USS Laffey proves mettle, lasts through hull repairs

CHARLESTON HARBOR, SC (WCSC) - The USS Laffey survived kamikaze attacks and Japanese bombs in WWII, but she is losing the battle with time. Over the decades since the end of the second great war, her hull has rotted away.

However, the soldiers that once stood on her deck fighting for survival are once again doing everything they can to save the ship.

In 1944, Lee Hunt was a Seaman first class on the destroyer. "I grew up on this ship. I came on this ship when I was 17," said Hunt.

Now the ship on which he grew up is falling apart.

"The bottom was falling out. You could see the mud right under the ship. If you stood, you'd go right through the bottom into the mud," said Hunt.

So Patriots Point, the park where the Laffey is permanently stationed, hired Joe Lombardi to save her.

"This is the only time it's been done to an historic ship to the scale we did. The scope of work was all-encompassing," said Lombardi.

For five months, Lombardi's crew has worked around the clock to make repairs. "The space itself would have been rusted, scaled, [full of] standing water -- that sort of thing. Now it's all painted -- beautiful," he said.

Quarterman 2nd Class Ari Phoutrides hasn't been on the ship in years, only recently coming back after hearing about the efforts being made to save the Laffey.

"It was our home. You like to preserve your home and when something is done to it, you appreciate it," said Phoutrides.

The two crewmen now look forward to the day when the ship is repaired and docked at Patriots Point. "It should be a reminder to the younger generation of what they have. And they didn't have to fight for it," said Hunt.

The Laffey will remain at the SPA Veteran's terminal until the museum displays are constructed and the exterior is painted.

Organizers hope to move her to Patriot's Point early next year.

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