With Veterans' Help, Old Warship Gets New Life Former Sailors on USS Massachusetts Pitch in to Refurbish a storiedWorld War II Battleship

Article excerpt

She survived Japanese Kamikaze strikes and the lashing of artillery fire off Africa. She provided cover at Guadalcanal and at the bombardment of Tokyo. And she safely carried American sailors through 35 major battles during World War II.

Yet the USS Massachusetts, one of the most storied battleships in the United States fleet, was ungracefully succumbing to time. Barnacles and algae on the ship's belly measured as thick as "War and Peace." Corroded rivets let water to seep into her hull.

Four months ago, the ship seemed ripe for salvage. But now, thanks to her wartime crew, "Big Mamie" is back in shipshape. "She kept a crew of over 2,000 men safe during battle, and we were obligated to show appreciation," says Armand Vigeant, one of the veterans who helped lobby the state legislature for nearly $10 million to fix her up. Mr. Vigeant, who served as the ship's store keeper during the war, says it's moving to see the Massachusetts spit-and-polished, because old battleships are almost never refurbished. Only about five World War II battleships have undergone any extensive repairs in the past two decades, mostly so they can serve as floating museums, as does the Massachusetts. "The sight of a 35,000-ton battleship sitting out of the water in a dry dock is impressive," says Vigeant in a voice gruffer than Popeye's. He's right. Three lumbering cranes that were used to install 225,000 pounds of steel sheets look like Tonka toys alongside the towering mast of the battleship. The makeover took four months and a small army of 300 workers - and is something of a coup for Boston's newly resurgent shipbuilding industry. To many, it seemed fitting that the city that built the Massachusetts in 1941 still had the ability to rebuild her 58 years later. Three members of the Massachusetts wartime crew - Vigeant, the ship's cook, and a gunner's mate - even donated their time to help with the repairs. Their reward: an opportunity to sail with her as she plied the waters of the Atlantic one last time. …