Sitting on the Mississippi River against the backdrop of the busy barges rests a vessel whose history spans generations. This gem of a ship is the USS Kidd, and she has had a long journey to get to where she is now.
Named after Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd, she was laid down in October 1942 and was launched in 1943. The Kidd went on to serve in the Pacific theater of World War II, earning 12 battle stars and the nickname “Pirate of the Pacific.” Adding to the pirate theme, she sailed with unique smokestack art featuring the image of a pirate inspired the ship’s mascot, the pirate captain William Kidd. The Kidd also flew pirate colors in addition to her American naval flags.
The Kidd went on to serve in Korea and later was a training vessel during the Cuban missile crisis. Just before the fighting in Vietnam began to escalate, the Kidd was decommissioned in 1964, and was berthed in Philadelphia for the Atlantic Reserve Fleet while on museum hold. This would not be the end of her story.
Following the end of the Vietnam War, Louisiana Congressman Henson Moore considered establishing a museum and memorial for the veterans of Louisiana. Moore, during his time and travels in Congress, was enamored by the various Museum ships he had seen and felt that one would be the best centerpiece for a memorial museum. After searching through the late ‘70s for an adequate vessel, he had finally decided on the USS Kidd, a Fletcher class destroyer which at the time had seen action in all the major U.S. conflicts.
“At that time there was no comprehensive veterans memorial for all eras and all branches of service,” said USS Kidd Museum and Memorial ship superintendent Tim Nesmith. “You might have a Navy memorial down in New Orleans, an Air Force memorial here, a World War II there, or a Vietnam memorial there. He wanted to get something comprehensive.”
In 1982, she was moved out of the Reserve Fleet and towed here. The process of turning her into a museum had begun, which would take decades of scouring the globe for parts to get her back to her original load out and configuration.
“Now I haven’t done the kind of research one of my predecessors has done; Tim Rizutto was something that the Navy calls a ‘great cumshaw,’” Nesmith said. “He knows where to find the equipment, he knows how to get it, and who to talk to.”
Nesmith added that his predecessor, Rizutto, procured some difficult to find pieces for the ship. Items such as the depth charges and depth charge projectors, which were used to counter submarines, were obtained from the Turkish Navy via a blind letter that was sent out to all the navies that had inherited Fletcher class destroyers. The Kidd also needed her original anti-aircraft cannon compliment, which consisted of Swedish-made 20mm Oerlikon cannons. As luck found them, the Royal Netherlands Navy was visiting shortly after her arrival in Baton Rouge. The Dutch had a surplus and were able to supply the missing 20mms to the Kidd.
After many years, she now sits, a golden standard for museum ships. She now sports period correct armaments and paint, with an open layout that allows visitors to experience the ship on their own. However, Nesmith still works to complete her restoration.
As the ship expanded and grew, so did the museum on land. Starting off with just a few exhibits, the museum now is home to several veteran artifacts and stories, spanning several generations that have gone to war. In addition, the museum acquired two aircrafts, an A-7E Corsair that was repainted by Vietnam veterans and a P-40 Warhawk replica that was obtained from a plane collector.
The USS Kidd museum and memorial doesn’t end her connection to the community at displays and beautiful pieces — the ship also host events, many of which benefit veterans. Recently the USS Kidd hosted a Memorial Day service, remembering those who had died serving our country by having speakers talk about their losses, and visitors placed red poppies on a name on the memorial wall.
The USS Kidd also participates alongside the First Free Sunday program where several museums in the downtown area offer free visits on the first Sunday of every month.
Photos by Rande Archer.