It's not everyday that we write about World War II ships here at DT but this case is special and personal. The Fletcher class destroyer USS Cassin Young has been a staple of the Charlestown Navy Yard historic park in Boston for more than 30 years. She sits next to her much more famous yard-mate, the USS Constitution, providing an interesting view of two very different eras in U.S. naval history.
Now, the Cassin Young may (key word being may) hit the scrapyard if the National Park Service can't find the funds to make $18.7 million in repairs to her hull, according to Boston Globe Magazine. The ship is in immaculate condition save for her hull, claims an engineering firm hired by the park service. The NPS says that in time of tight budgets it can't afford to spend that kind of cash on repairs. To make matters worse, Park officials say they can't leave her in one of the yard's few functioning drydocks past 2014 because that's when the Constitition is slated to go in for repairs. If she can't be repaired or drydocked soon, park service officials tell the Globe Magazine that “scrapping the ship has to be on the table.”
As a kid, I spent countless weekends exploring the ship, getting to know her better than some of the tour guides.
The Cassin Young and her 174 sister Fletchers were the epitome of the U.S.' World War II destroyer fleet known as the "Tin Can Navy." They were small by today's standards, fast, had a range of weaponry, and were mass-producible. The ships could steam at 38 knots and performed a variety of missions from anti-aircraft radar picket duty, to antisubmarine warfare, shore bombardment and engaging oftentimes bigger enemy warships in direct fights.
The Cassin Young is one of only five Fletchers that remain today. Three others are museum ships in the United States and Greece while the former DD-574 USS John Rodgers (the longest serving Fletcher) has sat derelict at a pier since being retired by the Mexican Navy in 2001.
The Navy (who would get the ship if the park service gives her up) says it doesn't want her and it doesn't want to pay for her repairs even though it claims the work would cost far less than the NPS' estimates. So, the ship is caught in a government budget fight for the next few years. The dispute between the Navy and Park Service's engineering firm about the amount of repair needed can be read in greater detail here. From the sounds of it, the Park Service should at least be able to keep the ship afloat for the next few years until after the Constitution gets out of her next turn in drydock.
This problem isn't just isolated to the Cassin Young. Many of the aging warships-turned-museums around the country are facing fiscal uncertainty while in dire need of repairs. Tight government budgets and the fact that people may no longer be able to afford to donate to the museums has compounded the the problem. Even the cruiser USS Olympia, which helped cement America's role as a global military power, is at risk of meeting the scrapper's torch.
From the Boston Globe Magazine:
“Many of the ships that have been donated by the Navy are facing some significant challenges,” says Glen Clark, deputy program manager for the Navy’s Inactive Ships Program. Clark is clear that the Navy expects the Park Service to fully fund any repairs to the Cassin Young. “We’ve had several conversations with the Park Service, which is committed to maintaining Cassin Young long term,” he says. “If they decide to return the vessel back to the Navy, there could be whole different scenarios as to what might happen.” Is scrapping one of them? “Certainly,” he admits, “but this is not the Park Service’s intention.”Preserving these old ships is a very worthy cause, they educate children on the Nation's history in a way that no textbook can; they bring grandpa's stories to life. Yes, it's cliche to say it, but for adults, old and young, these ships can be reminders of previous generations sacrifices and even a connection to lost family members.