Yes, indeed, our ship has come in
The USS 'Slater' is seen as the anchor for a revitalized waterfrontMIKE HUREWITZ
ABOARD THE USS SLATER -- It was a gray ghost from another era, the last of the destroyer escorts afloat in the U.S., gliding toward Albany Sunday with the old sailors and their memories of kamikaze attacks, rolling seas and Nazi submarines.
The USS Slater was bound for a star-spangled welcome at the Port of Albany where it will be remain for the winter while being renovated for its final berth next spring as a tourist attraction at the Corning Preserve.
Dignitaries, including Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings and U.S. Rep. Michael McNulty, a Green Island Democrat, were among those on hand -- complete with gospel choir and marching band -- to welcome the 306-foot World War II-era warship. There was even talk of an economic boost to the city from utilizing the ship as a floating museum. A crowd five deep broke into applause as the warship slid into port, pennants flying, horn sounding and ranks of naval personnel standing at attention on the starboard railing.
But the day was as much about the past as the future as the Slater's anti-aircraft guns, long range cannons, depth-charge rack and hedgehog anti-submarine charges gave silent testimony to historic events.
And the old destroyer-escort veterans, on the Slater and its sister ships in the same class, gave voice to what the flaking paint and creaking bolts were whispering.
Destroyer escorts were designed at the beginning of the war to counter the German U-boat submarine threat, according to Martin Davis, executive director of the Destroyer Escort Historical Foundation, which owns the ship.
The warship's mission was to protect the merchant and troop convoys from submarine attack. Smaller and more agile than destroyers, they were churned out in great numbers and with little armor. Built with only three-eighths-inch armor, they were considered expendable. But with a flank speed of 23 knots and high maneuverability, they were also considered formidable.
The USS Slater was commissioned May 11, 1944 and saw action in both the North Atlantic and, after retrofitting, the last few months of the campaign in the South Pacific. It was one of the luckier ships in its class, narrowly escaping a torpedo attack while making a trek up the Atlantic coast from Florida to its home port in New York, according to Charles Lewis of Wrens, Ga., one of seven Slater veterans on hand for the ceremony.
Crew member Ed Lavine, 75, of Utica, a Schenectady native, almost paid the ultimate price when a flash fire broke out in the Slater's engine room on May 1, 1944, shortly before it was commissioned. Severe burns put him in the hospital for several months, and then it was back to active duty on other vessels.
"Except for needing some paint, it looks like the old Slater,'' he said in a voice filled with emotion and pride moments after the three tugboats pulling it guided it into its temporary berth at the Port of Albany.
Ernie M. Knudsen of Long Island, on the Slater during its three-day journey up the Hudson from her berth near the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid in New York City, spent his naval career on destroyer escorts with harrowing results.
He said he was on a destroyer escort dropping depth charges on mid-Atlantic convoy duty when a U-boat, crippled and leaking oil, burst to the surface.
As the submariners raced to their 40mm gun on deck, Knudsen opened fire with his twin 20mm barrels as others fired on the conning tower, sending the sub to the bottom of the ocean.
Knudsen was torpedoed and his DE sunk in the North Atlantic, and would say little about it, leaving his moistened eyes to tell most of the tale, except to add, "to this day, I don't like to go into the water.''
Then, returning to the present, he glanced at the Slater and said, "I was in nine years. This is like home,'' and as he proudly rang the ship's polished brass bell he added, "There isn't a DE man alive that wouldn't want to trade places with me to make this historical trip up to Albany to put it back into shape.''
The Slater is named in honor of Frank Slater, an enlisted sailor, who was killed in 1942 aboard the USS San Francisco during the Battle of Guadalcanal. Reports say Slater fearlessly continued to fire his anti-aircraft gun at an attacking enemy plane even as the Japanese pilot approached and crashed into his position.
After the war the Slater was decomissioned and sent to port in Florida. In 1950, the ship was given to Greece as part of the Truman Doctrine, which aided the fight against worldwide communism. Redesignated Aetos-01, it remained part of the Hellenic Navy until the Destroyer Escort Historical Foundation purchased it in 1991 for $270,000 and brought it back to New York harbor, where it has sat in the shadows of the Intrepid -- also a floating museum.
The Slater was brought to Albany through a combination of government environmental and economic development grants and will be funded in part through visitor revenues and private donations.
First published on Monday, October 27, 1997
Reprinted with permission of the Times Union
Copyright 1997, Times Union, Albany, N.Y.
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