The Daily Gazette
Local News
Wednesday, 15-Apr-1998 13:00:04 EDT

Warship opening for tours

Limited visits aboard restored USS Slater begin Sunday at port

Gazette Reporter

ALBANY - The destroyer escort USS Slater toured the Atlantic and Pacific in World War II, served the Greek navy and logged more than 600,000 nautical miles. Today it rests in its new berth on the Hudson River.

Aboard, crews of volunteers scrape, paint and toil to restore the gray warship and prepare it for Sunday, when the ship opens for topside tours for the first time since October when it arrived at the Port of Albany from New York Harbor.

"This is the last place you can go in the country and see a destroyer escort. Our goal is to restore it just as it was in WWII," said Tim Rizzuto, the ship's superintendent and curator.

The USS Slater is the only destroyer escort in the country with its original armaments and Rizzuto wants to make it one of the premier historic naval ships on display in the country.

He hopes to transform the ship into a sort of nautical time capsule - so realistic that visitors feel like they've stepped back to 1945 when they walk down the gangway.

Recreating the ship's details - like the bunk beds in the living quarters and radio equipment - will give visitors a glimpse of day-to-day life aboard a destroyer escort, he said.

And the mission is a painstaking one when you consider the ship is 306 feet long, 37 feet at its widest point (three of them could fit into the Titanic) and carried 218 officers and seamen.

Made of steel plate, the ship weighs 1,200 tons. Parts of its innards are in disarray, its engines are silent, and Rizzuto has mapped out a four-year restoration schedule to revamp it.

Initially, ship tours will be limited to the top deck, said Rizzuto.

On Sunday, visitors will be able to stare down an anti-aircraft gun, and check out the long-range cannons, the depth charge rack and antisubmarine charges.

Or they can view the pilot house, wardroom, galley and mess decks and scan the Hudson River from the deck of the Slater.

"This ship is like the Model T. Once there were so many and now there are so few left," said Rizzuto, who was previously supervisor of the USS Kidd in Baton Rouge, La.

He said Albany and the Capital Region are fortunate to have the ship docked permanently in the Hudson River.

More than six tons of equipment, including bunk beds, battle lanterns and light fixtures, were salvaged from across the country and brought on board the USS Slater during the last few months so the ship can reflect its 1945 environment, said Rizzuto.

The state office of Emergency Management provided a diesel generator to provide electricity and the New York National Guard provided a wrecker truck with a crane to get the generator aboard.

Local volunteers have been painting, scraping rust and restoring lighting and wiring on the ship; they are continuing the work started when the ship was docked at Pier 84 in New York Harbor.

Destroyer escorts, like the USS Slater, were built in the beginning of the war to escort larger ships through U-boat infested waters of the Atlantic and Pacific.

The ship is one of three remain- ing destroyer escorts of the 565 built between 1942 and 1945, according to the Destroyer Escort Historical Foundation.

Such ships became expendable and after an average 20-year life cycle were sold for scrap metal for about $300,000, said Rizzuto.

They disappeared at an alarming rate and the foundation, founded by the Destroyer Escort Sailors Association, dedicated itself to saving and restoring them.

The USS Slater was built in a shipyard in Tampa, Fla., and was launched in February 1944, commissioned May 1, 1944, and operated in the Atlantic and Pacific. It was named for Seaman Frank Slater of Alabama, a gunner's mate aboard the cruiser USS San Francisco, who was killed in 1942 during the Guadalcanal fighting. Slater shot down a Japanese aircraft, which crashed into his gun position, killing him.

He was awarded the Navy Cross for gallantry.

The USS Slater also fought in the battles for Saipan and Okinawa.

In 1951, as part of a defense provision of the Truman Doctrine, the ship was given to the Greek navy and for 42 of its 49 years, the Greek flag flew on its mast and the ship was named Aetos, or eagle. The ship was even used in several feature films, including "The Guns of Navarone."

In 1993, the Destroyer Escort Historical Foundation raised $275,000 to bring the ship back to the United States.

Since September 1993, it served as a floating museum in the Intrepid complex in New York City.

Col. Kevin M. Lynch, manager of historical properties for the state Division of Military and Naval Affairs, said negotiations began in May 1997 with the city to get the ship to Albany. "The historical foundation was looking for a site for the ship where it would get the attention it deserves and where the community was of a sufficient size and had interest. I thought Albany would be a good site," said Lynch, who also serves as vice president of the foundation.

Negotiations moved quickly, he said, and the Albany Local Development Corp agreed to donate $20,000. In October, the USS Slater was towed 124 miles from New York Harbor to Albany.

Lynch said it's estimated the ship will bring $1.3 million into the local economy each year as a result of tours by veterans and others and could provide an anchor for revitalization of the waterfront. "This will be a plus to this region, it will boost the military culture and visitors will go to other nearby tourist attractions," he said.

There are several local Slater veterans, including Ed Lavin of Schenectady, who served aboard the ship in May 1944 for 17 days. He went to the Port of Albany in October to welcome the ship to its new home.

Inaugural tours Sunday at the Port of Albany are from noon to 4 p.m., and ticket prices are $4 for adults and $2 for children. Children under 6 can tour for free. Advance tickets are available at the Albany Visitors Center.

Tickets will also be available every Sunday at the ship. The tickets will be good for one return visit within one year.

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New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs: The Daily Gazette, 15 April 98, Open for Tours
posted: 21 April 1998 (mjs)