A group of Albany seniors has accomplished a seemingly impossible task, taking the rust hulk of a warship into one of the finest naval ship exhibits in the nation. The World War II era destroyer escort USS Slater was saved to remind future generations of a time when millions of Americans were put their personal lives and careers on hold to save democracy as we know it. A time when our nation had to pull together to defeat the world wide threat of fascism, ruthless totalitarian governments who left untold devastation and human suffering in their wake. American’s saved the SLATER to provide a focal point for teaching the Greatest Generation’s core values; the sacrifice, patriotism, integrity, self reliance, resourcefulness, respect and courage that saw us through those difficult years. As fewer and fewer people can relate to the terror of the Kamikazes or standing watch in the frigid North Atlantic, the role of the SLATER becomes all the more critical so insure the sacrifices of the World War II veterans is not forgotten.
In 1993 the veteran Sailors of the Destroyer Escort Sailors Assn. raised $300,000 to tow rusty hulk into New York Harbor from Greece, where she had served the Hellenic Navy since 1951. The United States produced 563 destroyer escorts in World War II, a remarkable feat of wartime production, but by the early nineties USS SLATER was the last ship available for restoration. Without any major corporate or governmental funding the volunteers of the Destroyer Escort Historical Museum have transformed a vessel designated for scrapping into the sleek, strong fighting ship that graces the Albany Riverfront. They’ve done it with their own sweat and their own money; over 300,000 volunteer hours and two million dollars in small private donations. They are making sure that SLATER exists to serve as an educational tool to help insure that the lessons of the past are not forgotten.
Originally set up as part of the Intrepid Sea Air Space Museum, the ship was forced to find a new home in 1997 when the Museum downsized. Mayor Jerry Jennings offered the ship a berth in Albany, and the result has been a remarkable success story of volunteerism. The volunteers have succeeded in accomplishing what many thought impossible. Today 15,000 visitors a year tour the ship as the radar rotates, signal flags flutter, ventilators hum, the paint work glistens and the colors are raised every morning and lowered every evening.
The oldest of the active volunteers is a retired Navy Chief Aviation Metalsmith, Clark Farnsworth. At 87 years old, Clark can be found aboard every Monday cutting and welding, replacing wasted metal aboard the SLATER. Clark joined the Navy in 1943 and was stationed aboard the aircraft carrier LEYTE. He reported to the SLATER in 1998 and has been welding ever since. His helper, Gene Jackey, is not bothered by the Capital District weather. A former Coast Guard engineman, Gene served on the icebreaker NORTHWIND. Another member of the Monday crew is Don Shattuck. Don has the distinction of actually serving on two destroyer escorts in World War II as a radarman, the USS HAROLD C THOMAS and the USS WESSON. Don is one of the few sailors actually to have slept in a hammock when he reported to his first ship before a bunk was available. When he left the Navy, Don finished college on the GI Bill and then went to work as an engineer at GE for 36 years.
Electrician Larry Williams has to be the most cheerful member of the crew. His laugh can be heard all over the ship. Larry served as an electrician’s mate on the USS SNOWDEN DE246 in the early fifties and was stationed in Key West. After completing his naval service, he went to work in electrical repair at GE Waterford until he retired in 1998. He reported aboard the SLATER as soon as he retired and has been one of our most dependable volunteers ever since, devoting Mondays and Wednesdays to the SLATER. He not only does electrical restoration, but also volunteers as a tour guide, sharing his experiences serving aboard an actual DE with children and adults visiting the SLATER. One of the most versatile men in the crew is former Coast Guardsman William Douglas Tanner. Doug served as a damage controlman on the Coast Guard Cutter GRESHAM and spent time servicing navigational aids in the Aleutians. He later went on to sail as an engineer with the Coast and Geodetic Survey before marriage and family called him ashore. He probably donates more time than any one aboard. The Museum Board of Directors recognized his expertise and placed him on the Board of Trustees so that he can represent the physical needs of the ship and the needs of the maintenance volunteers at the board meetings.
Working aboard the USS SLATER play a major role in improving the quality of life of her seniors by giving them focus and comraradrie. The volunteers donate an average of 15,000 hours a year to the project. The five permanent staff members readily acknowledge that without the volunteers, the project could not exist. 100 seniors serve the project locally as tour guides, maintenance workers, trustees and advisors. Others come from all parts of the country to help restore the jewel of American history. If you are interested in being a part of the “Best damn ship in the historic fleet,” The SLATER crew would welcome you aboard. Check out their website at www.ussslater.org and if it looks like something you’d be interested in give them a call them at 518-431-1943, or email them at [email protected] The volunteer application is available online at http://www.ussslater.org/participate/volunteers.html You’ll be part of the happiest and most productive crew in the “Old” Navy.
Timothy C. Rizzuto, Executive Director
Graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in History from the State University of New York College at Geneseo in 1974. Joined USS SLATER in 1993 as a consultant and became project manager in 1997. He has supervised three historic naval ship restoration projects over the past 25 years including 15 years as ship’s superintendent of the USS Kidd DD661 from 1983 to 1997. He is recognized as the premier expert on destroyer restoration and received the Historic Naval Ship’s Association’s highest award for his efforts. He presently serves on the Board of Directors of that organization.