Monday, August 24, 2015

The USS Texas

These are just three of the more than 250 photos I took of the USS Texas when I was in Houston awhile back. What can I say? This ship is incredible! You can explore the main deck, a few levels of the super structure, and even go several levels below deck. One of the main gun turrets is even open, but it is not for everyone. It's very tight and cramped, and a bit difficult to get into. You can even go way below decks and into parts of the engine room. Being deep in the belly of the beast gave me new appreciation for the types of men who manned these ships.

The day I was there, temperatures were in the mid '80's, and humidity was low. The Sun was shining, and by mid-morning, even with fans, A/C and increased ventilation, and even with no boilers fired, it was incredibly hot. I couldn't truly imagine the constant heat inside this thing. It also is unbelievable to think about being below decks during battle, or having to put out fires or repair battle damage. 

For those unfamiliar, the Texas was christened in 1914, and at the time it entered service, it was the most powerful weapons platform on the face of the Earth. It is the oldest US battleship in the US and has the dubious distinction of being the only remaining battleship to have served in both World Wars. It was reconditioned and overhauled after the Great War, and it served with distinction in both the Atlantic and Pacific during WWII. It participated in the Normandy invasion, and also the Iwo Jima and Okinawa campaigns. 

The USS Texas is showing its age. There is constant repair and upgrade being done to it by volunteers, but there is also a lot more to do. Volunteer organizations also are raising funds to give it a permanent dry berth, as the hundred+ year old battleship has numerous leaks that require constant pumping. A dry berth will be the only way to keep it preserved and open for future generations. 

You can learn more about the ship here;

You can also learn about volunteer opportunities here;

If you are ever in the Houston area, the Texas is definitely a thing to check out. Its proximity to the San Jacinto monument and battlefield provides a good opportunity for a fun day of education.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A memorable experience on the USS Alabama

As posted above, a few days ago I got to tour the USS Alabama. It was amazing. The photos are a few of the more than 250 I took of the ship. 

While I was there, I had a very memorable experience. I used to say that these types of things are once in a lifetime, but fortunately for me they happen quite often. An older gentleman was walking the decks. He had a WWII veteran cap on, so I said hi, and told him it was great to see veterans still able to come out to these ships.

We got to talking, and he told me his story. He was a naval veteran who was on a destroyer escort for one of the carriers in the Pacific. He said he was a local, and that he came to the Alabama nearly every week. He has been doing so for many years. I thought the story would end there, as most veterans don't like to tell war stories to people they don't know, but this guy was different.

He said that during a naval battle near the Caroline Islands, his destroyer was absorbing the brunt of a Japanese aerial attack. The Japanese pilots were after the carrier that his ship was trying to protect, and his ship was starting to be overwhelmed. Of his 2 1/2 years at sea, this time was the time he was most scared, because even though no kamikazes were attacking, there was always that fear, and even without them the pounding they were taking was more intense than he'd ever been involved in.

Then, he said a call came over the radio that changed the fate of everyone involved that day. He said that it was announced that help was coming in the form of a battleship. He looked starboard, and he saw it. It was easily recognizable, as his ship had been near it in formation on many occasions.

It was the Alabama, and she came in with AA guns blazing. Apparently the mere sight of the Alabama was too much for the Japanese pilots, and all but a few broke off from their attack. The few who stayed never returned to their ships.

This guy is convinced that the Alabama and her crew saved his ship and all of their lives, so he comes to see her, to relive that feeling of relief in his mind, and to pay his respects to the crew, very few of whom are still alive. What more is there to say about a story like that, other than to say I felt humbled? It was a very moving experience, and I'm glad he shared his story with me.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

"Sweet Home, Alabama!"

And on this day, the skies sure were blue!

I had to make a trip to Houston again. As can be expected, the history buff in me took over. Again! I heard the cry of "Damn the torpedoes!..." I had seen the movie "Under Siege." I had never been to the Gulf Coast, so I felt a brief stop in Mobile was in order.

The web site for Battleship Park recommended planning two hours for a thorough trip. I spent nearly that on the Alabama!

 I got in to the Mobile area after dark, and stayed in a hotel a few miles from town. Of course, I had to venture into town for a drink and a sample of the night life. I had just finished driving over 1,000 miles,  so my night wasn't going to be very lively. Mobile didn't disappoint at all, however. The Antebellum mansions and churches were enough to make the trip worthwhile. The atmosphere in the city made it even better. Everyone everywhere seemed to be having fun.

After a short stay, a good night's sleep, and an early wake up, it was off to the battleship. 10 years ago, I walked the decks of the USS Wisconsin in Norfolk. While enjoyable, there was a lot of the ship that was off-limits. This was not so with the Alabama. 

On the Alabama, you can walk the decks, climb to the upper decks, descend the stairwells into the lower decks, and even climb into one of the gun turrets, though this isn't easy. It is filled with displays on the history of the ship, battle honors, WWII displays, and various other bits of information on the ship and her past. While all of the ship isn't accessible, a large part of it is. The only things missing were a topless Erika Eleniak coming out a cake, a psychotic Gary Busey trying to drown his crew, an even more psychotic Tommy Lee Jones trying to nuke the World, and Steven Seagal kicking ass and saving the day!

After 1 1/2 hours exploring the beast, it was onto the hangar and its aircraft and vehicles on display. Sure, there was an F/A 18 Hornet, a P-51 Mustang, an F-14 Tomcat, and other planes and vehicles, but the highlight of the pavilion was the A-12 spy plane, the precursor to the famous, and infamous, SR-71 Blackbird. I was most impressed by the overall large size of the engines, and the relatively small size of the plane.

After a half hour in the pavilion, it was on to another WWII sea vessel, the submarine USS Drum. I had previously been aboard and spent the night on the USS Cod in Cleveland, but I had forgotten not only how cramped the subs from that era were, but also how overly complex they also were. I couldn't imagine having to diagnose, locate and repair a systems malfunction while at sea. The thought of being submerged and being depth charged made me shudder with fear. Like everything from that era, it took a special breed of man. Anyone who questions the bravery of a submariner has never been aboard a sub.

I spent another half hour or so wandering the park. There are various boats, including a replica of the Confederate Hunley, various aircraft, including a Vietnam-era B-52, and many tanks and mounted guns. The $2 park entrance fee is a bargain for all this park has to offer, but no visit is complete without exploring the Alabama. The $15 entrance fee is quite possibly the best $15 I've ever spent at an historic site. I highly recommend this place to everyone, and I'll definitely be going back!