the spectacular red skies, Such skies are seen in the Orient, but it was the first time I ever saw them in the North Atlantic.” (NY Times, 9/17/48)  The Yonovs disembarked into the cavernous reception hall of Ellis Island.  In New York City with the staff of the Metropolitan the boys, Cyril and Serge had their first American meal—Nabisco Shredded Wheat.  A few days later they arrived in Sea Cliff.

Nine year old Serge had attended first grade in Germany, but to learn English he started a few grades behind and joined our class a year or two later.  By graduation he had participated in half the clubs the school offered, served as Student Council treasurer, and earned his letters in track, soccer, and wrestling. In soccer he made the all-scholastic team. 

He left Sea Cliff with a full four year scholarship from the Li Foundation, one of two given that year, and entered Colorado School of Mines.  For his junior year he transferred to Washington University in DC and, with an International Relations major, he began the intellectual part of his life’s journey.  To take him physically as well as intellectually on the journey he joined the US Navy.  While earning his Masters of Science degree he met his future wife Gail who had finished her bachelor’s in French Literature and returned to her home in nearby Pebble Beach.  They married in June 1970.  With Serge often at sea on destroyers, they lived wherever he was based whether that was California, Rhode Island or Hawaii.  In Rhode Island he served alongside Commander Pete Marnane (’55) and Lt. Commander Todd Allen (’59), Jane Allen’s brother. Their daughter Helen Alexis was born in 1979 and enjoyed the domestic and foreign travel the Navy required.  Between sea duties, Serge began to serve as Naval Attaché at US embassies.  He was our first naval attaché in Kuala Lumpur.  His last foreign duty he served as naval attaché in Moscow under ambassadors Robert Strauss and Jack Matlock, thus becoming our last attaché in the USSR and the first in the new Russia. 

Serge also taught at the prestigious Naval War College from 88-90 and again at the end of his career in ’92-3, and he was an invited lecturer at Brasenose College, Oxford.  He had the special honor of attending the Naval Command College which gathers together one participant from the highest naval ranks in a variety of countries from Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America.  They participate as equals to learn about US naval thinking and explain their own thinking.  Serge’s wife, Gail Root, serves as a regional director of the Naval War College Foundation and says the Command College is “One of the few places where, if there’s a possibility of peace in this world, men from dif countries can meet each other in a neutral ground.”  Many participants go on to become admirals and even chiefs of state. 

When Serge was naval attaché in Moscow he went back to Latvia.  In Riga and on the train to the town where his grandfather had a church he met people who remembered both his father and grandfather.  In ’92 Cyril and his wife Carol visited Serge in Moscow and traveled to Latvia where they met by cousins, visited Cyril’s birthplace, and attended a memorial service memorial at their grandfather’s grave. 

After retiring from the service, Serge began consulting for businesses exploring trade with Russia.  Serge and Gail’s daughter Alexis, after graduating from Emerson University in Boston went to Los Angeles where she learned the film business and has become a writer and director.  Although Serge met an early death in 2004, he had had the satisfaction of returning to his roots as a free man, reuniting with his family.  He continued serving his country while watching the Soviet Union that had launched him on his path to American citizenship and all his achievements fell apart under the weight of its own oppressive system.

Below four people who knew Serge well remember him.

John Storojev.

We had a complicated relationship that swung between  affection and dislike.  I guess we were very competitive in those days: for girls, for honors, for sports. You name it. It wasn’t much fun, in retrospect.  Serge came from a strict Russian Orthodox upbringing, which was my background as well.  So we understood each other on a deeper level I think.  I was an alter boy at his father’s church, and I remember him lording it over us because of his status there.  He had a lot going on with the pull of his strict father and the demands of the school and an American society.  At one point he was very close to my younger sister and there was a real danger that he could have ended up as my brother-in-law.  Imagine that! I am glad he made a name for himself in Naval intelligence and as a commander of a naval vessel.  I tried over the years to find out what he was doing, but only got snatches of information from the effort.  I was distraught to learn of his untimely death.


Peter Rose (’59).  [Peter sent the following vignette in notes about athletes.  Peter was a classmate of Serge’s younger brother Cyril.  Peter graduated from college and became a Green Beret before embarking on a lifelong career as a journalist.]

Wearing my Army Class A's and beret, about to ship out to Europe, I was with Charlie Hartman in Greenwich Village and ran into Serge and his girlfriend in one of those little places that doesn't have a sign on the door. I never forgot the girl. Absolutely gorgeous and so sad about Serge leaving, also for an overseas assignment.


Pete Marnane (Class of ’55):  “I knew of Serge Yonov’s death and actually attended his funeral.  We saw Serge and Gail frequently when we were both stationed here in the Newport RI area.  At one point in the early 80’s, we had command of sister ships in Newport and later both of us had tours at the Naval War College.” 


Stories of Captain Serge A. Yonov by Pietro Savo

I reported for duty on-board the U.S.S. Connole (FF-1056) around late January 1980. Captain Yonov took command February 1980 while dockedin Catania, Sicily. The previous captain, Captain Fijak kept to himself; he did not interact with the enlisted crew. This had been my first shipboard deployment, and I genuinely thought that was normal. Once Captain Yonov assumed command this all changed. The line was still drawn between enlisted and commissioned.  However, something had changed.  True leadership creates positive change and a positive environment for change. Captain Yonov would speak with us not only about our duties on board the Connole, he would talk about family, hobbies, and things that were important to us. He understood the utmost importance of relationship and true team building. He understood that creating a closely bound community like a naval ship, depended on mutual binding relationships.


On a small frigate like the Connole you knew quickly who you liked or disliked, who you trusted, or distrusted. Captain Yonov encouraged trust built on relationships, from shipboard duties, to the ship's softball team, and the daily news briefing we called Fish-Eye News. Fish-Eye News was televised on the ship network; it was more crew members making fun of other crew members than real news. Sometimes very funny, sometimes not so funny. We worked hard and played hard and that was the Captain’s and our definition of the team.


We spent a great deal of time at sea, and it seemed an equal amount of awesome time on the beach in port somewhere. . . . When we ran into the Captain during liberty, he always did not want us to fuss over him. We would jump to attention or attempt to solute him, he would wave us off. I remember on a liberty boat in Naples Italy, I had shore patrol duty that night; we had a sailor spread across four seats. The captain came on board, when I attempted to clear a seat for the captain, he said don't bother, I can stand. That is the type of leader he was, mutual respect was the norm and we all felt it.


On Connole's Bridge, you knew who was in charge; his leadership style was to encourage others to lead, from the officer of the deck to the enlisted crew members. During port entry and port exit I was the Combat Information Center (CIC) Bridge Phone Talker. My job was to take information from the radarscope operator in CIC and track, plot surface ship contacts. Yell out this information officer of deck and Captain could navigate around them.  Early in my career as a CIC Bridge Phone Talker Captain Yonov told me it was not necessary to yell out all the surface contacts, only the ones I felt were important and posed a threat to the ship.


The Captain’s request went against my training.  What I did not realize until later, the Captain always encouraged his crew to think on their feet.  He motivated us by trusting us. I can to this day remember him asking me with his slight Russian accent, “What do you think Petty Officer Savo, should I be worried about that contact?”  One particular morning while transiting the Strait of Messina, I had just come off the mid-watch. Attempting to get some rest, I was summoned to the Bridge; Captain Yonov apologized for waking me up. He said that not having me on the Bridge during the Strait of Messina transit made him uncomfortable. He also gave me the next 72 hours off when we were done. Respect created respect and our crew protected each other at sea and on the bridge.


Captain Yonov often discussed our families and my future in the United States Navy. I told him I was engaged to be married and felt the Navy would be difficult on a marriage. My fiancée's dad was a WW2 Navy Sailor and Captain Yonov invited my future father-in-law to ride aboard the Connole from Manhattan to Newport. Harold Gorman was invited to the Bridge by the Captain, sat in the captain's chair and Captain Yonov began explaining why it would be a fantastic career for Petty Officer Savo to stay in the Navy.  A little background on Harold Gorman, he has never been shy or soft spoken. Harold told the Captain that he was speaking to the wrong person.  The person you want to have the Naval career discussion with is my daughter Patty. The Captain smiled and went to his business of guiding his ship up the east river into Long Island sound into Newport.


Chasing a Foxtrot Russian submarine, the last story, when this occurred I was on duty in CIC. I remember the Captain asking the CIC duty officer if he thought the Foxtrot we were tracking knew we were here. Absolutely said the duty officer.  I agree, said the Captain. The Connole had an underwater telephone.  The captain went over to it and asked in Russian,that the Foxtrot  surface and the sub did. That is where the famous U.S.S. Connole (FF- 1056) shadows a "Foxtrot" class submarine photograph came from.






Click here to see Serge's last Profile entry.