We were thrilled to be invited by Bill and Kathleen Sampson (he's Wm. T. Sampson III, the great-grandson of the
admiral, and an old pal from our days in northern Virginia). We got to Boston by Friday, and it was a perfect day, with
great weather, clear skies, and not too cool. That's Bill as he's going past the poster of his great grand pappy, the
American admiral who defeated the Spaniards in Santiago, Cuba to help win the war.
Bill and Kathleen couldn't make the ship tour on Friday since they were meeting up with the many family members
coming in from all over the US. They were greeted at the hotel by Robert Cornely, an extremely knowledgeable historian
who probably knows as much about our admiral as anybody in the world. He is collecting many of the old letters that
WTS sent to his family during the Civil War and in the years he was sailing ships. In the picture below, he is telling
us stories about the Sampson family past. Betsy and I did manage to catch a sunny tour of the ship that Friday, and
this wasn't like any destroyer we'd ever seen before. The back end of the boat is a landing pad and next to a pair of
helicopter hangars, and ... no guns.
As we went around the ship, it seemed even more unlike the typical destroyer. There are no windows on board,
except for the ones looking out of the bridge (and btw, those windows now have windshield wipers ..... a good idea, isn't
it?!) They've got one good canon up front, and only a few much smaller guns on the sides, so at first you wonder how
this ship can defend itself. There are practically no railings on the outside ... it's almost like a mountain of (powerful)
metal floating around out there.
But when you learn more about it, the USS Sampson is loaded with more weapons than we'll ever know about.
The rockets come out of those pipes (look almost like staging a firecracker show, but you wouldn't want to be at the other
end of an attack). The missiles are hidden away under the covers. They've also got torpedoes, and lots of other
stuff that they can't talk about. Interestingly, about a week before this commissioning, a very similar destroyer had
"settled a little problem" with some pirates and a North Korean ship off the coast of Africa. So the modern-day destroyer
does so much more than just escort aircraft carriers and other major ships as they did in the past, it can really multi-task.
By the way, the ship can move from a standing position to doing 30 knots in about 2 ship-lengths. And it can stop in
about the same distance! Of course, they wouldn't do that without warning the crew and nailing things down, but the
technology on this ship is amazing.
Inside the ship, we saw familiar elements, as well as loads of new gadgets. The kitchen / dining room is
the social center. It's next to the post office window, the bulletin board, and all the other key (fun) places.
They've even got a video game machine in there someplace. The helicopter hangar didn't have any planes in while we were
there, but there was plenty of room for everything, including the spare parts. The captain was covering the entire ship;
he definitely had things under control and was willing to have his picture taken with just any visitors.
Unfortunately, the weather on Saturday was quite different. A hurricane (Noel) was just off the Massachusetts
coast, and was hammering the commissioning ceremonies. That's Senator Kerry delivering one of the speeches and he was
surrounded by a group of high-ranking officials up there ... all of them soaked. Those of us down below were even wetter.
The music was great (the band was inside the terminal building so the instruments could stay somewhat dry); the
speeches good (and not long); the ceremony was smooth in spite of the weather, and very moving and patriotic. Everybody
was pumped. Most of the people attending the ceremony were relatives of the crew. Afterwards, they had a really
nice reception (great food, even beer and wine ... I never knew that sailors drank?!) Bill and Robert presented the
captain with a historical document linked to Admiral Sampson.
The captain then offered the Sampson family group a special tour of the ship, and so we got to go through this
ship again. By now, the pelting rain had let up some, so at least it was light enough to get some outdoor pictures (of
Bill and Kathleen, below). The view from the bridge was something! The "steering wheel" has been reduced to a
very small wheel, and instead, they have a bank of video screens (touch-screens) and computers. The crew is on track
to become one of the first 5 ships in the navy to be able to sail without "paper maps". That is, they can depend completely
on computers (even to the point of auto-piloting the "driving" to their next port!!), and they keep the paper maps tucked
away in a (dry) vault.
This is an exciting ship, and worthy of the William T. Sampson name. Abrazos, Emil