Wednesday, April 15 2015
About Life on a Destroyer: Larry’s Trip to the USS Kidd Memorial Museum
April 11, 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the attack on the USS Kidd (DD-661) naval destroyer, where it was hit and suffered severe damage just miles from Okinawa, Japan. According to Wikipedia, the USS Kidd was a Fletcher-class destroyer and the first ship of the United States Navy to be named after Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd, who died on the bridge of his flagship USS Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Larry Laswell mentioned to me that he had recently visited the USS Kidd Memorial in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, so I was curious to find out more about his visit. Here is the interview:
Susan: When did you take the trip to USS Kidd, and what prompted your visit?
Larry: I visited the USS Kidd last July (2014). The purpose of the trip was to do research for my latest book, Vows to the Fallen, because the USS Kidd is the only un-modified WWII destroyer left in existence. Secretly, though, I longed to get my feet back on the deck of a destroyer.
Susan: What can you tell us about the USS Kidd, and what was significant to you about it?
Larry: The USS Kidd is a significant historical site as the only unmodified WWII destroyer left in existence. It was like going home. For those who have never been to sea on a destroyer, it is hard to understand what it is like. A destroyer is a complex, floating, self-mobile machine designed to project military force to the far reaches of the world. To understand what life is like aboard a destroyer, you have to think of it as a machine. You don’t go to sea ‘on’ a destroyer, you go to sea ‘in’ a destroyer, and you live, work, and sleep in the bowels of the machine.
Living quarters are cramped, and there are pipes, wire runs, air ducts, and machines around you all of the time. Except on deck, it is impossible to walk more than 10 feet in a straight line without running into some obstacle. Seldom can you spread your arms without touching a shipmate. Living in a destroyer is a unique way of life.
The USS Kidd brought me back to all of those realities. By civilian standards, it is a hard life and requires sacrifice, but once you’ve gone to sea in a destroyer, you always want to go back.
Some things about the Kidd did surprise me. The destroyer I was on had been modified to make it a bit more sailor-friendly. For example, the galley on my ship was twice the size of that on the Kidd, and the deck house had been modified to provide an amidships passageway. The differences were mind-boggling. For example, on the USS Kidd, every sailor had to go on deck to get to the mess deck to eat. So consider this, no matter what the weather was—hot or cold, dry or raining, calm seas or a hurricane—every crewman had to go on deck and face the wind, waves, and weather just to get dinner.
The galley on the Kidd was on the main deck, and the mess deck was one deck down, so the cooks had to carry large pots and pans full of food onto the rolling exposed deck (remember the weather), and then carry the food down a ladder to get it to the serving line. That’s when sailors were real men. On my destroyer, the galley was still on the main deck, but an amidships passageway allowed all of that to be done from inside the ship, and men could get to chow without going onto the exposed exterior deck.
It is things like that many people miss, and it is why memorials like the USS Kidd are important. The Kidd is living history, and it tells the story of destroyer men in a way no book or movie ever could to each new generation.
Susan: What was the name of the charity in which you chose to donate proceeds of The Marathon Watch last year? Why did you choose this?
Larry: I made the donation to the Louisiana Veterans Memorial Foundation. They are the parent company that owns and operates the USS Kidd memorial. I have a hard time explaining why I made the contribution. Emotionally I guess it is a tribute to those who went before me; a salute. Logically, the education, understanding, and appreciation it gives to each new generation is valuable. It tells us something about who we are and where we came from. That has great value to our society.
Susan: How can people honor and remember those who served?
Larry: I was in the service during the Viet Nam war when public sentiment was strongly biased against the military and the war. I was called names on the street and even had things thrown at me. It was hateful and it hurt. Remember that every individual in the service has given our government a check the government can cash in any amount -- up to and including the service member’s life. Our service members do that willingly for the honor of protecting our way of life. Let them know you appreciate their service. Finally, visit and support memorials like the USS Kidd, or the USS Intrepid. Every visit provides an education that is as deep as it is broad; that is well worth the price of admission.
For more information about the USS Kidd and the USS Kidd Veterans Museum, visit http://usskidd.com/.