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January 30, 2012

Volunteers join Nauticus program to restore ship

By Sarah Hutchins
The Virginian-Pilot
© January 29, 2012


Inside the battleship Wisconsin, dust shimmered in a column of light coming from one of the portholes that brothers Joshua and Luke Cooper couldn't seem to get clean.

"You don't want the captain's quarters having smudges on the windows," their dad, Clarke, said.

So Luke, 11, sprayed it with glass cleaner and Joshua, 10, repeatedly scrubbed it from both sides.

"I still see smudges," Clarke said, sending the boys back for another try.

On Saturday, one of the ship's most important rooms was in the hands of a Suffolk father and his four sons. They polished bronze and dusted ceiling crevices and scrubbed the inside of drawers as part of a Nauticus volunteer program to restore "BB-64."

Eight groups - many with military connections - have committed to spending a year restoring a space on the ship, which has been moored at the museum since 2000, Nauticus volunteer coordinator Juli Mansfield said.

Using volunteers was a cost-effective way to preserve the ship and bring it to life. "In order for it to look its best, it needs to be shined," she said.

The project has drawn volunteers from all over the country. Mansfield met a man who painted a mural of the Wisconsin and another who worked on its sister ship.

"So many people passed through those hatchways," she said. "You never know when you'll find people with connections."

Clarke Cooper, a civilian who works in the Naval Supply Systems Command, said he began looking for a project his entire family could take part in after his oldest son, Jim, was required to do several hours of community service for school.

"They've never seen something like this before," Clarke said. "It would be a shame to grow up here and not know about the naval heritage."

Mansfield and Charles Halpine, the maintenance supervisor for volunteers on board the Wisconsin, said they tried to match the skills and interest of volunteers with a space on the ship.

A naval group took on radio communications and Fleet Weather Center Norfolk personnel will call the meteorological center their own, Mansfield said.

The captain's quarters, she said, seemed liked a good fit for the Coopers.

"Knowing that important decisions, the life of the ship, happened here," Clarke said, prompted them to adopt the space.

The family's first of six trips to restore the ship started with a 7 a.m. wake-up call Saturday, Clarke said. He lured the boys out of bed with pancakes, packed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch, and drove to Norfolk.

"It's a lot of work and a lot of space," Joshua said.

After a morning of dusting and polishing, the Coopers had made themselves at home on board the 887-foot dreadnought. Two boys took a break to play Nintendo games on a couch. Another flopped down on the floor. Five coats hung by the door.

By the end of the year, Halpine said, volunteers will have an idea of what it was like to be part of the ship.

"At least for the captain," he told the Cooper family.

Sarah Hutchins, 757-222-5210,

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