Tense times: Bath museum showcases Cold War era in Maine

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BATH — It was America’s longest war, yet a war that never really was.

The Cold War, which began soon after the end of World War II and stretched through 1991, is the focus of the Maine Maritime Museum’s latest exhibit.

“Cold Waters, Cold War: the 20th Century Navy in Maine” runs through Aug. 7 at the 243 Washington St. museum.

With the knowledge that Brunswick Naval Air Station is closing this year, “we felt like it was a good opportunity to talk about the Navy presence in Maine,” said Chris Hall, the museum’s curator of exhibits. “And as we thought about it more, we wanted to … move past the World War II era stories, which are many and good, but we haven’t had any chance to deal with (the) more living-history side of things.”

Hall said there are many veterans around who served during the Cold War, and this exhibit offers them the chance to share their stories. The recollections of these Maine Maritime Museum personnel – such as trustee, volunteer and tour guide Charles “Skip” Orem – are posted in the exhibit.

The exhibit is divided into four areas of activity: the surface Navy, submarines, aviators and communications facilities.

“It was a cool opportunity for us to have some airplanes and some submarines, which we’d never had the chance to do before,” Hall said.

One piece of the exhibit highlights the vessels Bath Iron Works built during the Cold War, such as the Gearing class. BIW delivered 16 of the 30 ships of that line to the Navy by the end of World War II in 1945, and nearly all the rest by the next year. Most of the ships served into the 1980s and were in locations like Korea and Vietnam.

The exhibit offers information on the Cutler naval computer and telecommunication station located east of Machiasport, as well as the Winter Harbor Naval security group activity communications facility, and the submarines built during the Cold War at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery.

There is also information on Bath-built ships directly involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis, the 1962 face-off with the former USSR that nearly made the Cold War hot.

“The Cold War has this sort of strange aura about it, because everything was sort of poised,” Hall said. “… So this deterrent value thing comes in, which is very unique to that time period.”

Log onto mainemaritimemuseum.org or call 443-1316 for more information.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.