U P D A T E
The city of Mentor, OH in 2011, sold this 26-foot whaleboat to Nauticus The National Maritime Center, located on the Elizabeth River waterfront of Downtown Norfolk, VA. USS Wisconsin BB-64 lies in her birth at Nauticus.
This whaleboat has been reunited with the ship she served on during the Persian Gulf War. As of April 26, 2012 Nauticus started using the whaleboat for a 30 minute narrated tour of the Battleship Wisconsin to see and learn interesting facts about the ship and her home port of Norfolk.
LEGEND OF A WISCONSIN WHALEBOAT
by Dom Menta
On June 15, 2000, I received a phone call from Dan Graybill, Assistant City Manager from the town of Mentor, Ohio. The city officials of Mentor, Ohio were in possession of a whaleboat that they obtained from a local individual at a Cleveland boat show for the price of $8500. Technical Fiberglass of Clayton, NY built this boat in 1985 at the cost of $38,000. It was thought that the boat was previously in service on the Battleship Wisconsin during the Gulf War.
Hull #26MW8550, Boat #1 was painted on the whaleboat that they had just purchased. Before they would attempt to restore this whaleboat, they wanted to be sure that in fact, it was once on the USS Wisconsin. Dan asked if I could verify this. I emailed both Avondale and Ingalls shipyards without any success. Both indicated that records were not kept on whaleboats. My next step was searching through some Family Ties, a publication that was issued monthly aboard the Wisconsin during her last commissioning. Would you believe I found a picture of a whaleboat in the last issue of Family Ties. See picture #7. The number on this boat is 26MW8551, which led me to believe that 8550 must have come off the Wisconsin. When I passed this information on to Dan Graybill, he was thrilled. He later informed me that Captain van de Schroeff, the last Commanding Officer of the Wisconsin, confirmed that indeed it was a Wisconsin whaleboat. This is all Dan needed to start the ball rolling in refurbishing the boat.
Earlier this year, the whaleboat was completely restored, including a few modifications as required by the US Coast Guard. Yes, she will be a working whaleboat. She will be used as a work boat at the Mentor Lagoons Nature Preserve and Marina. The boat’s historic appearance has been achieved, and will be ready for public viewing and tours. According to the “Plain Dealer” a Cleveland newspaper, on June 7, 2001, Kurt Kraus, City Parks and Public Lands Director stated ” The historical significance of this is quite extraordinary. This is not just going for a boat ride. This is a part of American history.”
On June 7, 2001, Carl Capestrain, Gabe Fiore, and George Miller, all hailing from Ohio, Gerry DeChant a resident of Mentor and John Fox from Rochester, NY gathered in Mentor to be interviewed by local media. They had a chance to board the boat and were amazed at the work that was done to give her a brand new look.
On July 14th, the City of Mentor, Ohio will hold a special recommissioning of the “THE BB-64 NAVY LAUNCH.” The Wisconsin Association has been invited to take part in these ceremonies. In addition to the City of Mentor dignitaries, military officials and private citizens, some 22+ former crewmembers and their families will help in recommissioning this boat. Carl Capestrain, our President, and yours truly, Dom Menta will be in attendance.
More to come after July 14th.
The Legend Continues……….
On July 13th we started checking into the Best Western Lawnfield Inn in Mentor, Ohio. As usual, at these mini events we were all happy to see our former shipmates once again.
Most of us, if not all, had king size suites. We had a sitting room with a sleeper sofa, TV and desk. Next came a large counter top with refrigerator, microwave oven and coffeemaker. Next was the bedroom area with a king size bed and armoire with another TV. Luxury at its best! This Inn opened in January 2001.
After check-in, we went down to the lagoon anxious to see the whaleboat. Carl was interviewed by the local radio station. Samantha Graybill, wife of Dan Graybill, Asst. City Manager, heard the interview on the radio and told us that Carl came across flawlessly. We walked over to see the whaleboat and could not believe how beautiful it looked. Dan Graybill, Assistant City Manager and Kurt Kraus, Director of Parks, Recreation and Public Lands, gave us a rundown of what was to take place the next day.
We went to dinner and returned to the Inn for some sea stories. The Inn was kind enough to allow us to use their breakfast area for our gathering place. Of course, what would sea stories be without some liquid refreshments and snacks? Charles Van Tornhout brought along his organ and musically entertained us with some nice old songs, including “Anchors Aweigh” and “On Wisconsin”. We had the use of this area for two evenings. It was great and Charles played for us both nights. Thanks a lot Charles.
On Saturday morning we had a continental breakfast starting at 7AM. The Inn sure put out a nice spread. We left the Inn at 8:30 and headed for the lagoon. In appreciation for the USS Wisconsin Association participating in this recommissioning, Kurt set aside Saturday morning from 9AM to 11AM so that the Wisconsin family could ride the whaleboat. It was a fun ride and we were given a tour of the entire lagoon, absolutely beautiful. Rich Frankenbery, SN, 2nd Div. 1956-1958 was given the opportunity to drive the boat around the lagoon. He was in his glory. (#47). The City of Mentor did a great job in restoring the boat. Due to Coast Guard regulations, they could only accommodate 13 people at a time. Michael Bowers, BM2, 4th Div. 1988-1991 was a coxswain for this particular boat while he served aboard the Wisconsin. Of course, Mike could not wait to get into the boat and drive it. When he did he felt like he was right back aboard the Battleship Wisconsin, right Mike?
While Mike was playing with his new found lost toy, the rest of us were having lunch. The City of Mentor provided us with a barbecue picnic, hamburgers, hotdogs, potato salad, beans and cold refreshments. They had 2 sheet cakes, one of the cakes had a picture of the Wisconsin right on the cake (#77). I understand the picture was made from rice paper. It was a delicious cake.
Next came the recommissioning ceremonies. Welcoming speeches were made by the Vice-Mayor, Robert Shiner, who then introduced Mayor Edward Walsh, City Manager, Julian Suso, and LCDR. James Collins. After all the introductions and speeches, I gave a brief rundown on the history of our ship from the time congress approved construction up to her being berthed at Hampton Roads Naval Museum and the National Maritime Center-Nauticus. Carl Capestrain, our President, followed with his comments about our ship. He explained that this whaleboat was the child of the Wisconsin and he hoped that the BB-64 whaleboat would do for the City of Mentor what the USS Wisconsin has done for the City of Norfolk. Then on behalf of the USS Wisconsin Association, he presented the City of Mentor with a plaque with this inscription (#65).
Each former crewmember came up to the podium, gave his name and home town and was then presented with a pin from the City of Mentor. It was now time to raise the flags on the whaleboat. 13 of us were selected to go on board and the rest of our crew lined up as side boys on the gangway. The Mayor presented the colors to Carl, who together with Mike Bowers raised the American Flag (#70) The Mayor then presented Carl with the Navy Flag who passed it on to John Fox (#71). An announcement was made to bring the BB-64 to life. It is registered with the Coast Guard as BB-64 (#54), All whistles and horns were blown in celebration of this recommissioning. The lines were cast off and we were taken for another short spin around the Lagoon. Once again, Mike Bowers (#74) and Rich Frankenbery took turns at the wheel. We docked and we were now on our own to have fun.
Thirty-one crewmembers attended this recommissioning and together with their families we numbered 63, not counting children.
A good time was had by all. It was great meeting, for the first time, Marcella and Lloyd Maltby, Lisa and Dunivan Matthews and their 2 boys, Carolyn and Mike Bowers and his family, Kathy and El Ahlwardt, Brian Griffith and his family, John Kaprosky and family and of course , Samantha and Dan Graybill and their 2 children.
We would like to thank the City of Mentor, especially Dan Graybill and Kurt Kraus for inviting us to participate in the recommissioning of the BB-64 whaleboat. It was a wonderful opportunity to visit this fine city.
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