The Baton Rouge skyline wouldn’t be complete without the U.S.S. Kidd. The 75-year-old Fletcher-Class destroyer is as integral a part of downtown’s history as the Old State Capitol and the Old Governor’s Mansion.
But its own history is rooted off the coast of Okinawa, Japan, where it was struck by a kamikaze plane on April 11, 1945, killing 38 servicemen and injuring several others.
Today, the U.S.S. Kidd and its next door Veterans Museum commemorate this story and others spanning the ship’s almost two decades of service. “She and her sisters have occupied a massive piece of history all the way around the world,” says the ship’s superintendent and educational outreach coordinator, Tim NesSmith.
But running a museum housed in an aging ship like this comes with a unique set of challenges.
As World War II veterans diminish along with the number of people in uniform, the museum has had to adapt to stay relevant and appeal to visitors who aren’t as connected to that military history.
“We still commemorate, because that’s part of our role and part of our mission. But we need a new model for our museum in order to survive into the future,” says the Kidd’s former director, David Beard, who recently left the museum for a job out of state. “We’re just in the process of figuring out how to rebrand and maybe reinvent ourselves without losing ourselves. That’s the key, that’s the trick, and we’re not alone in this.”
As with so many other historic sites, the Kidd is making a push toward digital. There’s evidence of these efforts in its flashy website created by local marketing agency Three Sixty Eight. Fresh features, including an interactive web tour, drone footage of the ship and an easy-to-navigate web platform, won the Kidd top honors this year during American Advertising Federation Baton Rouge’s ADDY Awards.
Museum officials say they are planning to introduce a virtual tour of the ship’s interior to the website using drone footage. “It’s all about relevancy,” NesSmith says. “Every museum must be relevant to its community. Otherwise, it’s no longer serving a function.”
Another plan is to digitize the ship’s archives and develop the museum’s educational and research component.
The ship is currently home to pages and pages of documents such as diagrams, blueprints and manuals. And just like a deep spring cleaning of your home requires making a giant mess first, the Kidd’s digitization process will require more personnel and space to organize everything.
For now, the staff of mostly part-time employees is attempting to remove these documents from the ship and store them in a safer environment.
As the Kidd tackles a host of updates and improvements, its leaders say the mission won’t change: to preserve memories of veterans long after they’re gone. usskidd.com
This article was originally published in the July 2019 issue of 225 Magazine.