Vet served proudly on USS Slater
Earl Laber dodged enemy submarines in World War II
The sun’s shine peered through gray sky as 93-year-old World War II veteran Earl Laber walked up to the bow of the USS Slater.
Wearing a baseball cap with the ship’s name on its crown, Laber recalled his role onboard the Navy destroyer escort as an electrician three quarters of a century ago.
“I was proud serving,” Laber said. “I don’t remember that I was ever scared. The thing is, in general quarters, when we heard this voice that says ‘All hands, man your battle stations,’ you were on the go. You were busy. There was no time to be scared or anything.”
Born in 1925, Laber
lived in poverty as a child in Springfield, Vt. His father died of cancer when he was 12 during the Great Depression, and Laber worked cleaning houses and raising chickens to help support his family.
With the American wartime economy in gear, Laber started working at Vermont Foundries as an electrician through a high school co-op program, and formed the foundation of his craft’s knowledge.
Although he received a draft deferment because of his job, Laber enrolled in the Navy in 1944 as he approached his senior year of high school.
He would hone his skills as an electrician on the Slater - one of the reasons, he says, that he joined the Navy.
The 300-foot-long Slater was commissioned in 1944 and served in the North Atlantic, where it escorted convoys to Great Britain as German submarines aggressively sought to prevent supplies from reaching the Allies.
After the German surrender in May 1945, it served briefly in the Pacific Theater before being decommissioned and sent for use in the Greek navy, where it would remain for 40 years.
After negotiations successfully returned the ship home, the USS Slater has been docked in Albany for 21 years serving as a living museum.
Laber recalled almost exclusively working in the ship’s noisy engine room.
“It’s why I’m hard of hearing today,” Laber joked.
But as he descended the steep ladder into the the ship’s engine room, Laber’s face lit up as he positioned himself in front of the control panel he once manned.
“Does this look familiar?” asked Timothy Rizutto, the executive director of the Destroyer Escort Historical Museum.
“Yup,” Laber said, “it sure does.”
Laber told of a time the Slater sailed through rough seas and strong waves tore into the ship. But a potentially catastrophic outcome was prevented when Laber and his fellow seamen used mattresses to plug the damage and allow the ship’s pumps to clear the water.
“There was the massive hole, and the water was just pouring right in there,” Laber said. “(The pumps) couldn’t handle it. We were taking on more and more.”
“If we wouldn’t have placed (the mattresses), we would’ve gone down. Everybody would’ve been lost.”
Standing in front of the battery of dials and instruments, Laber remembered about the times he tied himself with his belt to a pole in the engine room to stay upright against the ocean’s force.
“You couldn’t stand up,” Laber said. “They would announce ‘stay off the starboard deck’ because waves would be coming over.”
Following the war, Laber moved back to Vermont, and in 1953, he and two partners opened a motor repair and rewinding shop called Green Mountain Electric.
“I said, ‘I want to go into the Navy because they’ve got a great electrical school and I can learn much more than what I had,” Laber said. “I put it to full use when I got home.”
Over the next 20 year the business grew and he sold it in 1977 to his sons, Scott, Gregg and Gary.
Green Mountain Electric Supply GMES now has 14 stores throughout the Northeast, and third generation of the family is in charge.
Laber’s three sons walked around the boat alongside their father, retracing his steps through the tight confines of the living quarters, the catwalks of the engine room and the armaments of the main deck.
As Laber walked across gangway, he admitted it could be difficult to recall events from 74 years ago, but said more than specific memories were the feelings of life on the boat.
“I feel happy that my sons are with me, and they’ve seen it, where I served,” Laber said. “You can’t imagine how I feel.”
Earl Laber, 93, left his Vermont home to visit the USS Slater on Friday. Only 11 members of the original crew are alive today.
earl Laber, 93, checks out the controls of the USS Slater which he served on friday oct.12, 2018 in Albany, n.y. the Slater escorted convoys crossing the Atlantic to deliver supplies to Allied troops while avoiding enemy submarines’ torpedoes.
earl Laber, left, gets a personal tour from timothy rizzuto, the destroyer escort Historical museum executive director. Laber was given a Wwii deferment but joined the navy.