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Why do they have a battleship parked across from downtown?

Ben Steelman

The battleship USS North Carolina was towed to its present location on Oct. 2, 1961. On April 29, 1962, the decommissioned warship was dedicated as a memorial to the 10,000-plus North Carolinians who served in World War II.

In 1958, when the U.S. Navy announced plans to scrap the mothballed battleship, a member of Wilmington’s American Legion Post 10, James Craig, came up with the idea of saving the ship as floating museum and memorial. Craig convinced Gov. Luther Hodges, who recruited Wilmington native Hugh Morton, a noted promoter (and proprietor of Grandfather Mountain) to head the “Save Our Ship” campaign. (Morton had earlier been the founding president of Wilmington’s Azalea Festival.)

Morton recruited native Tar Heels such as Andy Griffith and Wilmington’s own David Brinkley to endorse the plan, granted honorary commissions to major contributors as “admirals” in the North Carolina Navy and solicited nickels, dimes and pennies from North Carolina’s schoolchildren. (Each of these young contributors were mailed a free pass to the battleship as soon as it opened.)

Morton’s campaign worked, exceeding its fundraising goals and collecting $330,000 to cover the costs of towing the North Carolina from its mothball port in Bayonne, N.J., to Wilmington.

Thousands lined the Cape Fear to see the battleship arrive at its new home on Eagles Island, across from downtown Wilmington. James Craig — who conceived the battleship memorial — was not among them. He died on Oct. 14, 1961, of severe burns sustained in a plane crash a few weeks earlier, while surveying the future battleship’s site.

Today, the Battleship North Carolina Memorial is administered by an 18-member state commission. appointed by the governor. The memorial’s staff maintain the ship and its large collection of artifacts, photos and documents as an educational tool to show new generations what life was like aboard a U.S. Navy vessel in the Second World War.

It also honors the memory of the five other vessels to bear the name “North Carolina,” from an 1820s ship-of-the-line to its current namesake, a Virginia-class nuclear attack submarine. (The current USS North Carolina, SSN-777, was officially commissioned May 3, 2008, in ceremonies at Wilmington held near the Battleship Memorial.)

Self-guided and recorded tours will take visitors to the main parts of the ship including one of the massive 16-inch gun turrets. (A major restoration is underway to make the battleship more handicapped-accessible.) Staff estimate that a full, leisurely tour can take about two hours, although enthusiasts might take even more time.

Periodic “Battleship Alive” weekends bring living-history interpreters aboard to man the North Carolina’s stations and explain their duties to tourists. “Hidden Battleship,” “Firepower,” “Power Plant” and “Systems and Designs” tours occasionally take small groups into areas of the ship not normally open to the public.

In spring, the “Easter Egg Hunt Carnival” brings Buddy the Battleship Bunny to Battleship Park for fun for the whole family, and in the fall, Batty Battleship offers a safe trick or treating environment for children ages 2 to 9.

Commissioned on April 9, 1941, the USS North Carolina (BB-55) was the first of a new class of fast battleships, along with its sister ship, the USS Washington. It participated in every major naval offensive of the war in the Pacific. Although, it never filled its intended role — battling Japan’s battleships, gun to gun — it found a useful mission providing much-needed artillery support to U.S. assault forces ashore and guarding the USS Enterprise and other American aircraft carriers with its formidable battery of anti-aircraft guns. (The ship’s crew is credited with downing at least 24 enemy aircraft.)

The North Carolina is slightly more than 728 feet long, and its beam (width) is more than 108 feet. In wartime, it displaced 44,800 tons when fully loaded and its superstructure is the height of a 15-story building.

Its wartime complement was 144 commissioned officers and 2,195 enlisted men, including a detachment of about 100 Marines. In addition to its massive 16-inch and 5-inch gun batteries, the ship had its own machine shop, its own barber shop, print shop, tailor’s shop and photographic darkroom — plus a soda fountain and ice cream for off-duty sailors.

A special attraction is the Vought Kingfisher floatplane, one of just seven of these remarkable aircraft still surviving. These small reconnaissance planes were launched from catapults on the stern of the ship for observation missions and for the rescue of downed air crews in the water.

Today, the Battleship Memorial is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at other times. (The ship closes at 6 p.m. on Independence Day to allow preparations for the annual downtown fireworks display.)

The battleship is located off U.S.74/76/421, at 1 Battleship Road, Wilmington [Map this], just west of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge and just south of the S. Thomas Rhodes Bridge.

Regular admission is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors (aged 65 and older) and members of the military (active duty and retired), $6 for children ages 6-11 and free for children aged 5 and younger. Discounts are available for groups.

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5 Responses to “ Why do they have a battleship parked across from downtown?”

  1. On November 2, 2009 at 10:27 pm Jonathan wrote:

    If I recall correctly, they found the Vought Kingfisher aircraft that now sits on the U.S.S. North Carolina in China after it was shot down. Not sure if this is true or not.

  2. On November 22, 2010 at 10:10 am Kim Sincox, Museum Services Director, Battleship NC wrote:

    The Origins of the Battleship’s Kingfisher

    It was August 20, 1942 and a dense fog shrouded uninhabited Calvert Island, Canada. A formation of new OS2U-3 Kingfishers passed overhead enroute to the Aleutian Islands. In the fog, the formation became separated and one Kingfisher slammed into the side of Mt. Buxton. This plane was flown by pilot Ensign Mac J. Roebuck and gunner AMM1/c Stanley Goddard. Incredibly, Roebuck and Goddard were unhurt and walked down the mountain to the coast where they were rescued. The plane was left to the elements after a brief salvage operation.

    In 1963, the Canadian authorities recovered the plane and shipped it to the Air Museum in Calgary. The wreckage was then turned over to the NORTH CAROLINA for restoration. The Battleship requested that Vought Aeronautics restore the plane. In 1970, it was shipped to Dallas, Texas, where the Quarter-Century Club (made up of retired Vought workers) began the restoration. After a year of work, the OS2U-3 Kingfisher was placed aboard the Battleship and dedicated on June 25, 1971.

  3. On January 20, 2011 at 8:38 pm DarrellParks wrote:

    It’s in case the Japanese attack again. Sheesh! Must be a tourist.LOL

  4. On March 31, 2013 at 2:56 pm Stanley S. Goddard II wrote:

    My father was the radioman/gunner, He And Mac flew the plane into hillside on Calvert island, BC. in 1942. around 1971 they got it off the island and transported it to Vought Aeronautics in Texas and had the quarter century club rebuild it back to original the on to the U.S.S. North Carolina. Hope this will help.

  5. On September 2, 2013 at 7:54 pm Steve Roebuck wrote:

    #2 and #4 cover the story. Mac Roebuck was my father, and we were fortunate enough to be present at the dedication of the USS North Carolina Memorial, and to meet Mr. Goddard, not to mention so many who served on the USS North Carolina. (Pleasure to “meet” you, Mr. Goddard III!). While there is not any information about my father and Mr. Goddard on display, I know that they were honored to have their plane as part of this tribute, as are their children.

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