02 March 2006

USS Alabama

26 February 2006, Bill and I drove into Mobile, AL thinking we would spend the day in the historic sections of downtown. Silly us, we forgot about Mardi Gras, drove 90min into Mobile to sit in Mardi Gras traffic for 20min to make a U-turn and head back to the highway, on the way back out of town is the USS Alabama Battleship Park. We stopped and ended up spending several hours touring the USS Alabama and the Memorial Park.

According to their information at the park, the USS Alabama was commissioned on 16 August 1942, and is 680 feet in length, with a beam (width) of 108ft 2 inches. She is registered as 35,000 tons, but under battle conditions, she weighed in at well over 45,000 tons. Her assigned crew was 127 officers and 2205 enlisted, but she normally had a crew of 2500 men aboard. She earned 9 Battle Stars, and shot down 22 enemy airplanes during WWII.

The tour is a self-guided walking tour, you are given a guide and you follow the colored arrows and numbers around the ship and read about the different areas. Route A – Red Arrows – took you below decks, after part of the ship. Route B – Green Arrows – Below decks, forward part of the ship. Route C – Yellow Arrows – Upper decks up to level 0-8. It’s really a lot of fun to explore the ship; neither Bill nor I had been on a Battle Ship before, so it was nice to have it be new to both of us. I’m extremely glad they had the colored arrows and numbers all over the ship, everything looks the same and I think it would take a while to learn your way around and be confident about finding your way without the ‘breadcrumbs’.

They have the ship set up as a museum so some of the rooms have displays and stuff to read. Other parts of the ship were left, as they would have been, sort of a ‘living museum’ kind of feel. One of the more interesting points was the #2 Barbette. They have cut a special door in the outer section of the Barbette for civilians to be able to tour the inside of the Barbette; previously this was an area that only men aboard a battleship would have seen. The entire below decks portion of the tour smelled like diesel fuel and other things, like the smells had permeated the steel and just wouldn’t let go of the ship, each section had a slightly different smell.

The ship was also listing a bit and had hoses run all through to pump out water from Hurricane Katrina. The devastation you can still see in the area is terrifyingly amazing. At the Vietnam Memorial part of the park there used to be a Huey on a pedestal but only the pedestal and some torn wires still remain. The part of the park that used to be a picnic is just so much concrete and steel bits. There are tanks on display that were shoved off their concrete slabs and rammed into the dirt. The Aircraft Pavilion is closed to the public because the building sustained so much damage, so did the aircraft.

The Memorials themselves are awesome, they always are. The entire park is really worth a visit, even with the parts that are closed to the public. We spent several hours on the Alabama alone, we didn’t even get to tour the USS Drum Submarine because we ran out of time. It’s truly humbling to see these areas that are recovering. Only private monies and the costs of entrance fund this park, I was happy to pay the fee and know that it would help to keep it open, and help to rebuild.

I consider myself truly blessed to be able to experience the things that I have so far and look forward to experiencing more.