Lee Hunt of James Island remembers Japanese suicide bombers crashing their planes into the gun mount above his station in the powder magazine onboard the destroyer Laffey as the warship fought the enemy off Okinawa in World War II.
"The ship was on fire," Hunt said Wednesday. "We were more concerned with saving the ship than ourselves."
He and fellow crew members flooded his station to keep the gunpowder from exploding.
"Then we had to pump it out to keep the ship from sinking," he said.
Though many others died during the battle, Hunt escaped injury and went on to serve a long career with the former Atlantic Coastline Railroad after the war.
Now 85, on Wednesday he watched the old warship he served on for three years slip into a new berth at Patriots Point after extensive repairs.
"You can't describe it," he said, standing beside the World War II aircraft carrier Yorktown as the Laffey slowly inched into place where the submarine Clamagore sat until Monday. "It was long overdue."
Patriots Point brought the Laffey home Wednesday after repairing its rusting hull in North Charleston at a cost of $9.2 million under a loan provided by the state which the naval and maritime museum must repay within two years.
The Laffey had been docked at Shipyard Creek since 2009.
Former Laffey crew members cheered, popped the cork on a champagne bottle and blew air horns as the vessel approached the Yorktown before being steered into place.
"It's been a long fight," said Sonny Walker, Laffey Association president from the flight deck of Yorktown. He served on the ship from 1960 to 1963.
Patriots Point executive director Mac Burdette said the move went more smoothly than imagined.
"We conjured up all the nightmares, and none of them came true," he said. "It was about as perfect as it could be. We are about a day ahead of schedule."
Patriots Point will remain closed for the rest of the week to reinstall the 60-foot pier section that was removed to put the Laffey in place and pull the submarine to the south end of the Yorktown. Tours of the Laffey will be available in about a month.
Burdette hopes to reopen the naval museum on Saturday.
Patriots Point is planning a special ceremony to mark the Laffey's return in April, but plans have not been arranged.
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