USS Bowfin senior volunteer Kristin “Kiddy” Decoster has had a hand in nearly every aspect of the historic submarine’s restoration.

Volunteers maintain
submarine’s glory

The USS Bowfin is considered
one of the best-preserved vessels

Whenever Kristin "Kiddy" Decoster's husband, Richard, would see a submarine, he'd tell his wife, "Look, there's my home."

He had been a cook aboard the USS Bowfin.

The coupled moved to Honolulu in 1960 and years later, they saw that the Bowfin had returned to the islands. It was moored at Pier 39, a gutted shell, and they stopped by to donate a few dollars to the boat's restoration.

"Some of the fellows were trying to rewire equipment, and I sort of pushed one of them aside and said, 'Let me try,'" Kiddy Decoster said with a laugh. She wound up having a hands-on relationship with the historic submarine that continues today.

Bowfin is considered one of the best-preserved historic naval vessels in the world, thanks primarily to the efforts of volunteers like Decoster, who also has been a board member for the Bowfin organization for two decades. Although she has had a hand in virtually every aspect of the boat's restoration, her expertise is in the elaborate ropework decorating the submarine's controls and gangways.

"The boys saw me sitting in the car, crocheting, and said, 'Hey, if you can do that, you can do ropework,'" she said.

Being a volunteer often means working odd hours. Repairs and restoration usually cannot be made during the day when visitors are touring the boat. And sometimes there are distances to travel to get the proper parts.

"When the TV series 'Operation Petticoat' shut down, the Navy allowed submarine museums around the country to retrieve parts -- except that they were all painted pink for the show!" Decoster said. "I flew back to Honolulu with a bag full of pink gauges like they were fine jewelry; took months to get rid of the pink paint."

Richard Decoster died several years ago, but Kiddy continues volunteering at the museum. She often takes complicated pieces of ropework home so she can concentrate on the details.

"I love that boat and want to see that I do everything the best I can," she said. "But I'm just one of hundreds of volunteers here over the years. They range from Boy Scout Sea Cadets to active-duty submarine sailors who pitch in after hours, to veterans who want to make sure the details are correct."


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