(Niceville, Florida; March 2, 2018) The duel of the warships now brings us south, to, appropriately enough, South Carolina. South Carolina is a state rich in natural and human history, a state that played a pivotal and famous role during the American Revolution, and a pivotal and infamous role during the American Civil War.
Today it’s a state that could easily play a pivotal role in the naval duel of historic ships, though not as great a role as it once did. Still, the array of naval tonnage at the Patriot’s Point Naval and Maritime Museum near Charleston is truly impressive, and worth planning an entire day around.
The grand centerpiece of the Patriot’s Point displays is a ship that helped displace the stalwart battleships from their spot at the pinnacle of naval warfare—the Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV 5). Commissioned in 1943, Yorktown was named in honor of the previous carrier Yorktown, which was one of only two American ships lost during the critical 1942 Battle of Midway. The “Fighting Lady” racked up an impressive 12 battle stars and a Presidential Unit Citation during World War II. She served the Navy in Korea and Vietnam, finally retiring in 1970. During her active duty career, she recovered the Apollo 8 astronauts (first humans to orbit the Moon), and went Hollywood, portraying multiple Japanese and American carriers in movies such as Tora! Tora! Tora! and The Philadelphia Experiment.
Today she sits permanently moored at the end of pier so long you need about 10 minutes to walk it (or you can take the courtesy shuttle from the Patriot’s Point building). She houses multiple naval aircraft (including my old airplane, an F-14 Tomcat), a Medal of Honor museum, and multiple artifacts from various ships. Her flight deck provides a breathtaking panorama of Charleston Harbor.
Nestled alongside Yorktown is the Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer USS Laffey (DD 724). Like the Fighting Lady, Laffey was named for a previous ship also sunk during the early days of World War II. Commissioned in 1944, the current Laffey has a remarkable history. The ship suffered an amazing four bomb hits and six kamikaze strikes during a single day in April 1945, but kept her guns firing all the while. She was back in service just as the war ended, and continued to serve until 1975. For such a brief time in theater, the Laffey earned 5 battle stars and a Presidential Unit Citation. Later on, she earned a second Presidential Unit Citation during the Korean War.
Patriot’s Point boasts a soon-to-be-lost third ship, the Balao-class submarine USS Clamagore (SS 343). Commissioned in mid-1945, Clamagore did not see service during World War II, but operated in the Caribbean theater for most of her career. Unfortunately, when she was acquired by Patriot’s Point in 1981, she was already in bad shape. The boat has continued to deteriorate to the point the museum can not afford to maintain her, much less put the money in to effectively rebuild her. Later this year Clamagore will be sunk off Florida as a new artificial reef.
Patriot’s Point is a great example of the triumphs and tragedies of maintaining museum ships. Having multiple ships in one location creates a very impressive display that will thrill visitors to no end. However, having multiple ships in one locations is also incomprehensibly expensive. Patriot’s Point used to possess two Coast Guard Cutters, the Comanche and the Ingham. Both were given up due to the facility’s inability to maintain them. Today Comanache is an artificial reef off Charleston while the Ingham was acquired by a foundation in Key West (Ingham is currently on display in Kew West and I’ll discuss her in another column).
By focusing their resources on the Yorktown and Laffey, Patriot’s Point has been able to assure the survival of these ships for years to come, as well as create some very unique exhibits aboard those ships. They’ve creatively expanded their shore facilility to include a very moving Vietnam experience.
Parking costs $5.00, and admission to the museum and ships runs nearly another $20 (military discounts and child discounts are available). Once you’re out at the ships, the only restroom facilities and snack bar facilities are aboard Yorktown, so I’d recommend you tour Laffey first. The Laffey alone will require an hour to see (or longer if you get a tour from one of the volunteers on board). After going aboard Yorktown, you can make any necessary pit stops you need before getting back to exploring the remarkable naval world Patriot’s Point has maintained.
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For information on visiting the Patriot’s Point Naval and Maritime Museum, visit: https://www.patriotspoint.org/