Efforts To Turn Historic Ship Into Museum Nearly Sink Legion Post
NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Kamikaze pilots couldn’t sink the USS Cabot in World War II, but a lawsuit, a fire, costly repairs and red tape nearly scuttled both the aircraft carrier and an American Legion chapter.
The rustbucket’s fate is still in doubt, but with a $2 million grant recently approved by Congress, members of American Legion Post 377 say it now looks like the venerable warship will win its last battle.
″Just about everybody else thinks we’re crazy, but someday this will be a first-class naval museum and everyone that sees it will be proud,″ said Gordon Pfluger, Legion post commander.
The post’s efforts to acquire the ship and convert it into a museum have put it $750,000 in debt and entangled it in a lawsuit with another group that had plans to use at least part of the vessel as a floating casino.
The ship was taken over by federal marshals after Carter Green Redd Inc. of Gulfport, Miss., sued for return of $47,000 it said it paid for the rights to open a casino.
Blaine Kern, a member of the foundation created to run the ship, said the casino plan was nixed after the Spanish government, which last owned the vessel, objected. He said a settlement with Carter Green Redd Inc. is being pursued.
The ship, commissioned in 1943, saw service in the Pacific until the end of World War II, surviving two kamikaze attacks. Its crew earned nine battle stars and the Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism in action.
In 1967, the Cabot was transferred to the Spanish government and became the SNS Dedalo, flagship of the Spanish navy. It was retired last year.
″It was sitting there just rusting away,″ said Legion member Herb Wagner. ″The Spanish government said that if we would use it as a joint Spanish- American museum, we could have it.″
In 1989, the carrier steamed up the Mississippi River to New Orleans where it was presented to the Cabot-Dedalo Museum Foundation, made up of Kern, members of the Legion post, and others.
But when the foundation tried to dock the ship across from the city’s famous French Quarter, the Coast Guard balked.
″The currents along the west bank of the river are too strong,″ Pfluger said.
So the ship sits at a condemned wharf, where Wagner said it is racking up $1,000 a day in docking fees.
Its electricity was shut off when the foundation couldn’t pay a $4,100 bill, and it caught fire earlier this year, about the time the federal government declared it a National Landmark. The fire caused $15,000 damage.
The fire damage is covered by insurance, Wagner said, but the foundation owes the insurance company $40,000.
When all the financial problems are sorted out the Legion hopes to move the ship to nearby Kenner and begin renovations.
″We can’t afford to quit now,″ Wagner said. ″We’ve got too much in this thing. We’ve raised and spent three quarters of a million dollars and we only have 89 members. We’ve done everything but hold up convenience stores. Do you know how many bingo games we’ve held?″