When you go to sea in a destroyer, sometimes you rock, sometimes you roll and every so often you slide down a big wave like it was a ski jump. You are, quite emphatically, in touch with nature.
I was 18 when I first stepped aboard a destroyer — USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., named for the war-hero older brother of President John F. Kennedy and then undergoing an overhaul at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
This was in 1962, and over the next several months I experienced hard, dirty work; rough seas; tranquil nights under brilliant Caribbean stars; an occasional cold beer in a foreign port; and, for the first time in my life, a sense of purpose. If you can learn to keep the propellers of a powerful warship spinning smoothly — well, bring on the next adventure!
For me, that was submarine school — and an entirely different Cold War experience — but fond memories of Kennedy linger. As does my profound respect for destroyers. All major fleets have them, but it was the father of the US Navy who defined the type before they ever existed.
“I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast,” said Revolutionary War patriot John Paul Jones, “for I intend to go in harm’s way.”
Light, lean and lethal, destroyers have been sailing fast into harm’s way since they appeared at the end of the 19th century.
Evolving as threats changed and missions expanded, American destroyers played a vital role in the U-boat campaigns of both world wars; they provided critical protection for the vast armadas sent against Japan after Pearl Harbor and they were ubiquitous globally as the Navy did its bit to win the Cold War.
Today, they remain very much a part of the fleet, though in dramatically, perhaps dangerously, diminished numbers — as America prosecutes a low-intensity war against terror in the Middle East and the Indian Ocean, while buffering Chinese challenges to free passage in the Pacific region. It is perilous duty, as shown by two at-sea collisions in 2017 that killed 17 US sailors.
But such service can be life-enhancing as well. Mark me as a witness. Happily, the Kennedy endures, now moored securely beneath I-195’s Braga Bridge in Fall River, Mass., as part of the Battleship Cove naval museum.
And she is in good company; also present are two World War II veterans — sleek, minimum-profile submarine USS Lionfish and towering, combat-scarred battleship USS Massachusetts.
Together the three ships present a unique, visitor-friendly opportunity to experience a bit of what American naval life was like for the multitudes of sailors who have experienced it.
The Lionfish and the Massachusetts effectively were retired soon after World War II, but the Kennedy carried on, serving in the western Pacific during the Korean and Vietnam wars before decommissioning in 1973.
And she played a high-drama bit part during the perilous Missile Crisis blockade of Cuba in 1962, delivering a boarding party to search for Soviet contraband aboard the Lebanese-registered freighter Marucla. (Did I say drama? If the world was going to end that October, and it very well might have, this could have been the moment when it started.)
The Kennedy’s retirement, of course, has been tranquil, though not without its issues, among them money.
Or rather, not enough money.
Twenty-eight years of active naval service produces bumps, bruises and occasional insults to structural integrity — and four-plus decades moored in a salt-water cove and exposed to New England winters present challenges of their own.
While all of Battleship Cove’s ships have been well-served by staff and dedicated volunteers, maintenance and restoration is an expensive, never-ending enterprise. The Kennedy, in brief, needs a few bucks.
And Rich Angelini, restoration chief for the destroyer and a member of the Battleship Cove museum board, is trying to raise some.
“Preserving an historic destroyer museum ship is an expensive business,” he writes. “Donations would be used to strengthen the ship’s structure, restore a now-closed engine room and enhance an on-board museum honoring every destroyer sailor who ever served.”
Donations are tax-deductible, and checks can be mailed to: Rich Angelini, C/O USS J.P. Kennedy Jr. DD850, 5 Water St., Fall River, Mass. 02721. Or online at: https://bit.ly/2Pw3TMm.
As worthy causes go, this one is right up there. Ski-jump waves are in the Kennedy’s past — but she’s still serving after all these years. Bear a hand, if you will.
This piece originally appeared at New York Post
Bob McManus is a contributing editor of City Journal. He retired as editorial page editor of the New York Post in 2013 and has since worked as a freelance editor, columnist, and writer.
Photo by U.S. Coast Guard / Getty Images