My wife and I are moving to New Orleans in the not too distant future, and while driving home from an appointment to view a potential apartment my lovely wife allowed me to stop and explore the Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile. Foolishly I told her I'd be back in a half hour, then dashed from one side of the museum to the other furiously clicking away at everything I could find. An hour later she crossly pulled up next to me as I was snapping quarter bow shots of the Gato Class sub USS Drum.
I'll recommend some good WWII naval warfare games in the not-to-distant future, but this experience was the real thing, so sorry folks... no game talk today.
The star of the park is the battleship Alabama.
Designated BB-60 she's a South Dakota Class Battleship. Launched in 1942 she served in the South Pacific theater of operations. She was nicknamed the "Lucky A". During her active service not a single crewman was killed in enemy action.
The Battleship was the largest most sophisticated machine of that era. All due respect to the devotees of Aircraft Carriers, the floating flat-topped buckets of WWII pale in comparison to the floating fortress of the BB: 2500 highly trained men integrated with the same clockwork precision of the CV crew into a single machine with a single function...
Destroy anything in sight.
And it was very good at it's job.
Lucky-A's armament would still strike fear into any foe not equipped with a state of the art guided missile system. Truth be told, most of today's anti ship missiles would be hard pressed to penetrate her foot thick armor plating. Mind you, if ships like this were still on the line that wouldn't be the case. These behemoths no longer have a place in the modern navy, but as recently as 1992 they served with distinction.
Shown here are 2 of Alabama's 10 Double 5" Gun turrets. Secondary weapons, any destroyer or submarine foolish enough to blunder into range of one of these batteries broadside would not likely live long enough to abandon ship. In the foreground you can see 2 of her 12 40mm Anti-Aircraft Auto Cannons.
The main armaments of the Alabama were 9 16 inch guns organized into 3 turrets, 2 mounted on the foreward deck, and one aft.
These guns were able to launch steel shells packed with explosives a little over 23 miles. Each shell weighs about as much as a Volkswagon bus.
On the aft deck you can see the catapult rail that would be used to launch one of Alabama's 2 OS2U Kingfisher Scout planes (pictured below) right off the deck. These planes would be used to scout the surrounding waters for enemy forces. The crane was used to recover the aircraft once they had landed in the water. Also seen here are 3 of Lucky-A's 52 20mm Machine Guns for use against enemy aircraft.
It was sad to see the condition of the old girl. She needs a face lift in the worst way.
The steel structure is in excellent shape, almost timeless, and the three degree list that is apparently left from Katrina is not even noticeable. But the wooden decks need to be completely replaced. The once polished teak is now gray and warped.
Most infuriating, however, is the thin layer of paint on the starboard side barely managing to conceal years of graffiti.
Sadder still was the condition of the Drum. Damaged in hurricane George she is now consigned to living the rest of her days mounted on blocks, her tail section a frayed and rusted out tangle of steel.
Many of the aircraft in the museum's collection are piled next to her, likewise twisted and mangled by storm damage.
But the saddest blow is the Vietnam Veterans memorial. The Huey, the foot soldiers angel of mercy in that conflict, was once mounted over the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in eternal flight. Now it is gone, leaving only the skids freakishly suspended in the air over the rest of the sculpture.
Then I reminded myself that God did this. He reached down from heaven and swatted down that Huey. And it is God's contribution to this memorial that makes the starkest and most important statement of all. Have we done with the veteran's of that war exactly what we have done to their memorial? Have we left them underfunded and neglected? Have we let our shame of defeat and unwillingness to admit our own fallibility obscure the contribution these men made to our country and our culture, many with their lives?
To me that missing helicopter is a challenge to put up or shut up. It is a divine reminder that not all heroes fight and win. Sometimes all a man can do is fight and die.
I cannot recommend strongly enough a visit to this place. You have the opportunity to explore a battleship stem to stern. Take the whole day. You won't regret it.
And leave a few extra dollars in the collection jar at the ticket desk. Let's get that Huey put back up.