Fun Things to Do In Boston: U.S.S. Cassin Young

There are many museums, galleries and other historic fun things do in Boston. It's like the attic of a house that's been in the family for generations: there's always something else fascinating to discover when you go there, some treasure that you overlooked on your earlier visits.

For instance, there's a retired naval warship on public display in Boston Harbor. It's tied up to a pier at the Charlestown Navy Yard, a part of the Boston National Historic Park. She's free to all who wish to visit, a memorial to those who fought to preserve our nation. Before you leap to the obvious conclusion, however, this isn't about "Old Ironsides," the U.S.S. Constitution.

There's another, lesser-known warship in Boston whose fighting days are past: The U.S.S. Cassin Young, a destroyer from the days of World War II, a conflict in some ways so recent and in others so far away in time that it can slip from the memories of those who didn't live during it.

Those who do recall will remember the destroyers, fast and maneuverable ships built to handle a variety of duties. They were the all-purpose warships, without the glamour of the battleship or aircraft carrier. They escorted convoys, fending of marauding submarines. They served as radar pickets, strung out in a line to watch for, intercept and destroy approaching hostile aircraft. They ran close ashore to provide gunnery support for the soldiers and marines invading countless Pacific islands.

It was naval warfare on a tight budget. Living conditions were cramped and uncomfortable, with many of today's amenities completely lacking. The destroyers' speed and maneuverability came at the price of protective armor-there was none. Still, the hardships of service aboard these ships bred a camaraderie and pride among the "Tin Can" sailors that is still in evidence today.

U.S.S. Cassin Young, DD-793, was one of 175 Fletcher-class destroyers launched during the war. She was built in San Pedro, California, by Bethlehem Steel and was commissioned on the last day of the year 1943.

She was named for Commander Cassin "Ted" Young. On the morning of December 7th, 1941, Young was captain of the repair ship Vestal, which was tied up in Pearl Harbor alongside the battleship Arizona. During the surprise attack the Arizona blew up; the explosion set Vestal on fire and tore holes in her hull below the waterline. It also blew Commander Young overboard. The crewmembers began to abandon ship, only to be confronted by Young, who had dragged himself back on board. He regained control, rescued survivors from the Arizona and beached his ship so that she could be salvaged.

This feat earned him a promotion and the command of the heavy cruiser San Francisco. He was killed aboard her by Japanese shellfire during the battle of Guadal Canal.

The ship that took his name went to the Pacific theater, first seeing action in April of 1944 and taking part in the invasions of Saipan, Tinian and Guam. She was then assigned to Task Group 38.3, a fleet that included a number of aircraft carriers, high-priority targets for the Japanese. She fought in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the Battle of Engamo and took part in the liberation of the Philippines; she also rescued 120 sailors when the aircraft carrier Princeton was sunk and participated in attacks on Formosa, China and Indochina.

During the final year of World War II the Japanese turned to a new tactic: the kamikaze. Planes packed with explosives were piloted on one-way suicide missions with the intention of crashing the aircraft into a ship. This plan was used extensively during the invasion of Okinawa.

The Cassin Young, by this time transferred to Task Force 54, was part of that invasion, serving as a picket ship. On April 6th, 1945, the two destroyers next to her were sunk by kamikazes. On April 12th the Young shot down six of them and lost one dead and 59 wounded when one plane hit the mast and exploded. On July 30th, a scant 16 days before the war ended, one kamikaze broke through the screen of antiaircraft fire and crashed into the destroyer on the starboard side of the main deck.

Twenty-two crewmembers died and 45 were wounded. The ship was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation, returned to California for repairs and then mothballed as unnecessary in 1946.

In 1951 we were again at war, this time in Korea, and Cassin Young went back into service, staying in commission until 1960. At that point it was decided that she had no real military use any more, and she was returned to mothballs.

There was to be a new chapter written, however. Most ships built during World War II ended up being cut up for scrap, but there was a different fate in store for DD-793. In 1981 the destroyer was opened to the public as part of the National Park Service's Boston National Historic Park.

Many of those who fought in the Second World War are still with us, and those in the Boston area who had served on destroyers took the opportunity to work aboard the Cassin Young as volunteers, sharing their experiences with visitors and keeping the ship up as only those who know every detail of her complex structure can. Their recollections have been gathered in a series of oral histories. In a sense, then, the Young is a living museum, not a static display so much as a real backdrop to the stories of life aboard. What was it really like?

The best way to find out is to visit. Admission is free, and you can explore the main deck, the wardroom, the ammunition hoists, look into the forward gun turret and examine the aft antiaircraft machine guns. If there are sufficient Park Service staff members on board, the aft Enlisted Men's Quarters below decks will be open, revealing a taste of how the crew lived for months on end.

This is the real thing, a messenger from a time, not so very long ago, when the world was in flames and the outcome, which was to shape the world of today, was still an unknown. The Cassin Young is yet another of those unusual treasures which turn up around every Boston corner, if you just know where to look.

Article provided by Homesteader

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