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Bangor Daily News August 25, 2011

Legion hopes to preserve ship named after East Millinocket hero

By Nick Sambides Jr.

EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Ensign Stephen W. Groves was a U.S. Navy pilot who performed gallantly in one of history’s greatest naval battles. Nine times the Schenck High School graduate flew an F4F-4 Wildcat fighter from the deck of the USS Hornet and engaged Japanese airplanes at the Battle of Midway during World War II, and eight times he returned.

Now the USS Stephen W. Groves is due to be decommissioned and scrapped, and members of the Feeney-Groves American Legion Post 13 on Main Street want to bring to town as many parts of the guided missile frigate as they can to memorialize Groves, the ship named after him, and the Mainers who served aboard it.

“We have a room available now and we do have a memorial to Stephen Groves. This will be in addition to that,” said post Commander Charles Powers, a 64-year-old local resident who served as a U.S. Army sergeant from 1967 to 1970, “and what we get from the Groves itself will dictate what we will do with it.”

“If it is possible, we would check with the selectmen of our community and see if there would be some proper place we could display some of this material. Our town does not have a museum per se,” Powers added. “They do have various places in town where we have history presented. We have a veterans memorial in town itself and maybe some of the material may be incorporated there, again depending on what we might receive from the ship.”

The Groves is an Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigate built at Bath Iron Works and commissioned in 1982 in Portland. The 23rd of 52 Perry class frigates, its home port is Pascagoula, Miss., according to GlobalSecurity.org, which advertises itself as a leading source of background information in the fields of defense and homeland security.

Designed to provide area protection to battle groups, amphibious forces and military and merchant shipping, the Groves changed roles in 2003. It now primarily conducts anti-drug operations in southern waters, according to the Navy website groves.navy.mil.

The ship’s namesake was honored with the Navy Cross posthumously after being lost at sea on June 4, 1942. According to the citation, the 25-year-old Groves was among six American pilots who battled a vastly superior force trying to sink the damaged aircraft carrier USS Yorktown. The small group was credited with shooting down 14 enemy planes and causing six others to retreat, groves.navy.mil states.

“He fearlessly plunged into aerial combat against large formations of enemy aircraft threatening the American carriers. … Contributing decisively to the disruption of the enemy, he continued determined counterattacks against desperate odds until, finally overcome by sheer aerial superiority, he was shot down from the skies,” the citation reads.

As far as the legion commanders know, Groves no longer has relatives in the Katahdin region, but does have a son, Richard, and grandson living in Connecticut. Richard Groves could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Legion members believe that the ship will be decommissioned in February but will sail into Boston Harbor on or about Columbus Day. Several hope to be among those visiting the ship, said Ralph Tapley of East Millinocket, U.S. Army veteran and ranking post member.

The Legion would welcome inquiries from other historical groups interested in preserving the Groves and the history of the man it’s named after. Anyone who wants to learn more about Groves, the man or the frigate, can visit the Legion Hall at 55 Main St., a building Legion members share with the town office, Tapley said.

“This is part of our history. This is just one small part of it and it depends on how interested a person is with the Battle of Midway and Navy pilots and how individuals relate to communities,” Powers said. “There are few people for whom individual ships are actually named, soldiers that served and served exceptionally, and he [Groves] was recognized as one.”

Copyright 2011, Bangor Publishing Co.