ALBANY, N.Y. – One of the last surviving World War II crewmembers of a Navy ship that's the last of its kind still afloat visited the vessel Friday at its Hudson River dock.
Earl Laber, who turns 93 Monday, was joined by his three sons for the tour aboard the USS Slater, a floating museum docked at the Port of Albany since 1997. Labor, of Newport, Vermont, had visited the ship a couple times before, and his sons had also taken tours when it was based in New York City 25 years ago, but the Albany tour was the first time the father and sons were aboard all at the same time.
"He still remembers a lot of the stories of his Navy days," his son Scott Laber said after the tour, which included the engine room control panel he maintained during his wartime service. "He talks about the Slater most every day."
Slater museum officials say the elder Laber is one of fewer than 10 WWII crewmembers still alive out of a crew of about 215.
"Not too many of us left," Laber said after the visit.
The Springfield, Vermont, native joined the Navy soon after graduating from high school at the height of WWII. The Slater, a destroyer escort, was commissioned around the same time, in May 1944. Laber joined the crew as it set out for convoy duty in the Atlantic, where its mission was to protect Allied ships from German submarines.
When Germany surrendered a year later, the Slater was sent to the Pacific to prepare for the invasion of Japan. Since destroyer escorts would be part of the outer ring of warships protecting troop ships and other larger vessels, the Slater's crew expected to be targeted by Japanese kamikaze attacks, Laber said.
"I guess it was pretty well known that there wouldn't be too many survivors among us in the invasion," Laber said.
But Japan surrendered after the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August 1945, and the Slater was sent back to the U.S. the following spring. In the early 1950s, the ship was transferred to Greece as part of a NATO arrangement. It served 40 years in the Greek navy before being decommissioned and sent back to the U.S. in 1993, thanks to funds raised by the Destroyer Escort Sailors Association.
After four years berthed in Manhattan next to the USS Intrepid, a WWII aircraft carrier, the Slater was towed up the Hudson to its new home. Slater museum officials say it's the last of the more than 560 destroyer escorts built in the 1940s still remaining afloat in its WWII configuration.
After the war, Laber, an electrician's mate aboard the Slater, went into the electrical business. The Colchester, Vermont-based company he founded in the 1950s, Green Mountain Electric Supply, has 14 stores in three northeastern states.