- The Washington Times - Friday, March 3, 2006

QUINCY, Mass. — When you step aboard the USS Salem, you won’t have to give way to presidents or kings and queens or the like. They’ve already been there.

The one-time flagship of the U.S. 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean and the 2nd Fleet in the Atlantic has served as host to the Shah of Iran, a king and queen of Greece, a president of Lebanon and other notables.

Built at the former Bethlehem Steel Co.’s Quincy Yard; launched March 25, 1947; and commissioned at the Boston Navy Yard on May 14, 1949, the Salem has been turned into a museum moored near its birthplace.

Visitors to the heavy cruiser get the feeling right away that the warship is not so much restored as preserved, and they are right. The Salem came out of its 35-year stint in mothballs in October 1994 in very good shape, still bearing much of its original paint. Volunteers keep the vessel shipshape, painting where needed and making repairs.

“I had a flashback,” says John F. Connors, 68, of South Attleboro, Mass., who served in the Marine detachment to the Salem in 1956-58 and is a volunteer guide and archivist. “I knew right where to go.”

A visit to the Salem easily could be a two-trip event because there is a lot to see. You could join in a guided tour, during which you learn the history surrounding the well-traveled vessel. On another trip, you could take a self-guided tour using a map that shows the deck plans on the 717-foot ship. Either way, expect to do a lot of walking.

“If you stood the ship on end, it’s taller than the [60-story] John Hancock Building [in] downtown Boston,” says Michael Condon, 46, of Cohasset, Mass., executive director of the U.S. Naval Shipbuilding Museum and USS Salem.

You can poke around the Salem from stem to stern and up to the bridge and the pilothouse. Only certain areas or rooms are closed to visitors — such as the archives room and the still-in-operation machine shop. Check out the restored barbershop and dentist office.

Of special interest to lovers of history are the four Memorial Rooms filled with pictures, old military uniforms, swords, pistols and rifles, and other memorabilia. Then there’s the Model Exhibit Display Room — with a 12-foot shiny brass model of the USS St. Paul and dozens of models, small and large, of other ships.

Stop by the brig, where miscreants aboard the ship were put for breaking rules. Prisoners slept only in one of the two cells and joined work crews during the day.

Note the garbage grinder, which mashed the remains of meals until they were liquid so that enemy ships would have nothing to follow when the refuse was disposed overboard.

After seeing where the crew ate and slept, the captain’s and admiral’s rooms above the main deck are quite a contrast.

Peek inside the turrets of the 8-inch guns forward or aft on the main deck. The ship also carries smaller cannons, including anti-aircraft batteries — none of which ever has been fired in anger.

The Salem offers an Overnight Adventure for Boy Scout troops or groups of students.

Besides spending the night in a former crew berth and eating in the crew’s mess deck, activities include radar tracking, simulated firefighting, first-aid lessons and scavenger hunts. The ship’s mess rooms also are available for birthday parties and other events.

On display outside next to the gangplank is a gray two-person German submarine captured during World War II.

Mr. Connors says the sub, which bears the number 075 and a black German cross, is one of two still existing. The other is at a Chicago museum that gave this one to the Salem.

• • •

USS Salem, 739 Washington St. (3A South) in Quincy, in the former Fore River Shipyard and next to the Harbor Express water shuttle to Boston’s Logan Airport; visit www.uss-salem.org or call 617/479-7900.

Open Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, open daily. Adults, $6; senior citizens and children 4 to 12, $4.

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