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Park Pick: Party Boat

USS Texas hosts swingin' '40s Christmas celebration.

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

Fear numbed the world in the days following Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Later that month, however, servicemen aboard the USS Texas brightened the lives of many when they hosted a Christmas party – complete with Santa, soda pop and decorated trees – for a small fishing village in Newfoundland.

In the spirit of that goodwill mission, the retired battleship – today anchored on the Houston Ship Channel – will host Santa's Swingin' '40s Christmas, a day-long festivity set for Saturday, December 13. As in 1941, children can visit with Santa and munch sugar cookies. At an authentic post office, they can also mail their holiday wishes to the North Pole. On the main deck, a live band will perform Christmas carols and nautical music. Over the ship's loudspeakers, swing-style Christmas tunes from the '40s will play.

Throughout December, boughs of holly, sparkling lights and tinsel-covered trees will adorn the USS Texas, reminiscent of how crews once snazzed up the ship for the holidays. Sailors once even vied for cash prizes that were awarded to the most elaborately dressed-up berths.

"The crew tried their best to make the ship feel a little more like home for the holiday season by decorating," says Angela McCleaf, the ship's curator. "We're keeping that tradition alive through our celebration called Yuletide Texas."

Year-round, visitors can tour the ship, commissioned in 1914 and once deemed the world's most powerful warship. The last surviving ship of its kind to serve in World War I and II, it was the first U.S. vessel to launch an aircraft, in 1919, and the first to use commercial radar, in 1939. In 34 years of service, the battleship earned five battle stars and suffered only one fatality.

At its berth east of Houston, the Texas stands within view of the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site and the towering San Jacinto Monument. For nominal fees, visitors can ride the elevator to the monument's observation floor and see a 35-minute presentation, Texas Forever!! The Battle of San Jacinto, at the San Jacinto Museum of History.

Yuletide Texas runs daily through December, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Regular fees apply: adults (13 and above), $10; seniors (65-plus), $5; children 12 and under, free.

Battleship Texas State Historic Site is located at 3523 Battleground Road (Texas Highway 134) in LaPorte. For more information, call (281) 479-2431 or visit <www.tpwd.state.tx.us/battleshiptexas>.

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