Vet served proudly on USS Slater

Earl Laber dodged en­emy sub­marines in World War II

Albany Times Union - - FRONT PAGE - By Diego Men­doza-moy­ers

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.”

Skip Dick­stein / Times Union

Earl Laber, 93, left his Ver­mont home to visit the USS Slater on Fri­day. Only 11 mem­bers of the orig­i­nal crew are alive to­day.

Pho­tos by Skip dick­stein / times union

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.

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