USS Alabama gears up for ‘Living History Crew Drill’ WWII battle reenactment on Dec. 7
MOBILE — The USS Alabama has firmly cemented its place as one of the state’s most iconic symbols from its spot at Battleship Memorial Park on the eastern side of the Mobile River.
The South Dakota class battleship has been an attraction for visitors to Coastal Alabama since 1965. However, it took a statewide effort to make that possible according to USS Alabama director of sales and marketing Rhonda Davis.
During an interview with Huntsville radio WVNN’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from the fantail of the USS Alabama, Davis credited a 1964 wire report for engaging and mobilizing people around Alabama to help make a home for the World War II-era battleship, which had been designated for scrap.
“The USS Alabama came to Mobile in 1965, and it’s a great unique story that involved the citizens of Alabama. In 1964, the Mobile Press-Register picked up a story on the wire from the U.S. Navy where they were going to scrap the battleships that had been put in mothballs in Bremerton Naval Yard in Washington State. And the USS Alabama, of course, being a World War II battleship was one of those ships. Within 24 hours, a group of concerned citizens and political and civic leaders contacted Governor [George] Wallace, and within 24 hours, they put together a task force to save the USS Alabama and bring her back to Mobile.”
“Part of the fundraising efforts was the children’s campaign involved first graders through seniors in high school who donated in 1964 and 1965 almost $100,000 in lunch money through fundraisers to help bring the ship here. In exchange, those students were given free passes to visit the USS Alabama,” she said. “And even to this day, we receive about 50 passes a year.”
According to Davis, the campaign had broad participation all over the state, which she said meant the USS Alabama “really belongs to all the citizens of the state of Alabama,” and notes the visitorship to the attraction is unmatched by any similar attraction around the country.
“We have almost a half-a-million visitors a year come to the USS Alabama,” Davis said. “And the state of Alabama still remains the highest visitorship per state and per international country that we welcome. So, we want to thank all the Alabamians that come to visit, who donate money, and who share the story of the park with their families. We always love welcoming the park to our friends and to our family and neighbors in Alabama.”
The battleship saw action in both the Atlantic and Pacific. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, it was moved from Europe to the Pacific.
“The Alabama — she earned nine battle stars during World War II,” she said. “She started her service in the Pacific theater guarding the supply lines into Northern Europe and into Russia. And then, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, she was moved into the Pacific theater. And that is really where she won all of her battle stars. She had a full complement of 2,500 men who served aboard her. And when you think about it, she really is a floating city. And when you think about the USS Alabama’s history, there are so many great stories.”
Davis says the USS Alabama played a big role in the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot, one of the highlights of the ship’s service.
“It was the Alabama’s radar the detected the second aerial attack by Japan,” Davis explained. “And her radar was so state of the art that the U.S. Navy had to have it confirmed. So, one of our sister battleships had to confirm that, and it gave the Naval fleet time to organize for the offensive. They call it the ‘turkey shoot’ because when the Japanese aircraft started across the ocean, they just picked them out of the sky, and it was like shooting turkeys in a barrel. That is one of her great success stories. She was also the lead ship into Tokyo Harbor during the surrender. When you come and visit, what you’re going to see is a great paradigm shift. Our curator, his team, along with our maintenance crew and our executive director is really taking the USS Alabama and taking her toward a World War II museum.”
Prospective visitors are encouraged to circle December 7 on their calendar for the living history crew weekend, which offers a sampling of an experience of a World War II battle on the high seas.
“What people need to do is come visit us during one of our living history crew weekends,” she said. “Because our living history crew have converted our 20 mm starboard guns and our 40 mm Bofors, which are placed above the 16-inch guns to propane. And we work with vintage airplanes, and they actually come and attack the ship. And the living history crew fire the guns — so you can kind of hear what it sounded like, see what it looks like, and the living history crew will drill next on Saturday, December 7. We do call to battle stations at 1:00 [p.m.], so the public is invited to come stand on all the decks, watch the airplanes attack. And that would kind of give you a feel of what it would have been like, and hear what it would have been like, and smell what it would have smelled like during a battle engagement on the Alabama.”
Battleship Memorial Park opens at 8:00 a.m. daily. Admission is free for children under 5, $6 for children 6 to 11 and $15 for ages 12 and up. There is a $4 park entry fee per car. For more information, visit www.ussalabama.com or follow them on Facebook at USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park.