JAY, Maine — As Destroyer Escort Day approaches a group of U.S. Navy veterans are on a mission to increase membership in the Northeast Chapter of the Destroyer Escort Sailors Association.
In Maine, the third Saturday of June is proclaimed Destroyer Escort Day as decreed by legislative proclamation. It honors the destroyer escort ships and the people from Maine who “gallantly served on them as they performed antisubmarine duties, escorted convoys and tankers and preformed search-and-rescue operations for downed pilots and survivors of ill-fated ships during World War II, the Korean conflict and the war in Vietnam,” according to state law.
The Northeast Chapter will meet at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, June 21, at Veterans Memorial Park at 2 Main St. in Lewiston on Destroyer Escort Day. The purpose is an observance of past members lost in action and deceased members who have passed since the chapter was founded in 1996. It will be followed by a luncheon at the Village Inn, 165 High St., Auburn.
The chapter serves Maine, part of Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont and was founded by Normand Demers of Lewiston and John Coady, Northeast Chapter Commander John Dube, 72, of Jay said Tuesday.
Demers was commander of the chapter from 1996 to Dec. 10, 2013, he said.
Demers and Coady, who was previously the secretary/treasurer of the chapter, are in their upper 80s, he said.
The chapter needs more members and younger members to keep it going.
Dube said Demers told him, “There are two things we can do. We can have younger people come forward or close the chapter.”
Dube, a Vietnam veteran and a 20-year Navy man, said he checked with other veterans in the association and none wanted to be commander.
Bill Hayden of Bath accepted the secretary/treasurer position and Mark Groomes of Livermore Falls accepted the position of public relations officer.
There are 45 members and two potential members, Dube said.
In 2000, four years after the association was chartered, there were 100 members. Since then, membership has been declining because of the age of World War II veterans who served aboard the many destroyer escorts built for the war. World War II veterans are dying at an average of about 1,800 to 1,900 a day, Dube said.
Another reason for the membership decline is the last destroyer escort was built in 1973-1974, said Groomes, who retired after 30 years in the Navy. He served in Vietnam, Desert Storm, Bosnia and other wars and conflicts.
“Ever since December, we have been moving forward to increase membership,” Dube said, and have picked up five new members.
“Our chapter is unique in a way because we are one of the few chapters that only meet every three months but we have a special speaker or lecturer,” Dube said, adding they sometimes visit nautical-themed venues.
Destroyer escort ships weighed about 2,000 tons, were 350 to 500 feet long and were built as a result of a critical shortage of antisubmarine vessels in the Atlantic Ocean on the outset of World War II, the men said.
The escorts were supposed to be fast and would be used to cover ships that could be carrying people, goods, weapons and supplies among other items, Groomes said.
As the destroyers were being decommissioned immediately after the war, a lot of them were sold to other countries, he said.
The USS Slater DE-766 was sold to the Greek Navy after World War II. Forty years later, the national DESA organization bought it back to become a museum in New York. New York lost the most destroyer escort sailors during World War II, Dube said.
“Over the past two years, we have raised more than $1.1 million to put the Slater in dry dock” on Staten Island to be overhauled and continued to be preserved in its World War II configuration, he said. When it is finished, it will return to Albany, N.Y.
“We are interested in hearing from any sailors, because a lot of times we make exceptions to the rules,” he said. “If someone is really interested in joining the chapter and hasn't served on destroyer escort, we accept them because they want to support the destroyer escort association and want to keep it alive.”