Laffey homecoming brings young admirers, old memories together - WCIV-TV | ABC News 4 - Charleston News, Sports, Weather

Laffey homecoming brings young admirers, old memories together

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(Sandra Ecklund/WCIV) (Sandra Ecklund/WCIV)

By Sandra Ecklund
secklund@abcnews4.com

MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCIV)-- Moving slowly along the Cooper River, a 68 year-old Sumner-class destroyer made its way from Detyens Shipyards in North Charleston to its final resting place at Patriot's Point.

"For most of us here, this is the last time we'll see her at sea." said Patriots Point Development Authority Executive Director Mac Burdette.

The fact that it still floats at all is a near miracle. Commissioned on February 8, 1944, the USS Laffey has survived four bombs, six kamikaze crashes, and strafing fire from World War II. In October of 2008 it was discovered that the hull was littered with holes which prompted the move to the dry dock for repairs.

Now, after three long years and over $9 million of repair work, the USS Laffey has taken her rightful place alongside the Yorktown.

"I've been waiting three years to see the Laffey come back," said Cooper Lockett.

Cooper Lockett started coming to Patriots Point when he was just five years old. On his first visit he saw a documentary on the Laffey.

"I was so impressed," he said. "This is my favorite ship, so I learned a lot more about it. It's great that they preserved it. It was a big part of the victory of World War II."

Now 11, Cooper got special permission from his teachers at James B. Edwards to miss class and come see the Laffey as she settled into her new home.

But Cooper's not the only one with a special place in his heart for the WWII destroyer.

Former sailor Kenneth Rohloff served on the USS Laffey from September 1968 to November 1971.

"It took me 16 years to stop doing this!" he said, swaying to and fro like he was in an earthquake. "This ship used to really dance!"

Rohloff spent over three years stationed to the ship, coming in and out of port for 7-month stints, even missing the birth of his only daughter. His longest time at sea was 42 days during the Jordan crisis of 1970, positioned off the coast of Israel.

"Military life's not an easy life, not only for just the person who's in the military but their whole family, including their wives, children, mothers, fathers, brothers."

He still carries fond memories of his time on the ship. He keeps in touch with some of his crew mates -- the guys he used to "stay out of trouble with" he recalled with a grin. Rohloff's battle station was just under the double-mounted anti-aircraft cannons at the stern of the ship.

His berthing he described as "a bed that was about 2-3 feet wide and 6 feet long and we stacked up, three on top of each other."

"There wasn't a whole lot that we didn't see or know about each other,"  he chuckled.

An electrician's mate, Rohloff also sailed all around the Mediterranean with the 6th Fleet, visiting England, Spain, France, Turkey, Italy and Greece.

It was during this time that the Laffey was bombed again - but you won't read about this attack in any history book.

"When we come into port, they got this great big giant extension cord that they plug into the ship and turn on the generators. We're cleaning up the deck doing that and all of a sudden the guy next to me starts doing this (Rohloff spins his arm like a sideways helicopter blade) and (pauses to try and control his laughter) he had this great big splat of seagull poop on his arm!"

Yes. He said seagull poop.

"We look up in the sky and there's a tiny little dot way up in the sky! And this is like a perfect shot!" he said laughing. "It almost ripped his arm off!"

The USS Laffey will be open to the public after her grand opening celebration in April.

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