USS KIDD staff and volunteers complete large-scale puzzle by finding destroyer’s final missing piece

After 37 years of hunting down vintage equipment, the USS KIDD welcomes the last major piece missing to restore the ship’s 1945 look. A blast shield arrives in downtown Baton Rouge at the end of October to complete one of only four remaining Fletcher-class destroyers.

“People will now be able to see KIDD for the first time exactly as she appeared to those celebrating war’s end in 1945,” said Tim NesSmith, Ship Superintendent for the USS KIDD Veterans Museum, said in the press release.

The ongoing project is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Placing that final piece makes you feel accomplished and satisfied. Finally, the image is whole and looks fabulous.

Well, KIDD staff members and volunteers are about to experience that satisfaction, but on a much larger scale. They will put the finishing touches on a piece of restored American history. 

But what is a blast shield and why is it significant? 

“Atop the torpedo tubes, a blast shield enclosed the three crewmen stationed there and protected them from the concussion of the 5”/38-caliber gun immediately behind them,” said NesSmith. “KIDD’s was removed during the Cold War. We’ve always kept an eye out for one and collected data for the day we could fabricate one if an original couldn’t be found.”

A replica of a torpedo blast shield for the USS KIDD is under construction by Advance Fabrication LLC in Litchfield Park, Arizona. Photo courtesy: USS KIDD Veterans Museum

The search for vintage equipment like the blast shield has been going on since the destroyer’s arrival to Baton Rouge in 1982.

Guns came from The Netherlands; depth charges from Turkey. Letters went out to foreign navies that inherited ships like KIDD after WWII. But no one had word of a torpedo blast shield. 

Some weaponry aboard the USS KIDD destroyer.

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“There are only two that we know of,” NesSmith continued.  “Both already in museums.”

So, pickings were slim. 

In 2010, the the last operating Fletcher-class destroyer like KIDD was scrapped in Mexico. Those at the USS KIDD took notice. They gathered measurements and photos of the ship’s two remaining shields, thanks to the National Park Service at USS CASSIN YOUNG in Boston and the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas.

Then, volunteer Greg Shears entered the story. 

Shears was a destroyer veteran, but now he works in aviation. Also, he volunteers at the veterans museum’s Field Days.

Shears took an interest in the puzzle and blast shield project. Additionally, he visited the one in Fredericksburg to help document it. Finally, he reached out to Advance Fabrication, LLC, of Litchfield Park to see if they could create a replica.

The folks at Advance agreed to do the job at-cost and rallied other companies in the Phoenix area to do the same or provide a discount. Businesses like Lil’ Red Wagon Welding, LLC, Superior Metal Forming and Glendale Steel Supply followed the project. Even PPG Industries, which provides discounts to historic ships nationwide, joined in the effort.

Obviously, many were determined to complete this giant jigsaw puzzle. But, the cost of completing the project started adding up. 

Even at-cost and with discounts, the project had a tidy sum: approximately $10,000.

Kindly, Shears and his wife Carol donated $5,000. Then, Abbeville native and longtime KIDD supporter James Landry matched that amount. 

So, the money came into place! However, getting the replica battle shield from Arizona to Baton Rouge proved to be another obstacle. 

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Luckily, Beryl and Elaine Shears of Western Pilot Service in Phoenix handle the transportation. And, upon availability, McKinney Salvage, LLC, will lift the piece aboard ship via a crane barge at no cost.

Those at the KIDD hope the lift and installation coincides with this year’s Fall Field Days. 

“As one of only four remaining Fletcher-class destroyers of 175 constructed, USS KIDD continues to amaze visitors with her historic authenticity,” said incoming USS KIDD Executive Director Rosehn Gipe. “We are delighted that this group of volunteers has worked together to fund and re-create the torpedo blast shield.”

The Historic Naval Ships Association recognizes the USS KIDD as one of the most accurately restored vessels in a fleet of 188 ships located in 13 nations spanning five continents.

The target date for this ship’s appearance is August 14, 1945: Victory over Japan Day. It almost seems perfect that the torpedo blast shield joins the KIDD as the 75th anniversary of World War II’s end approaches in 2020. 

A glimpse of the KIDD before boarding.

Just as their ship’s crew did back then, the KIDD team can—for this particular project—finally claim, “Mission Accomplished.”