The Daily Gazette
Local News
Monday, 20-Apr-1998 12:27:12 EDT

Dozens tour USS Slater

Rain mars opening of destroyer escort display in Albany

Gazette Reporter

ALBANY - Five-year-old Ian Waite scrunched up his face as he used all his might - and a little help from Dad - to turn a wheel on the destroyer escort USS Slater.

As the wheel turned, a gun platform rotated on the top deck of the 306-foot-long ship, docked at the Port of Albany.

"I was up high. It was like I was going to drive the whole ship," said Ian, the hood of his blue raincoat shielding his head from the steady rain Sunday afternoon.

The Waites, from Ballston Lake, were four of the hundred or so visitors to be guided through the 53-year-old ship despite the elements.

"I think the rain adds to it. You get a better feeling for what the sailors had to live through," said Grace Waite.

"It made you more aware of what these guys had to go through," said Ray Waite. "Just the danger of it."

Danger came from all fronts - air, land and sea - but the USS Slater escorted larger ships through submarine territory in the Atlantic and Pacific during World War II and later served the Greek navy.

"What would have happened if one of these started to go down? Would another nearby ship pick everyone up?" Ray Waite asked.

"If they were in battle, sayonara," said Ken Kaskoun, a volunteer tour guide in the pilot house area of the ship.

In the pilot house, compasses and a host of buttons and levers were used to control practically everything on the ship, from engine speed to rudder direction.

In that small space, helmsmen took orders from captains, whose quarters were close by.

"Where is the captain, Mommy?" asked 3-year-old Jocelyn Waite, her ponytail peeking out of the hood of her red raincoat.

"He's probably retired now," Grace Waite answered.

In the galley, similar in size to an apartment kitchen, one cook and three assistants would prepare meals for 200-plus men on board.

Even jobs such as those were dangerous on the high seas. Violent waves could toss cooks about the small room, bumping them into scorching griddles, said Lorraine Kaskoun, a volunteer tour guide.

Soups, stews and oatmeal were prepared in large caldrons, then carried down a flight of narrow stairs to a dining area. Unlucky sailors standing at the bottom of the stairs during unsteady voyages would often wear that evening's meal.

"When the weather was bad, they made sandwiches," Kaskoun said.

The executive officers of the ship ate dinner in the officers wardroom, complete with formal silverware and a stately dining table - unless there was a medical emergency, explained volunteer tour guide Kevin Lynch.

The dining table doubled as a surgery table, with surgery lamps looming brightly above dinner plates and Life magazines.

"This is good exposure for the kids to learn more about history," said Susan Copeland of Lake George as she looked to her son, Josh, and daughter, Amanda.

"My father's a World War II veteran and we picked the first Sunday to come right down," said Tim Copeland, referring to his father, Frank.

The USS Slater is one of only three remaining destroyer escorts of the 565 built from 1942 to 1945, according to the Destroyer Escort Historical Foundation.

Curators have plans to restore the rest of the ship and make it a nautical time capsule of sorts, for both the young who have known no war and for those who lived through it, like Frank Copeland.

Copeland quietly looked over every nook and cranny of the ship, listening intently as volunteer tour guides told him what he already knew.

"This really takes you back in time," he said.

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New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs: The Daily Gazette, 20 April 98, Dozens Visit
posted: 21 April 1998 (mjs)