Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Anchors Aweigh

Here's a little sea story for you. Pictures, and text, of how I sometimes spend my vacation time. I hope you enjoy the side trip.

This is me in 1973:

(U.S.S. Dehaven, Long Beach CA)

This is a later version of me just a few years ago:
(U.S.S. Laffey, Mount Pleasant, SC)

I'm off for a few days, taking a trip up to Buffalo New York to participate in a working field day aboard the Navy destroyer, USS The Sullivans (DD-537) which is now a museum ship.

The "Sully"

I used to do this every year as a member of the destroyer veterans organization; TinCan Sailors.

(me, waving from the back row)

Most people are unaware of the fact that the third largest fleet (currently) in the world, is the historic fleet, that is, ships of all nations (mostly U.S.) that are preserved as museum ships.

I've been helping out as a field day participant since 1996, first aboard the Gearing class destroyer, U.S.S. Joseph P. Kennedy (DD-850) in Fall River Mass.

It was a real deja vu weekend, walking the passageways of a ship that was utterly identical to my second ship (back when I was in the Navy) the U.S.S. Higbee (DD-806). It was both a little weird and a lot of fun.

Closer to home (when I lived in Michigan) was the U.S.S. LST 393.

This amphibious ship was part of the Normandy invasion and then in civilian life was converted over to a Great Lakes car-carrier. I think the 393 is still undergoing a very long process to return to WWII livery as a museum ship in Muskegon Michigan.

Here I am doing overhead work in the well-deck of the 393...
and chipping paint on the pilot house door:

I've also helped out on the U.S.S. Laffey (DD-724) in Mt. Pleasant South Carolina...

the sister-ship and spittin' image of my first ship the U.S.S. Dehaven (DD-727). I did two field day weekends aboard the Laffey and made the acquaintance of one of the finest guys I've ever known, retired senior chief petty officer Vic Fletcher, who has since gone to his celestial reward.

Vic was the Chief engineer at Patriot's Point just outside of Charleston. He was responsible for the upkeep of, among other things, a Coast Guard cutter, a submarine. a destroyer, and an aircraft carrier; all museum ships. He was really outstanding at what he did. As a crew boss he worked his volunteers really hard, and then fed them really well. You never found yourself with nothing to do for want of instructions or tools. Vic really knew how to maximize the efforts of his volunteers.

That's Vic in the center of this jolly group, Jim Sehey (bottom left) is a National Park Service Volunteer at Cowpens (I think). Vic actually served aboard the Laffey when they both were on active duty.

Here's my favorite shot of Vic as I was leaving the Laffey. Vic is on a bollard, what he referred to as his "favorite seat".

This is the last time I saw one of the nicest guys I ever knew.

Aside from the endless sea-stories, catfish fries, adult beverage consumption, and general fun, an enormous amount of preservation work occurs during these working field days. Imagine yourself the curator of an historic vessel and every year thirty guys show up with pickup trucks full of tools, materials, and often spare parts (don't ask) to spend three intensive days chipping, painting, welding, patching, splicing, calibrating, and generally putting your ship right. Its like getting a major grant! When the weekend is over the shipmates return to their far-flung homes and the ship is always in much better material condition than it was prior to that whirl-wind of elbow grease.

Check out the before and after shots of this interior bulkhead. This is the "veggie locker", part of the galley on the Sullivans. Rust and rot were having their way with this space:

Three days later it looked shipyard new, This is typical of the sweat and attention to detail that these veterans apply to the task:

Yes, there's some clowning around by the occasional doofus(that's the battleship Massachusetts in the background, also a museum ship). But everybody else works very, very hard. That's Retired Chief Boatswains Mate, Ron Black (below) making a splice.

Its a real treat to call a guy like this "shipmate" even if only for one weekend a year.

I always really enjoyed these events. It felt great to be doing something so worthwhile, alongside such a great bunch of guys, on these remarkable steel veterans of so many oceans.

However, I've taken the past four years off as I redirected my life. other things, including relocating to Maryland and starting a whole new life and career intervened. And that life has been very, very good.

But now, I've got a hankerin' to get back aboard for a weekend of work and bullshooting with other former destroyermen.

Here is part one of a YouTube I produced on the subject. This, as well as part two , will give you a really good idea of what these events are all about. I hope you enjoy watching them as much as I enjoyed making them.

I'll post my next helmet entry Monday (Aug 25)

Until then I leave you with this:

That's beard used to be much darker than my helmet...must be the camera.

(former radioman) Mannie

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