Seven stars for seven ships

A look at the USS Boston Association.

Barry Probst is packing up a trailer for a special trip to Burlington, Vermont. At first glance, the twenty-six-foot trailer is the kind a landscaper might need for lawn mowers and weed whackers, but this one holds precious cargo: the memorabilia of the naval ships that carried the name Boston. It stands out prominently in silver livery with “USS Boston” and four silhouettes of naval vessels painted on the sides. It will be one of the first things US Navy veterans see when they pull in for their July reunion in Burlington.

Sailors may come from all walks of life, but they often share the same experiences. They have fought together, labored hard together, and traveled the world together. Entering civilian life, they join associations to reconnect with old friends, make new ones, and remember those who have long since passed. The USS Boston Association, a 501(c) entity in which Barry Probst has served as president for about twenty-two years, has welcomed the personnel from different Bostons: a cruiser from the Second World War (CA-69), a guided-missile cruiser (CAG-1), and a nuclear attack submarine (SSN-703).

Predecessors with this namesake have an illustrious history. The first naval ship commissioned as Boston joined the battle at Valcour Island in 1776. The second and third were sail frigates. The fourth was a sloop-of-war. The fifth Boston was a steel cruiser with nearly six decades of service. The last three Bostons came from the latter half of the last century. Sailors on CA-69 joined the great Pacific War, and in 1945, anchored outside of Tokyo Bay for the surrender of Imperial Japan. In a post-war age of developing missile technology, the heavy cruiser was destined to become the US Navy’s first guided-missile warship. The conversion took place at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Boston was commissioned as CAG-1 in November 1955.

As a bosun’s mate on USS Boston (CAG-1), Barry Probst was present for two of the warship’s tours in Vietnam. While armed with modern surface-to-air missile launchers, Boston still retained a menacing array of eight-inch and five-inch guns. It was ideal for gunnery support missions off the coast. “We fired every day for six months,” he explained, but since naval rifles wear out from bombardments, Boston would often report to Subic Bay in the Philippines to replace its barrels.

USS Boston (CAG-1) was decommissioned in early May 1970. The seventh warship to bear the name would not enter service until twelve years later. USS Boston (SSN-703) was a Los Angeles-class nuclear attack submarine, a sleek hunter-killer built to lurk off Soviet territory in search of potential targets. Its insignia, designed for a contest by a twelve-year-old girl from South Boston, featured the historic figure of a Massachusetts Minuteman. The man was surrounded by gold dolphins and the motto “Freedom’s Birthplace”. SSN-703 was decommissioned in 1999. When the sub’s sail and rudder were spared from the scrapyard, the Association searched for someone who was willing to display them. The City of Boston wasn’t interested, but the sail found a home at the entrance of the Erie County Naval and Military Park in Buffalo, New York.

IMG_0157
The spiffy trailer operated by the USS Boston Association. 

A veterans group that gathers sailors from different ships and eras can be a special thing. Barry’s wife Patricia, who jokes that she has four jobs in the association, recalled an unusual side effect from the integration. The submariners of Boston (SSN-703), always a quiet breed, clustered together at one reunion while the “surface navy” of CA-69 and CAG-1 staked out their own corners of the room. The division didn’t last long. Soon enough, young and old from all Bostons were sitting at the same table and swapping stories. Today, all displays, merchandise, and even the group’s nifty trailer are decorated with seven stars—seven stars for seven ships.

Counting shipmates and their relatives, membership in the USS Boston Association has 232 sailors from World War Two, 1,890 from the CAG-1 years, and 923 from SSN-703. Over Fourth of July weekend, members will meet for a reunion in Burlington. There is no need to talk business or hold any meetings while the shipmates are in Vermont. “They’re there to have fun and renew old friendships,” Barry exclaimed. Veterans and their families will be able to tour the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, Shelburne Museum, Church Street and Cider Mill, and take a cruise on the Ethan Allen III, the latter visiting the waters off Valcour Island where the first Boston fought the British in 1776. Members will enjoy a raffle, auction, and music from Counterfeit Cash, a Johnny Cash tribute band.

Honoring tradition at their latest reunion, the Association will pipe aboard senior officers (Barry still retains his bosun’s pipe), welcome a color guard from the Vermont National Guard, and with a chaplain, hold a moment of silence for those who once sailed aboard these historic ships, but are no longer among them.

To learn more about USS Boston Association, visit ussboston.org.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s