Making the Milwaukee: The past and future of our city's ship
Steve Chamraz, Stephanie Graham
Steve Chamraz reportsPhoto: Video by tmj4.com
MARINETTE - Jeff Peters' memories of his Navy years are so vivid. Looking at an old scrapbook he points to old beer labels, saying, "All the different beers, boy, the beers you could drink."
He can almost taste them.
We called her the Old Milwaukee, because she was a great girl," he recalls.
Though Old Milwaukee is not a beer to Peters. 'She' is a ship.
"She kept you happy, she kept you safe, and you kind of had like a kinship to her," Jeff muses.
As coincidences go -- Jeff spent his entire 4 year hitch on the ship named for his hometown, which explains why he is so excited...
The construction is going on inside a building on the northern fringe of Wisconsin. Chuck Goddard is the president of Marinette Marine. He laughs, "There were a lot of people that were happy it was Milwaukee, and a city in Wisconsin got the name."
Marinette Marine is where workers are 'Making The Milwaukee' one piece at a time. It took months of planning, but Marinette Marine, Lockheed-Martin, and the Defense Department worked out a way for TODAY'S TMJ4 to pay a visit, giving you the first look at the next ship in the line. It's a line that stretches back 148 years.
The name Milwaukee dates back to the Civil War, and she was a trend-setter: An iron-clad monitor ship, Milwaukee launched in 1864 -- bombarding Confederate ports across the south. Her end came quickly.
Eight months after joining the fight, Milwaukee was hit by a torpedo and sank. 42 years passed before the next Milwaukee would set sail. This time -- as a cruiser.
By World War I, Milwaukee was tending to destroyers and submarines off the coast of California. That's where she met her end in 1917. Milwaukee ran aground -- just like the submarine her crew was trying to save.
Milwaukee was back on the job in 1923. On December 7, 1941 she went to war, breaking German convoys in the South Atlantic. By the war's end, Milwaukee was under a new flag, transferred to the Soviet Navy and re-named Murmansk. She came back to the states in 1949, was retired, and eventually scrapped.
When the calendar flipped over to 1970, Milwaukee was a replenishment oiler. She served in the final days of the Vietnam War. Then, served 25 years as one of the Navy's workhorses. To sailors like Peters, Milwaukee was simply home.
Milwaukee sailed the world, refueling other ships along the way, and giving sailors a view of the world they had never seen before.
"We were so proud to be on the Milwaukee, because it was our home, our girl," Jeff recalls.
The new Milwaukee is made for a post 9-11 world. It's fast and mean, built for shallow water combat. When Marinette Marine puts all the pieces together she will look just like her big sister, the USS Fort Worth. Then she and her sailors will have their chance to bond.
"After you've been tossed around in rough seas, you become very close to the ship that's out there protecting you," Chuck explains.
He knows they don't build legacies in Marinette--they build ships, and trust the sailors who serve aboard their creations will bring each one to life. Just like Jeff Peters and all the men who served aboard the last Milwaukee turned a cold, steel ship into a trusted friend.
"We wanted to make her look great and keep her safe because she kept us safe," Jeff says.
We still have a ways to go before Milwaukee is on the job. She's scheduled to be completed in 2014. Between now and then -- Marinette Marine and Lockheed-Martin have agreed to give TODAY'S TMJ4 regular visits on Milwaukee's namesake ship. So be on the lookout for updates on how she's coming along!