One of the most important landmarks in Mobile is the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park. Thousands of visitors come to learn about the battleship’s incredible history and USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park shares their fascinating story below:
After the end of World War II, Battleship USS ALABAMA and hundreds of warships used to win the war were deemed essentially useless in the newly-created peace of the mid to late 1940s. In a cost-cutting move, the United States Government decommissioned ALABAMA on January 9, 1947 and left her at her berth in Bremerton, Washington, where she and other vessels would await their call back to defend their nation. But, for the highly decorated battleship and most of those with her, that call never came. Other vessels were scrapped, dismantled for their steel and other parts, since they were no longer of use to the peace-keeping efforts of the United States.
On the early morning of May 1, 1962 over coffee at breakfast, Jimmie Morris, then an employee of the Tourist & Visitors Department of the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, noticed a small story in the Mobile Register newspaper. The Associated Press was reporting that the South Dakota class of battleships would be scrapped. This meant SOUTH DAKOTA (BB-57), INDIANA (BB-58), MASSACHUSETTS (BB-59), and ALABAMA (BB-60) would be destroyed.
When Morris got to work, he found Stephens Croom, then chairman of the Chamber’s Committee for Preservation of Historic Landmarks, already eager to join the fight to save Battleship ALABAMA. They knew BB-60 could be preserved “as is” and presented as a memorial to all those Alabama citizens, men and women alike, who served and fought here and abroad in World War II. He enlisted Henri Aldridge, an International Paper Company attorney, and sought the opinions of others located statewide. Quickly, the hastily gathered group contacted the Governor.
Alabama Governor John Patterson, upon learning that the World War II era South Dakota Class Battleship USS ALABAMA was a candidate for scrapping by the Navy, was in complete agreement. An immediate petition was sent to the Alabama State Legislature, which, fortunately, was in session at the time, and a joint resolution was quickly passed. Governor Patterson appointed a small fact-finding committee, chaired by Aldridge, to assess the feasibility of saving the ship from the scrapper’s torches, bringing her to Alabama’s deep water port of Mobile, and establishing her as the centerpiece of a memorial park. Similar ventures had been successfully undertaken involving the Battleships NORTH CAROLINA (BB-55) and USS TEXAS (BB-35), both relocated to their home states, and both groups were eager to assist the fledgling ALABAMA effort.
The group reported to newly-elected Governor George C. Wallace that the venture was feasible, and recommended enthusiastically that the Governor undertake the project. Later to be acclaimed for notoriety of a different sort, Wallace was himself no stranger to America’s efforts in World War II. After overseas combat service in the Army Air Corps, he was keenly aware of the memorial value of ALABAMA for his fellow veterans. The Governor met with representatives from 22 Alabama counties in Montgomery in summer 1963, and charged them to “bring the ALABAMA home!”
Negotiations with the Department of the Navy revealed the enthusiasm of the national government to transfer title of ALABAMA to the State. Therefore, Governor Wallace signed passed legislation into law, and under original Senate Bill 152 (now found in the ALABAMA Code, Section 41-9-340 through 358) on September 12, 1963, the USS ALABAMA Battleship Commission was established as a state agency to acquire, transport, berth, renovate, maintain, and establish the Battleship USS ALABAMA as a memorial to all those Alabamians who had served so valiantly in WWII and Korea. The law was subsequently modified to make USS ALABAMA Battleship Memorial Park a memorial honoring those who served in all armed conflicts of the United States.
Even though Act #481, crafted by then State Representative Robert Edington of Mobile, created the Battleship Commission, one fact did not escape the attention of the original Commissioners. The legislation gave the group zero money to bring the battleship to Alabama, and no money to fund any construction and/or operating expenses once the WWII hero arrived in Mobile. Public fundraising was the only answer, and over one million little heroes and heroines raised their hands to save the aging warship. Alabama’s school children heard the call, and donated almost $100,000 to aid the cause, receiving a pass good for free admission as long as Governor Wallace was in office.
The Commission proceeded to organize a statewide campaign, chaired by Frank Samford of Birmingham. Samford, as Chairman of Liberty National Life Insurance Company, rallied the state’s life insurance agents and underwriters, and, as they went throughout the state on their insurance debit routes collecting monthly policy premiums, they also collected thousands of dollars from Alabama’s citizens for the statewide grassroots fundraising effort.
A professional fundraising company assisted in the corporate efforts, and, in the spring of 1964, in a relatively short span of less than six months, approximately $ 800,000 was raised, enough to get the ship underway from the State of Washington. The Under-Secretary of the Navy then executed a transfer document with the State of Alabama, represented by the Commission. It authorized transfer of Battleship USS ALABAMA to the state “as is, were is”, with no additional cost to the Federal Government. The document also allowed the Navy to annually inspect the vessel as ALABAMA must be kept in shipshape fighting trim, since a provision was that should the Navy ever need her, they reserved the right to come take BB-60, and press her back into active duty status. That call never came, but ALABAMA has still served her country well, in addition to serving as a memorial, since that time.
In the early 1980s, the Navy decided to renovate the IOWA class of battleships, the only four ships newer than ALABAMA. Since the IOWA class and three of the four memorial battleships then on display then were all built within months of each other, Battleships NORTH CAROLINA (BB-55), MASSACHUSETTS (BB-59), and ALABAMA (BB-60) supplied over $270 million worth of irreplaceable and no longer available parts, primarily engine room parts, to “modernize” IOWA (BB-61), NEW JERSEY (BB-52), MISSOURI (BB-63), and WISCONSIN (BB-64).
Although $800,000 in 1964 was a lot of money, it fell short of the intended one million dollar goal needed for the project, so three Mobile banks, Merchants National Bank, First National Bank of Mobile, and American National Bank, loaned the Commission the balance on faith, since the Commission had no collateral the banks could use. Of those banks, Merchants National merged with American National, became First Alabama Bank, and is now Regions Bank. First National became AmSouth, which later merged with Regions, continued to assist the Commission over the years and helped see the Park over lean times until sufficient reserves could be built up by the Commission to carry daily operating expenses year-round.
After ALABAMA reached Mobile on 14 September 1964, and the channel for her berth was completed in late September, the battleship was finally pulled into position. A hand-picked crew, consisting of mainly retired Navy men, began work on the weary lady almost right away, working seven days a week. She looked rough in those days, and literally acres of steel had to be sandblasted, primed, and painted. Below decks spaces had to be cleaned and made safe for visitors unaccustomed to moving around ships. Changes in the ship were evident daily, and in less than 4 months, BB-60, longer than two football fields, was ready to be opened for visitors.
Over two thousand people were on hand Saturday, January 9, 1965 to see Governor Wallace officially open USS ALABAMA Battleship Memorial Park. The date was significant since it was eighteen years to the day since ALABAMA had been “put into mothballs” at her decommissioning. The park didn’t look like its present appearance, since over 75 acres of bright white sand south of the U.S. Highways 90/98 Causeway, which had been dredged out of Mobile Bay to make the Park, lay to the west of the battleship, with the Mobile skyline only a few miles away.
In the sun of that cold Mobile winter day, Battleship USS ALABAMA began a new life as a perpetual memorial to all Alabamians, and all Americans, who risked and gave all for their beloved United States of America.