“We Need Your Skills”: Pearl Harbor and the Brooklyn Navy Yard

The Brooklyn Navy Yard is 5,000 miles from Pearl Harbor, and though the reverberations of the events there on December 7, 1941 were felt across the globe, they hit especially hard on this small stretch of the Brooklyn waterfront.

Already 140 years old at the time, the Brooklyn Navy Yard had established itself as one of the most venerable shipbuilding and ship repair facilities in the Navy, and the Yard would be pushed to the limit during World War II, building, repairing, and servicing more than 5,000 vessels in just four years. Not only would ships be brought from across the world to be patched up and pushed back into the service at the Yard, but the Yard’s skilled craftsmen would be dispatched to other shipyards to help keep the fleet in fighting order.>> Continue reading

USS Slater Celebrates History of Destroyer Escorts

USS Slater at Caddell Dry Dock. Credit: Cindy VandenBosch

As I write this, the USS Slater, a World War II-era destroyer escort, is steaming its way (actually, being pushed by a tugboat) up the Hudson River back to its usual home in Albany. For the past 12 weeks, the Slater has been a visitor to New York City, laid up for repairs at Staten Island’s Caddell Dry Dock.

Since 1997, the Slater has been a been a museum ship, showcasing the important history of these humble vessels. More than 500 destroyer escorts were built in World War II, and Slater is one the last still afloat. But in order to continue to share the story of these ships and the men who served aboard them, Slater was in need of some repair work, including repairing the hull, interior spaces, and the anchor chain. The project cost roughly $1.3 million dollars, and probably would have cost a lot more were it not for the countless hours donated by volunteers (read about their work in the latest newsletter).>> Continue reading

D-Day Landings and Brooklyn Navy Yard Ships

Around the world today, people are commemorating the anniversary of D-Day, the largest amphibious invasion in history. The landings finally cracked open “Fortress Europe” and marked the beginning of the end of the war with Germany. World leaders, including President Obama, gathered in Normandy today, joined by veterans of the pivotal battle, who’s numbers are shrinking dramatically with each passing anniversary.

We remember and honor the heroism of the soldiers who waded through the surf or dropped in by parachute, pouring 150,000 Allied personnel into France in just the first day, and establishing a vital toehold on the continent that would allow in millions more. But D-Day was not just a triumph of courage or valor or military strategy – it was a triumph of industrial might and human labor, bringing the full force of the Allies’ factories, farms, and shipyards onto a narrow stretch of beach. It’s important to remember, as the saying goes, the men (and women) behind the man behind the gun, and in this case, we remember the shipbuilders of Brooklyn.>> Continue reading

WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY Exhibit Reveals Brooklyn Navy Yard Stories of WWII

If you have not yet been to the Brooklyn Museum to see their stunning exhibition WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY, make no delay – the show closes on Sunday, February 2, when its three-city tour will also come an end.

Rather than arranging the works of journalistic, artistic, and combat photography by conflict or photographer, in this show they are instead arranged into thematic clusters that draw links between war’s common denominators through the ages.  Images range from the Crimean War of the 1850’s to present-day conflicts around the world.  And beside the images of fighting are those of the more mundane daily life in a war zone – “Camp Life,” “Leisure Time” – as well as the human costs beyond the battlefield – “Executions,” “POWs,” “Refugees.”>> Continue reading

The Life and Death of Ships: Peter Hutton’s “At Sea”

Last month UnionDocs, a collective of documentary filmmakers based in Williamsburg, opened their season, and their newly renovated screening space, with a showing of two films by Peter Hutton about life – of men and ships – at sea. The screening was following by a discussion moderated by filmmaker Jem Cohen.

The first film, “Images of Asian Music,” was shot during Hutton’s time as a merchant seaman in Southeast Asia in the mid-1970’s. It’s an assemblage of images from sea and shore, where we see seamen killing time below decks, people fleeing from a Bangkok fireworks show gone awry, and an unforgettable scene of young girl curled up asleep with a gargantuan python. But my attention was more on the second film, “At Sea,” which traces the life cycle of a typical merchant vessel. It doesn’t follow a single ship, but uses three different ships as examples to illustrate the birth (in the shipyard), life (at sea), and death (in the scrapyard) that all ships go through.>> Continue reading