I’m just days away from publishing The Fyddeye Guide to America’s Veteran Warships, and I wanted to share the Introduction with you. Introductions are my chance to suggest some ways to think about the subject matter, as well as describe my methodology. I’d also urge you to read the brilliant foreword written by my friend Nat Howe. I’ve love to know what you think.
Welcome to The Fyddeye Guide to Veteran Warships, your travel guide to America’s most important historic warships, as well as tugboats, Coast Guard vessels, commercial vessels, and tall ships. As a continent-spanning nation bounded on the east and west by vast oceans, America is defined by the sea. The earliest Anglo-European colonists took huge risks when they set sail across the Atlantic Ocean for New England or journeyed around Cape Horn to start new lives in what they’d later call California. Many looked fondly back at the ships that were their temporary homes for many months.
As the country developed, vessels of all sizes expressed the nation’s personality and aspirations. Powerful aircraft carriers, battleships, and destroyers projected political power to all corners of the globe. Cargo carriers generated wealth for the owners, jobs for the mariners, and, in many cases, comfortable lives for their families. Other kinds of vessels, workhorses such as ferries and tugboats, assisted theses ventures. Today, the country’s collection of tall ships preserve the skills and culture that made these journeys possible.
Most ships and boats have a relatively short life, maybe 20 or 30 years, if they’re cared for. But some are so important that their owners or former sailors want to preserve them as a way to remember a former way of life or a memorial to a great endeavour. One of the best examples is the USS Missouri, the battleship that witnessed the surrender of Imperial Japan on September 2, 1945, signaling the end of World War II. The ship is now in Honolulu, Hawaii, welcoming children, veterans and tourists, her guns forever silent. The Fyddeye Guide to Veteran Warships lists nearly 250 of these preserved military vessels, and an almost equal number of non-military boats and ships, most of which you can visit. They range from huge warcraft to small craft you might miss in a marina if you didn’t know they were there. Many are maintained by military or civilian veterans who sailed in them, or their descendants. All are important to America’s story.
The Fyddeye Guide to America’s Veteran Warships is the most comprehensive list of historic vessels in print, but it’s by no means perfect. I started my research by reviewing the first book in the series, The Fyddeye Guide to America’s Maritime History, published in 2010. I sadly discovered that a handful of vessels had been lost, sold for scrap, or in a few cases, vanished from the record. By the same token, I found a few small craft that I had either missed or had graduated from ordinary working boats to the status of historical artifact. Most of the higher-profile vessels have an associated website, from which I pulled certain items, such as a phone number. However, data such as email address or hours of operation can change without notice, and the website is sometime the last place that’s updated.
If you decide to visit an historic ship or its associated museum, always contact the organization first to confirm hours, admission prices, and any access restrictions.
I’ve set up the Fyddeye Guide to America’s Veteran Warships to make it as easy as possible to find and visit a historic vessel. Most are owned and operated by non-profit historical societies or small museums. Ninety percent or more of these organizations are supported by a small, but dedicated cadre of volunteers and donors who are the unsung heroes of maritime heritage preservation and interpretation. A government or foundation may award a grant now and then, but the hard work, including fundraising, is accomplished by local citizens proud of their community’s history and landmarks. Respect their work, and put a few dollars in the donation jar when you visit. Better yet, become a member of your own local history society or community museum. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll discover about your home town and its history.
— Joe Follansbee, May 2021