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Yard Birds Save Buns!

During a phone conversation with Ed Simpson EM1, who was a SLATER crew member during 1944 and 1945, he related an interesting sea story (or was it a port story?) concerning the SLATER.

It seems that there is a small controversy (at least in one man's mind) about whether the Destroyer Escort returned to the Hudson River by DESA is indeed the USS SLATER! It is true that several DEs were transferred to the Greek Navy along with the SLATER. An ex-crewmember of one of the other DEs has asserted the ship now docked in Albany is his old ship and not the SLATER. Now, to the casual observer, one DE might look just like another and after 55 years memories can be forgiven for fading just a little, but Simpson's memory is sharp and clear and he claims incontrovertible proof of the SLATER's identity!

Simpson recalls that while SLATER was in the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1944, a pair of yard birds with flashlights awakened him in his bunk at 2 am. "Are you Simpson?" "Yes" said Simpson. "Is your space the IC and Gyro room?" "Yes" said Simpson. "Well you better roll out and come with us then, because the yard fire watch has spotted smoke and we think it's coming from the IC room and we don't have a key."

Simpson was afraid he knew what it was right away. It seems that on a DE a place to press your uniform is not that easy to find. Simpson had a nice wooden bench in the IC room kind of tucked in between the ship's gyroscope and the 1MC amplifier that was just the right size. He also had two good buddies, Balkin and Blackwood, who used to press their uniforms there with him. Down through the hatch in the mess deck to the IC room with the two yard birds close behind, Simpson unlocked the door and, sure enough, there was the red-hot iron burning right through the wooden work bench! No big deal, no fire, and the compartment was soon cleared of smoke, but there still remained the hole burned in the bench.

"Oh dear" said Simpson (well, maybe not his exact words). "My division officer will find out about this tomorrow, he'll tell the Captain, I'll get a mast, get busted and won't get a liberty until 1950!"

The two yard birds put their heads together and after a short conversation one of them said to Simpson, "Well, nobody but the three of us needs to know about this, meet us on the pier at 0800".

So Simpson was on the pier at 0800 and there were the two yard birds with a neat steel plate that they had fabricated to fit over the hole in the bench. The plate was discreetly installed, covering the evidence, and nobody has been the wiser for the over 55 years. And there the story would end except for the allegation that the ship now in the Hudson River at Albany is one of the other DEs and not the SLATER!

Hole burnt in bench in gyro room aboard the USS SLATER DE766
Hole burnt into the bench in the gyro room aboard the USS SLATER DE766

In April 1999, the former SLATER crew held its annual ship's reunion onboard and the first thing Simpson did was make it down to the IC room to check out the workbench. Sure enough, undisturbed and just as it was 55 years and untold thousands of miles ago, there was the wooden workbench with the steel patch still hiding the evidence.

And now you know the rest of the story. Except that Simpson isn't telling whether it was Balkin, Blackwood or himself who left the iron on the bench. . .

Jerry Jones ET, SLATER Volunteers 1/1/2000