The USS Kretchmer Gun Mount Story
While many know that one of the Kretchmer 3" gun mounts is on display on the ground of the American Legion Post #28 in Key West, few know the entire story of how and when it got there. I write this because in February 2-14, Dave Sautte visited the mount and, via the website message board, sent a photo of him at the mount. He was disappointed that there was no plaque, nore any other means of identifying the gun mount. When he asked the commander about the mount, he was told "it came off of a battleship".
Well, this message prompted responses from several Kretchmer website members, all calling for us to do something about this situation, as all felt there should be a suitable plaque on our only memorial and that they would gladly donate money toward this project. I agreed but told them to hold their monies while we did some research and decided on a suitable course of action. One of those responding was Barry Faughnan, who sent a photo of him at the mount in 2010, showing a "ratty" looking mount, and equally "ratty" looking (barely legible) plaque in place on the front of the mount. Sautte's photo showed what appeared to be a newly painted and shiny gun mount, minus a plaque. Luther Hafey sent several photos, and supplied the story, of the two mounts being removed and replaced with new ones, in 1971. Jim Miller searched his photos and notes from the time, went to the library and found added material on the history from 1971 - 1988. I contacted the Post Commander, ### ####, for some input. He told me that "a couple of years ago" they had the mount sand-blasted and repainted and that, evidently, the plaque disappeared during that time. I told him that the "Kretchmer Reunion Group" wanted to donate a suitable replacement plaque and he was very enthusiastic about the offer. He stated that they had the expertise, in-house, to install whatever we come up with and would be happy to have it.
Now with all of this information in hand, I was able to put together the "rest of the story".
While in her home port of Key West, in April 1971, the Kretchmer was to replace her 2 3"50 gun mounts. The Navy wanted to send her to Charleston for this task, but the crew convinced the "Brass" that they could complete the job in Key West, as they did not want to leave home for the time it would take to do the job in Charleston. These crew members involved, did indeed, complete the job successfully and were awarded a "Commendation" for a "job well done" and for saving the Navy $80,000 in the process! The new mounts were installed and successfully fired on 6 May 1971.
In June 1971, The Public Works and Supply Departments of the Naval Station, joined forces with Destroyer Division 601 in a goodwill gesture to place one of those mounts in the "Lighthouse Military Museum". It remained on display until 1988, when the local historical society decided to re-furbish the lighthouse, give up all the military artifacts, and become "Lighthouse Historical Museum". At this time, the gun mount was donated to the American Legion Post #28. Since there is no evidence of a plaque in the photos from the years at the Phil Osborne tells me that, in 2005, because there was no plaque on the mount, he had one made and not only donated it, but installed it on the mount. At that time, he also donated a 3"50 shell that he had bought at a past reunion auction. He had it all polished up and painted with USS Kretchmer and his name. It is on display inside the Post. Phil says that the plaque on the mount in the 2010 photo was not the one he donated. Therefore, we believe that Phil's donation was the first plaque and that it soon disappeared and was replaced by the smaller one in the 2010 photo and that one got lost in the recent refurbishment process.
Having completed most of the research, it is time to get on with the project. Considering what would be appropriate size and what material to use, I decided on a 7"X5" brass plaque, which I had designed and purchased from a local business, "Awards of Excellence". This was completed in early August 2014. Cost of the plaque and shipping was $195.83, paid from the Reunion Group treasury. On 19 August 2014, I mailed the plaque, along with a framed photo of the Kretchmer and a letter of appreciation to the Post members for their efforts to display and maintain the mount for these many years and, hopefully, for many years to come.
Evidently, the enthusiasm expressed by Post Commander XXX had waned over the months since our first conversation. Two weeks after I mailed the plaque, I had not heard from him so I made the first of many calls, trying to get confirmation that he had received the package. I go that confirmation from a bartender I spoke with, but he could not confirm where the plaque was. I asked him to have Gary call me, he assured me that he would, no call ever came. Over the next month I placed many calls, talked to many employees who promised to relay my message but, no return call. Finally, a few days before leaving for the reunion in Silverdale, I made contact. XXX assured me that he the plaque and photo and had them on the wall inside the post. He said that he was going to have the mount refurbished and would install the plaque after that was completed. So, we made it to the reunion confident that all would be fixed very soon.
Not so fast! Returned from the reunion, made several calls to get confirmation that the plaque was installed, no response. February 2015, Dave Sautte is back in Key West, sends a message to me that there is still no plaque on the mount. More calls, same result. Later in the spring, Lance Sulek, Ralph's son, visits the post. He goes into the commander's office, he is on the phone and ignoring Lance, so Lance sees the plaque on the desk, picks it up and takes it to the mount and places it on the hand-hold and takes a picture. Back into the office, still ignored by Gary, he leaves the plaque on the desk and departs. Some weeks later, I spoke with an employee who tells me that he has not seen the plaque, but I may have better luck with the soon-to-be installed new Post Commander.
Finally, August 2015, Luther and Sally Hafey are visiting Key West and stopped by the Post. They meet the new Commander, Dan Dedeo. Luther explains our mission and the problems we have encountered trying to complete it. Dan promises to resolve the situation. I have a phone conversation with him and he assures me that he will find the plaque, install it and send photos. A month later, I receive an e-mail with attached photos showing the plaque installed. I am very excited and pleased with the result, so I call Dan to thank him. He tells me that he has a plan to make the end result even better and that he will let me know when he has accomplished the plan.
On 10 June 2016, I received an e-mail with attached photos of the completed project. Dan and his people removed the plaque, re-furbished the mount and installed the plaque on a pedestal located a few feet in front of the mount. Dan said this would ensure a better view of the plaque so that all would know that the mount was from the USS Kretchmer.
I was overjoyed with the result, and I called Dan to express my gratitude to him and his Post members, on behalf of all who served aboard, for their dedication and diligence necessary to get the job done. The effort put forth will ensure that this physical piece of history of the Kretchmer will be on view for many years to come.
Thanks so all who contributed to the completion of this endeavor,
Dave Sautte, Luther Hafey, Phil Osborne, Jim Miller, Barry Faughnan, Lance Sulek.
Thank you to Dan Dedeo, Commander, and members of the American Legion Post #28