By Published On: October 13, 2023Categories: Patriotic, Travel

Story By Ethan Stamper 

Photos By Ed Sikora and Contributed By USS Alabama

 

The USS Alabama, a symbol of American naval might, is a storied battleship with a remarkable history spanning from the height of World War II to its current role as a revered museum ship. Commissioned in 1942, this South Dakota-class vessel has served as a crucial player in several major conflicts, earning its place in history and the hearts of millions. From the Pacific Theater of World War II to its transformation into the Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile, Alabama, the USS Alabama remains an enduring testamony to the bravery of its crew and the technological prowess of its time.

The USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park is a tribute to the history of the USS Alabama and a showcase of other significant military exhibits. Established in 1965, the 150-acre park provides visitors with an immersive experience, allowing them to explore naval history, witness iconic military aircraft and gain insight into the valor and sacrifices of the brave men and women who served their country. 

“It’s so important to keep history alive, and as time passes on, all we can do is keep telling the stories that were told to us by the generations before,” said Ashleigh Milne, USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park director of communications. “It’s up to museums like Battleship Memorial Park to make sure that the public is educated, as well as to honor all of those servicemen and women who fought and sacrificed so much for our country.”

Educational exhibits are strategically placed throughout the vessel, providing insights into the battleship’s combat capabilities, her pivotal role in critical engagements and the experiences of her crew during wartime. 

In addition to the USS Alabama battleship, the Memorial Park features an impressive collection of military aircraft and other exhibits. 

Notable aircraft on display include the A-12 Blackbird, a B-25 Mitchell Bomber and an impressive array of historical warplanes, helicopters and missiles. These exhibits showcase the evolution of military aviation and the contributions of various aircraft in the defense of the nation.

“When you come to the park, you not only get to tour the USS Alabama battleship but you also get to tour our submarine — the USS Drum,” Milne said. “Visitors will also get to see over 30 aircraft throughout the park, as well as tanks and more, all for the price of just your admission ticket.”

Throughout the park, visitors will find various military memorials and commemorations dedicated to those who served in different branches of the armed forces. Notably, the Korean War Memorial honors the sacrifice of American soldiers who fought in the Korean War, while the Vietnam War Memorial pays tribute to those who served during the Vietnam conflict.

“To keep that history alive is such an incredible responsibility that we have as a park and we’re so proud to be stewards of our country’s military history,” Milne said. “We want to share that [history] with as many people as possible.”

The park’s mission to honor veterans and educate visitors about naval history extends beyond its exhibits. The USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park offers a range of educational programs and events catering to students, families and history enthusiasts. From guided tours and historical reenactments to interactive exhibits and educational workshops, visitors can immerse themselves in the rich tapestry of military history.

USS ALABAMA: A Legend is Forged

Construction of the USS Alabama began in 1940 at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Virginia. The battleship’s specifications included a length of 680 feet and a formidable armament featuring nine 16-inch guns, 20 5-inch guns and an array of anti-aircraft weaponry. On Aug. 16, 1942, it was commissioned into the United States Navy, with Capt. George B. Wilson at the helm. 

Following its commissioning, the USS Alabama steamed to the North Atlantic to assist the British Home Fleet. She then joined the fast carrier task force in the Pacific Theater of World War II. During the war, the battleship participated in critical operations such as the Gilbert and Marshall Islands campaign, the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the Battle of Leyte Gulf and several others. The USS Alabama’s primary role was to provide fire support for American ground forces and engage enemy aircraft and warships.

Notably, the battleship earned the moniker “The Lucky A” for its remarkable ability to emerge from intense engagements relatively unscathed. The combination of its skilled crew and powerful armaments made it a formidable opponent on the high seas. Following Japan’s surrender, the USS Alabama led the remaining fleet into Tokyo Bay on Sept. 5, 1945. By the end of the war, the USS Alabama had earned nine battle stars, conducted 10 bombardments and shot down a confirmed 22 enemy aircraft.

USS ALABAMA: A Memorial is Born

After the end of World War II, Battleship USS Alabama and hundreds of warships used to win the war were deemed too costly. The United States Government decommissioned Alabama on Jan. 9, 1947, and left the ship in Bremerton, Washington, where it and other vessels would await their call back to defend their nation, but that call never came. In 1962, the United States Navy announced that the aging battleships would be scrapped and the USS ALABAMA was on the list. Other vessels were scrapped, dismantled for their steel and other parts, since they were no longer of use to the peace-keeping efforts of the United States.

However, hope was not lost for the USS Alabama. There were those in the state who envisioned the WWII battleship as a memorial and began the fight to save the battleship. Alabama Gov. John Patterson, upon learning that the ship was a candidate for scrapping by the Navy, was in complete agreement to save it. An immediate petition was sent to the Alabama State Legislature and a joint resolution was passed. Patterson appointed a small fact-finding committee to assess the feasibility of saving the ship, bringing it to Alabama’s deep water port of Mobile and establishing it as the centerpiece of a memorial park. 

Negotiations with the Department of the Navy revealed the enthusiasm of the national government to transfer title of Alabama to the state. Gov. George Wallace signed the passed legislation into law, and under original Senate Bill 152 (now found in the Alabama Code, Section 41-9-340 through 358) on Sept. 12, 1963, the USS Alabama Battleship Commission was established as a state agency to acquire, transport, berth, renovate, maintain and establish the Battleship USS Alabama as a memorial to all those Alabamians who had served so valiantly in WWII and Korea. The law was subsequently modified to make USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park a memorial honoring those who served in all armed conflicts of the United States.

However, there was one glaring problem yet to be solved. The legislation gave the group zero money to bring the battleship to Alabama, and no money to fund any construction and/or operating expenses once the WWII hero arrived in Mobile. Public fundraising was the only answer. Alabama’s school children heard the call, and donated almost $100,000 to aid the cause, receiving a lifetime pass as long as Wallace was in office.

In the spring of 1964, in a relatively short span of less than six months, approximately $800,000 was raised, enough to get the ship underway from the state of Washington. The under-secretary of the Navy then executed a transfer document with the state of Alabama, represented by the commission. It authorized transfer of Battleship USS Alabama to the state “as is, were is,” with no additional cost to the federal government. The document also allowed the Navy to annually inspect the vessel as Alabama must be kept in shipshape fighting trim, since a provision was that should the Navy ever need, it reserved the right to come take BB-60, and press the ship back into active duty status.

After it reached Mobile on Sept. 14, 1964, the battleship was finally pulled into position. A hand-picked crew, consisting of mainly retired Navy men, began work almost right away. Acres of steel had to be sandblasted, primed and painted, and below deck spaces had to be cleaned and made safe for visitors unaccustomed to moving around ships. In less than 4 months, the ship was ready for visitors. More than 2,000 people were on hand Jan. 9, 1965, to see Wallace officially open the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park. 

The USS Alabama remains an iconic symbol of valor, bravery and national pride. As visitors explore its decks and immerse themselves in its history, they are reminded of the courage and sacrifice exhibited by those who served on board during times of conflict.

From its commissioning in 1942, to its current role as a museum ship, the USS Alabama’s journey has been one of valor, heritage and resilience. Through multiple conflicts and technological advancements, this battleship has left an indelible mark on American naval history, securing its place as a cherished national treasure and a living testament to the courage of the sailors who served aboard. As the years pass, the USS Alabama continues to inspire future generations, upholding the ideals of bravery, service and dedication to duty that defined its storied past.

Battleship Memorial Park is open everyday, except Christmas Day, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and people can expect to spend anywhere between two to six hours at the park. 

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