Local barber recalls years of wartime service on USS Intrepid

Delander said his time on the Intrepid gave him the opportunity to travel the world.

by Sam Darcy

On Dec. 5, a team of tugboats pulled the USS Intrepid from its Manhattan pier to Bayonne, N.J.

The Intrepid, a former World War II and Vietnam War aircraft carrier that has served as a museum since 1982, will be refurbished and repainted before making the trip back to Manhattan in 2008.

The effort made national headlines as 20 former crewmen were invited to watch the event. One followed the dramatics from his barber’s chair here on campus.

Larry “Jake” Delander, manager of Harvard Barber Stylists on Washington Avenue Southeast, served as a barber on the Intrepid from 1965 to 1966 during his two-year stint in the Vietnam War.

“I cut 50 heads of hair that first day on the ship,” he said. “The Intrepid was something else.”

Delander, a father of three and an ordained pastor, said he was a 19-year-old gang leader in Southeast Minneapolis before he joined the Navy, but became a Christian during his time in the military, and his life has never been the same.

“Intrepid means fearless, and I was a gang member and fearless,” he said. “But my mother got her prayers answered.”

Delander said his time on the Intrepid gave him the opportunity to travel the world, including the Caribbean, Philippines, China and Japan. In 1965, the crew picked up Gemini 3 astronauts who crashed into the ocean upon their return from orbiting the Earth.

He speaks with pride about the ship and hangs a memento of the Intrepid in his barber shop for all his customers to see.

“We were the No. 1 over there for efficiency of any of the carriers,” he said. “And we were the smallest carrier of the time, because the Intrepid was a World War II carrier.”

Jim Rosvold, president of the Stadium Village Commercial Association and a customer of Delander’s for about four years, said Delander is never shy about talking about his military service or neighborhood news.

“He’s like a small town barber; he has a feel for the pulse of the neighborhood,” Rosvold said. “He’s a very patriotic man, he loves his country, he served and he’s proud to let people know that.”

Delander started a church in Hinckley. after his 1966 honorable discharge before eventually taking over at the barbershop in 2001.

Delander said cutting hair is one of his gifts, and he enjoys people and making them look good. He never tried to move up ranks when on the Intrepid because he didn’t want to leave the barbershop.

Tim Siefert, a fellow barber who has known and worked with Delander for about 10 years, said Delander’s past left him with a straightforward personality, leaving most people with strong opinions about the barber, good and bad. Still, Delander is an all-around good guy and a talented barber, Siefert said.

“I’ve been in this business thirty years and he’s probably the best barber I’ve ever worked with,” he said. “He knows how to cut hair, there is no doubt about it, and I continuously go back to him to have my hair cut.”

Delander remains strong in his faith and keeps a bright disposition, even after a motorcycle accident in which he and his wife were blindsided by a driver without insurance, leaving the couple with lingering injuries.

“My wife calls me a social butterfly,” he said. “I tell my college kids that nobody is happy the first hours of the morning, but everybody should be happy the rest of the day.”

Delander still beams when asked about his time on the Intrepid and said it’s great the Intrepid will be repaired for future generations to enjoy.

John Zukowsky, chief curator of the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, said the entire project will cost approximately $60 million, including pier work. The Intrepid and three other Essex-class carriers were turned into military museums over the last two decades after their 1970s decommissionings, he said.

Although Delander has never visited the ship as a museum, he said he and his wife plan to do so after the renovations.

“The Intrepid is the No. 1 ship museum in the U.S.,” Delander said. “I get customers from New York that have seen it and everybody loves the Intrepid.”