Oral History (Non-action)
Joe Folino SHSN (II)
Upon reviewing our website ( as I often do) I read in awe of some of the actions and history that has taken place aboard our ship , the USS LAFFEY DD-724 It is a collection of incidents and actions that go beyond description in regards to the legacy we find ourselves accountable for. It is also a legacy to be proud of. However the Oral History I present here is not a battle of “Cannon and Fire” but one of determination, courage, and love all the same. It is the battle of survival! The survival of the USS LAFFEY. “The Ship That Would Not Die”.
If I start from my own experience, it begins in 1946 when I first reported aboard the Laffey. I was all of 17, and had served a few months on another “tin can” and at the time, the Laffey was just another ship… another duty station. I was made aware of the plaque that graced the mid ships passage way honoring the 32 men killed in the action of April 16, 1945, but at that time the Navy was full of proud ships and men who died defending them. After a few months, the Laffey like many other ships that had seen better days was “put to rest” and became just another vessel tied up at the PacResFlt in San Diego. I was one of the last to leave. I and others had done what had to be done and “packaged” the old girl up in “Mothballs” and left her and her “memories” alongside a Pier with a 100 other DD’s and DE’s. When I completed my “hitch” in ’48 and headed home to Penna. I had said all my goodbye’s to Shipmates, Duty stations and Memories. Little did I know my ties to the Laffey were far from being “cast off” forever.
In October of ’50, a few months after the Korean War had broken out, I was recalled into the Navy. A few days at the Philly Navy Yard and my name appeared on a roster for transfer to San Diego Destroyer Base and I was assigned to the Laffey to put her back in commission. In a sense… I was “going home”! I and a handful of others lived on a APL dockside and with a growing number of crewmen and yard workers, eventually had the Laffey in a “livable” condition. I served another 2 ˝ years aboard the Laffey. It was during that period that I really found out what Destroyer life was all about. We had a good crew and we did what we had to do in the true Laffey tradition. I once more returned home to Penna. and tried to pick up the pieces of my civilian life.
I eventually moved to California and found a new and exciting life in the Aerospace Industry and for a short time in the Motion Picture industry. However, a series of events I will not elaborate at this point, took place and I ventured into the restaurant business in the northern California town of Turlock. My Navy days and the Laffey were far behind me.
In 1982 I suffered my first heart attack and had undergone by-pass surgery. I was recovering in ICU shortly after surgery and was watching the TV show “Real People”. That was the night the show had presented the story of the LAFFEY and “The Ship That Would Not Die” segment. They showed a short clip of the ship, then, just recently towed to Charleston as part of the Patriots Point Maritime Museum. I was on considerable medication at that point but recognized the hull numbers 724… it brought me to my senses pretty fast… In the flash of an eye I was reliving my Navy experience all over again… it was all coming back now. I buzzed for my nurse but by the time she arrived the segment was over. I tried explaining ( in my medicated state) that I had just seen my old ship….She politely told me to rest and gave me more medication. At that point she probably thought I was “hallucinating”. However,the next day, my brother had seen the show and confirmed it when he visited me.( it was not a dream after all) It was a few days later when I returned home that I began calling the studio that aired the show and tracked down the producer who gave me the name of Cy Simmonis. I secured his phone number and after a few more calls to Tom Fern, became a member of the Association and attended my first reunion in April of ’83.
My love, devotion and dedication to the LAFFEY began anew and I have taken an active part in the association and her restoration ever since. I have attended many reunions and renewed friendships with “old salts” as well as “new recruits’. I helped create the current Newsletter and eventually became a Board member and eventually Treasurer, and once more, Newsletter Editor.
With all of my LAFFEY time considered, it is well over 25 years total and I look back in pride at everyone of them. I have come to know some of the original crewmen as well as many younger shipmates who came after me. I can say with pride, it has been a privilege to be associated with each and every one of them. I have seen the “Old Girl” transformed from a “rusting heap” to a treasure of a museum piece. It has been through the concentrated efforts of a handful of dedicated men and women over the years that have made this feat possible. It has taken considerable money as well as the guidance and efforts of the Patriots Point Maritime Museum personnel as well. We can never forget the Tin Can Sailors organization as well, who over the years have contributed thousands of dollars to our cause.
It has not been a easy task to accomplish all that has taken place in our restoration, and we should never take it lightly. Years of dedication and hard work has taken us to this point and we should never forget the personal sacrifices those individuals have made. It all started with Adm. Becton, Cy Simmonis, Al Csiszar, Tom Fern, Ari Phoutrides, and a handful of others who initially and almost single handedly saved her from an “untimely death” and brought the LAFFEY to its final resting place.
So let none of us take for granted what we now have…. What we look back in pride on as OUR SHIP. It is filled with love, honor, dedication, and respect. Let us all be thankful for each memory we have, regardless of the time or era we served on her. We have given the world a glimpse “The Ship That Would Not Die” and a legacy we can all be proud of.
Thank you for sharing this time with me.
Joe Folino USS LAFFEY DD-724 ASSOC.