From the Pen of Carter P. Smith
She’s one of the few centenarians among us. A grand old dame by any measure and most any account. Proud and stately, she appears from a distance as strong and formidable as when she left home on her maiden voyage.
She can be forgiven, however, if not everything holds up for her just the way it once did. Her weathered skin tells of a life spent amidst salt and sea. Her once-sturdy frame occasionally lists under the untold burdens of time and tonnage. She is 100, after all. And, as all who have known her can attest, she’s had quite a ride.
In March 2014, the Battleship Texas turns 100 years old. Thanks to our partners at the Battleship Texas Foundation, we plan to fete her and the surviving sailors from the “Greatest Generation” who served aboard her in grand style.
Be assured, there is much to celebrate when it comes to the Battleship Texas, or the “Mighty T” as some prefer to call her. Commissioned in 1914 at a time when nations all over the world were competing fiercely to control the high seas, she was conceived to be the most powerful ship in the world. And from the time she set sail from her original berth, she didn’t disappoint.
As the naval historians will recount, the Battleship Texas is the last of the old dreadnoughts, a 573-foot-long behemoth built for battle and service. She is the only remaining dreadnought to fight in both world wars. A veteran of the Atlantic and of the Pacific, of fights from Omaha Beach to Okinawa, she received five battle stars for the campaigns she participated in during World War II.
Fittingly, she was named by the National Park Service as a National Historic Landmark, the first of only eight ships to receive such a designation.
Today, the Battlehsip Texas is back “home,” resting in berth along the Houston Ship Channel under the shadow of the San Jacinto Monument. She was formally decommissioned by the U.S. Navy in 1948 and designated as a battleship memorial museum. In 1983, she was transferred from the Battleship Texas Commission to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, where colleagues from our State Parks Division proudly care for her and her noble history, with the able and ample help from partners, namely the Battleship Texas Foundation.
Her biggest battle today is largely one of age. She’s no longer as watertight as she needs to be, and persistent leaks over the years have taken their toll. As visitors to the ship can now see, however, extensive efforts are under way to shore up the steel in her hull and to fix the most critical of repairs needed to keep her afloat.
On Saturday, March 15, the Battleship Texas Foundation will honor her age and legacy of service at a very special centennial commemoration at the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site. Among other festivities planned for the day, Robert Earl Keen Jr. and Texas musicians Reckless Kelly, Kelly Willis/Bruce Robison and Charlie Robison will be performing on site. It will be a family-friendly affair, with lots of activities for the kids to enjoy. Suffice to say, it promises to be a grand old time for a grand old ship. I hope you will join us on that day to help applaud her history and celebrate her future.
Thanks for caring about our wild things and wild places. They need you now more than ever.