The Newsletter of the USS SLATER's Volunteers
By Timothy C. Rizzuto, Executive Director
Destroyer Escort Historical Museum
Phone (518) 431-1943, Fax 432-1123
Saturday, 31 January. Before I leave the house, I turn on the computer and log in to check the temperature. Remember when we used to look at the outdoor thermometer? Those days are over. It’s one degree above zero. I look at the ten-day forecast and Monday night we’re supposed to see -10°. With a -5° and a -7° thrown in next week for good measure.
I look at the date and it’s 31 January. Time to write SIGNALS. And, as the kids say these days, “I’ve got nothing.” Reminds me of a “Seinfeld” episode I saw a long time ago.
I pack up my lunch, along with the breakfast fixings, load the car, and head off for the ship. The roads aren’t bad. One accident on a ramp due to black ice. I’m the first one there, so I get to unlock the gate. The lock is frozen. This is what Erik Collin deals with most mornings. He keeps a propane torch in his car. I’ve learned to put my gloves on and hold the lock for a couple minutes. Body heat will thaw it. In the gate, Erik is right behind me. He uses his propane torch to open the lock on the gangway gate. It’s cold enough that the furnace is making smoke come out of the stack. That’s good news, because it means the heat is working okay. Looks like we’re ready to get underway too.
A quick check of things shows the ship riding well. Draft marks are fine. Totally iced-in, except the areas around the Kasko circulators, which run 24 hours a day now. The ship has developed a slight list to starboard as a result of ice building up under the stern. She rides that high out of the water. There’s a lot of strain on the spring lines leading forward, because of the ice pressure on the bow. Also, the fenders have frozen to the monopiles, and no longer float with the tide. That’s adding to the strain.
The lock on the quarterdeck door isn’t frozen. That’s a nice surprise. Then it’s straight to the galley. The only part of the ship we heat during the winter is forward, and the galley isn’t ducted into that system. So I go to the messdecks for a couple gallons of water, put on one pot for cooking, and one pot for cleaning.
Erik works his way though the ship, and turns on the electric heaters in the aft machinery spaces and the steering engine room, so those spaces will be warm when the volunteers come in. In an unusual turn of events, Erik puts the coffee on. Doug Tanner used to be our breakfast cook, but he smartened up and doesn’t come in until 0900. Then, for a while Erik was doing blueberry pancakes, but that died. Now, it’s on me. I pull out the electric skillet, chop up some sausage with scissors, and start cooking. Thomas Scian is next aboard. I task him with chopping up the onions and green peppers, while I beat a dozen eggs. Salt, pepper, and onion powder. The breakfast bunch staggers in. First Sheedy, then Boats Haggart, followed by Super Dave.
They continue to stray in. Karl Herchenroder, Paul Guarnieri, Barry Witte, Bill Wetterau, Tulsa Scott, Ken Powers, Jerry Jones, and Joe Breyer. They slowly break into teams. Because Sheedy has an electric heater in the steering motor room, suddenly his project becomes the place where everyone wants to work. Barry, Tulsa, Ken, and Karl head down to B-3 and the firemain project. Boats, who is just recovering from walking pneumonia, elects to sew on the wardroom sofa cushions in the CPO mess. Super Dave goes to work on the scuttle project in the machine shop. Erik and Paul are scaling the messdecks hatch. Just about the time everyone finally turns to, Tanner arrives and pipes “Coffee break in the CPO mess!”
Seeing as it’s too cold to do anything else, Doug, Sheedy and Super Dave elect to try and repair the massive plasma cutter that’s been taking up space in the machine shop for the last ten years. After two hours of head scratching and tracing schematics, they decide the thing is a basket case. They strip it of all useable parts, pull out the copper coils and put it on the scrap heap. Then they set about making repairs to the long-neglected welding leads.
Speaking of research, USS Slater Trustee Robert Cross, author of Shepherds of the Sea: Destroyer Escorts in World War II and Sailor in the White House: the Seafaring Life of FDR, is working on a new book exploring activities in and around East Coast seaports during World War II. And he is looking for a little help from our readers to locate individuals who would like to be interviewed for his new book. Specifically, he is looking for people with recollections of activities along Albany’s waterfront during the war years. If you have memories of those years in the Capital District, including activities at the Port of Albany, Bob would be interested in speaking with you. You can contact him through his web page, www.robertfcross.com, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by sending your contact information to us here at SLATER.
This month we bid farewell to a great shipmate, Don Miller. Don crossed the bar on Friday, January 2nd, following a long illness. Don first showed up to volunteer with his buddy Earl Herchenroder, in the fall of 2005. He hardly missed a Monday since, and made every river crossing. Don had been a storekeeper aboard the Fletcher class can, USS HICKOX DD-673, in the fifties. He was 83 when he passed away, and one of those guys who would do any job you needed. Born and raised in Albany, he was a true native son. He graduated from Albany High School, and then went on to Hudson Valley Community College before starting his career with the State of New York. There he worked as a mechanical estimator, from which he retired in 1994, after 28 years of service. He leaves a hole in our crew that will never be filled.
This time of year, a lot of our energy goes into thanking you for your support in getting us through the winter. Each morning, Rosehn Gipe makes the run to the post office and opens up another stack of donation envelopes. She passes them on to Erik Collin, who enters each donation into the computer under the donor’s name. Then Erik generates the thank-you letters, and passes them on to me for signing. It’s one of the most rewarding things I do. As has been the case since USS SLATER arrived in Albany, your response to our 2015 Winter Fund solicitation has been overwhelming. Since the drive began in October we have reached over $40,000 in donated support. But it’s not just about the money. The letters and notes we get with your donations make this one of the most satisfying undertakings you can imagine.
I want to thank all of you who have already contributed. If you haven’t donated we need your support. For those of you who receive this newsletter online, and don't get the return envelope, you can participate by downloading our donation form and simply marking it “winter fund.” Place it in an envelope addressed to USS SLATER, PO Box 1926, Albany, NY 12201-1926. Or, you can click the “Donate” button on ourwebsite home page and contribute via PayPal
As I sign the “Thank you” letters, I can’t help but feel encouraged by the number of your kids and grandkids that are now sending donations. They are the future of the Museum and USS SLATER. Many of their parents have passed on, but they had the opportunity to share a sliver of their Naval experience. Passing on to your kids why the SLATER is part of your life, and why you continue to support us, may be the single most significant thing you can do for this ship. We can’t all work in the bilges or aloft anymore, but we would if we could. Tell your family and friends how much you value USS SLATER. This ship has become your legacy, and part of the legacy of your family. Let your kids know that. It could be the most important thing you can do for USS SLATER.