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Making the Milwaukee: Building a new ship while honoring an old one

Steve Chamraz

Making the Milwaukee: Building a new ship while honoring an old one

CREATED Nov. 9, 2012 - UPDATED: Nov. 9, 2012

MARINETTE- To keep a big secret, it helps to have a big building with equally big doors.
Jim Lacosse is in on the secret slowly coming together in a giant building on the banks of the Menominee River.
"We all think this is a very cool job we have here," said Lacosse, vice-president of programs at Marinette Marine. "Building a ship is special and unique."
A secret Marinette Marine, Lockheed Marti, and the US Navy have been slowly sharing with us over the past year, as the USS Milwaukee inches ever closer to becoming the fifth navy ship to bear our city's name.
"The ship is in essence being brought to life, that's the way we talk about it internally," Lacosse said.
Gordon Stickney also learned about secrets in the Navy.
Stickney served on the third ship named Milwaukee.
"The big signs were 'a slip of the lip will sink a ship,'" Stickney recalled in a 2001 interview recorded by the Warhawk Air Museum.
"You didn't say nothin', you kept your trap shut."
There are not many men left who served on this ship in World War II, so their stories are being recorded by groups like the Warhawk Air Museum and preserved by the Library of Congress.
Stickney's story is of a kid fresh from Nampa, Idaho.
In 1940, Milwaukee was his first home on the sea.
"I just decided I wanted to join the Navy. They paid me $21 a month. I thought that was all the money in the world," he said.
It was also the ship that carried Stickney into war.
When Pearl Harbor was attacked, he was back home in Idaho, on leave.
"My dad came a running in, he said 'they bombed Pearl' and I couldn't believe it."
The Milwaukee was stuck at a New York shipyard for repairs.
By New Year's Eve, the ship was in the South Atlantic.
By the end of 1942, Stickney had his first taste of battle.
"This was about 8:30 in the morning, and I heard a boom boom," he recalled. "It come over the loudspeaker, 'apprise crew they hit the fantail.'"
Milwaukee had challenged and sank a Nazi blockade runner.
Stickney just witnessed the hairiest moment in the ship's service.
The fifth USS Milwaukee is also built for battle.
She is a littoral combat ship designed for fighting in shallow water.
That explains why the Navy has been so shy about showing her off.
It's a shyness that is slowly fading, as we were allowed an extensive look at the nearly complete ship.
Now that all the individual pieces have been welded together, it is east to get a real sense of what the Milwaukee will look like when she is launched next summer - a hulking ship almost 400 feet long.
Jim Lacosse does not take this process for granted.
He has watched the ship take shape over the last year and says she is only months away from her best day yet.

"It's really at launch when you see the ship in the water floating in the water you get the impression we're not vary far from being underway," Lacosse said.
Underway and carrying the legacy of all the Milwaukees that came before her, and the men who proudly served.
For more information on the Veterans History Project visit the Library of Congress's website by clicking here.
For more information on the Warhawk Air Museum in Nampa, Idado, click here.