During World War II, American destroyer escorts patrolled the North Atlantic, protecting convoys against Nazi U-boats.

In the Pacific, they defended against Japanese submarines and Kamikaze air attacks.

The U.S.S. Slater is the last of 563 of those ships remaining afloat from that fleet.

Moored on the Hudson River in Albany, N.Y., it has undergone an extensive, 15-year restoration to attempt to match its 1945 status.

The restoration has been driven by volunteers.

New Milford's Stephen Dull is among those who have put in many hours to bring the vessel back to form.

Dull, a woodworking artist who lives in the Gaylordsville section of New Milford, became involved with the Slater restoration project when his friend, David Jalbert, of New Milford, invited him to tour the ship.

"Once we got on the ship and they learned I did restoration work, they started asking me questions," Dull said. "The first thing I did was rebuild the wooden deck grating for the fly bridge."

Dull is just completing a replacement rudder for the Slater's wooden whale boat. Weighing 90 pounds, the rudder is made of black locust wood, reinforced with fiberglass and epoxy. It stands about 6 feet tall on end and features original brass hardware Dull will be refitting.

The Slater's whale boat is one of the last operational examples of 26,000 such boats produced.

"At first, we talked about using teak, but then I sold them with the comment `The old timers use to say black locust lasts one year longer than stone,' " Dull said with a smile.

New England farmers used to plant black locust trees to use for posts, Dull explained. The black locust wood Dull used is from the Squash Hollow Saw Mill.

Trips to Albany with friends to tour the Slater are a regular occurrence for Jalbert. He served on a similar ship while in the Navy.

"Stephen's a fine carpenter," Jalbert said. "They were astounded at the Slater by the deck grate. He's not charged a thing for the work."

Dull shrugs such compliments off.

"There's a lot of Navy guys around and veterans who served on these ships," Dull said. "To preserve at least one of these ships is important."

The USS Slater was originally acquired by the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City in August 1993.

Restoration was begun by members of the Statue of Liberty Chapter of the Destroyer Escort Sailors Association, augmented by volunteers from the Connecticut and New Jersey chapters.

In October 1997, the Slater was towed to Albany when the Intrepid museum downsized. A new group of volunteers took up the work begun in Manhattan.

Each area of the ship was detailed with the helmets, life jackets, uniform parts, publications and personal gear that would have been in the space when the crew was living aboard.

Finally, the decks were painted and the restored areas opened to the public.

The Slater museum offers hourlong guided tours, youth group overnight camping, and a location for naval reunions.

It is open for tours from April through November, Wednesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For information, visit www.ussslater.org or call 518-431-1943.