A BATTLESHIP COMES HOME
Well before dawn on December 7, 2000, hundreds of Navy veterans of three wars assembled at Norfolk Naval Station to board the USS Wisconsin for its final journey. Launched on Pearl Harbor Day in 1943, the nation’s last and largest battleship (nearly 888 feet long) was heading a few miles down the Elizabeth River to become a tourist attraction on Norfolk’s waterfront.
Only three other Iowa -dass battleships survive. The Missouri is a museum in Pearl Harbor, while the Iowa and New Jersey, located in San Francisco and Camden, New Jersey, are slated to become museums. The Iowa and Wisconsin are on ready reserve, so tours will be restricted to the main deck; the rest is off-limits. But nearby in the harbor, the National Maritime Center will provide exhibits on life aboard a battleship.
The Wisconsin earned five battle stars in the Pacific, saw action in Korea, and last fired her 16-inch guns during the Gulf War. “There’s a lot of history in that sucker,” murmured one Korean War veteran as he stared up at the freshly painted gray behemoth. “I brought the only part of my uniform that still fits,” another said. “My watch cap.” Around sunrise, as the Wisconsin got under way, pulled by four sturdy Moran tugs, her aged former crew members suddenly became as nimble as mountain goats, climbing ever-higher decks.
For the city of Norfolk, home to America’s largest naval base, the Wisconsin ’s arrival is full of promise. “I’m happy. Fm very happy,” rejoiced Rev. Nathaniel Obey, a local man who had spent 1952 to 1956 in the tailor shop on the Wisconsin. “I never thought I’d be on the ship to see it move again. And this is the greatest thing that ever happened to this town.”
The USS Wisconsin opens to visitors on April 16. For more information, call Nauticus, the National Maritime Center (800-664-1080), or the Norfolk Convention and Visitors Bureau (757-664-6620).