First commissioned in 1944 and attached to DesRon 60, Laffey engaged the enemy at “Utah Beach” as part of the Normandy invasion before her transfer to the Pacific, where she participated in operations in the Philippines and Iwo Jima. On 16 April 1945, while on radar picket duty off Okinawa, she was attacked by 22 enemy planes and crashed by five aircraft and sustaining additional damage from three 500-lb. bombs but remained afloat. Her commanding officer, later-Admiral F. Julian Becton, later wrote about the battle—one of World War II’s most celebrated—in his book “The Ship That Would Not Die.”
After her final decommissioning in 1981, Laffey was transferred to the Patriots Point Naval Museum near Charleston, South Carolina and designated a National Historic Landmark. Over the next 27 years, she became one of the nation’s best known museum ships. By late 2008, however, in the absence of maintenance, the condition of her hull had become critical: she had developed five major leaks that required de-watering and even without a hurricane or other triggering event, it was feared she might sink at her berth. Patriots Point closed her to visitors and faced the choices of restoring her or towing her out to sea and sinking her—either of which would have cost an estimated $10 million, well beyond its means.
Happily, in 2009, the State of South Carolina stepped in with a $9.2 million loan for Laffey’s restoration. That summer, the area around her pier was dredged and enclosing docks at an adjacent marina were moved. On 19 August, she was towed up the Cooper River to Detyens Shipyards, site of the former Charleston Navy Yard at North Charleston. For four months, Laffey remained in dry dock as workers under Project Manager Joe Lombardi replaced frames, keel and bulkheads in the machinery spaces plus the entire keelson from the stem to the after end of the skeg. They re-plated her entire bottom with 3/8-inch steel up to the 13-foot waterline, well above the current waterline. Finally, they gave her interior shell plating, bulkheads and frames two coats of epoxy and hydroblasted, primed and coated her exterior with a premium zinc-rich epoxy. On 9 December, Laffey was refloated and towed to the South Carolina Ports Authority’s Veterans Terminal and, in June 2010, to an industrial site on nearby Shipyard Creek.
In November 2011, the PPDA Board approved a three-part project to return Laffey to Patriots Point, relocate the submarine Clamagore to a more accessible berth and upgrade/replace aging utilities. The total cost of all three components was estimated to be less than $1.1 million. The bundling of these projects—the first project a necessity, the second an opportunity, and the third an upgrade—was estimated to save the agency several hundred thousand dollars.
On 25 January 2012, Laffey was towed down the Cooper River to her new permanent birth at Patriots Point. Today she lies inboard of the carrier Yorktown with her beautiful lines in full view of visitors as they walk out on the pier to visit her (above).