Friday, May 7, 2010

Going back in time on the USS Cassin Young

Posted by John McHale

The line was too long to get on "Old Ironsides" -- the USS Constitution -- in the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston, so a friend and I checked out the World War II destroyer, the USS Cassin Young instead. What a treat.

We were fortunate enough to bump into an amatuer historian and member of the National Park Service onboard the Cassin Young named Bob Harris. He gave us a personal tour of the ship, the highlight being the Combat Information Center or CIC right across from the captain's quarters.

Today the command center of any naval vessel is all digitized, very different than the time capsule we stepped into that Saturday. Today navigation, radar, etc are all processed on state-of-the art displays with super fast embedded computing -- while on the Cassin Young charts marked by hand adorn the walls and table tops.

Pictured is the plotting board for the battle of Okinawa in World War II. The top right shows radar position 3 near Okinawa where the Cassin Young was first hit by Japanese kamikaze pilots, according to Harris.

Harris said more than 25 sailors onboard the Cassin Young lost their lives to Kamikaze pilots during World War II. Not many know of the heroism of those sailors, which is why he says he enjoys his volunteer job aboard the Cassin Young -- so he can share it with who ever will listen.

The only downside is the rotten few who don't respect the sacrifice those sailors made and steal various objects from different parts of the ship, he says. During our visit he stopped in the captain's quarters to re-hang the captain's jacket, as some tourist most likely stopped to try it on to have a picture taken.

HArris says the high points of his job come when a former crew member of the Cassin Young, long retired and well over 70 years old, comes for a tour. During one moment that Harris shared, a former sailor cried out in joy when he saw his old bunk and shouted to his wife "that’s where I spent two years of my life!"

The Cassin Young is named after a hero as well. According to documents onboard the destroyer, Navy Capt. Cassin Young received the Medal of Honor for heroism during the battle of Pearl Harbor in World War II.

According to Wikipedia his Medal of Honor citation reads: "For distinguished conduct in action, outstanding heroism, and utter disregard of his own safety, above, and beyond the call of duty, as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. Vestal, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by enemy Japanese forces on December 7, 1941. Commander Young proceeded to the bridge and later took personal command of the 3-inch antiaircraft gun. When blown overboard by the blast of the forward magazine explosion of the U.S.S. Arizona, to which the U.S.S. Vestal was moored, he swam back to his ship. The entire forward part of the U.S.S. Arizona was a blazing inferno with oil afire on the water between the two ships; as a result of several bomb hits, the U.S.S. Vestal was afire in several places, was settling, and taking on a list. Despite severe enemy bombing and strafing at the time, and his shocking experience of having been blown overboard, Commander Young, with extreme coolness and calmness, moved his ship to an anchorage distant from the U.S.S. Arizona, and subsequently beached the U.S.S. Vestal upon determining that such action was required to save his ship."

If you ever find yourself in the Charlestown Navy Yard, definitely visit the Constitution, but be sure not to miss the Cassin Young. Ask for Bob Harris, you'll learn quite a bit.

For more information on the Cassin Young's specifications, visit

1 comment:

  1. Hello John,

    I really enjoyed your article entitled, "Going back in time on the USS Cassin Young". It is so nice to hear stories of people who prioritize American History and devote their personal time to preserve the legacy of World War II. I also had the pleasure of meeting Bob Harris on my most recent trip to Boston. Bob possesses a passion for the history of the Cassin Young and was truly a pleasure to meet. Thank you for posting this blog. I hope that it promotes others to make the trip to visit the Cassin Young and learn about an important part of US History.

    JoAnn Vormschlag