Park Pick: Dining with Officers
Restoration on Battleship Texas brings WWII details back to life.
By Walt Bailey
The ship rides the waves uneasily, swaying back and forth like a kite on a windy day. The sea may be rough, but life isn’t all that bad. The officers on the Battleship Texas eat breakfast as the ship steams toward Pacific battlefields in November 1944.
In the clubhouse atmosphere of the Wardroom, officers dig into eggs cooked to order, bacon, grapefruit and buttered biscuits with jam, all washed down by the first of many cups of coffee. Stewards in white aprons serve the officers as if they are waiters in a fancy hotel. The food comes from a well-equipped pantry full of the latest appliances and set aside specifically for the Wardroom.
Admirals and other VIPs who stayed onboard the Texas had it even better. A detail of white-coated stewards catered to their every request, serving them from another special pantry assigned just to the Admiral’s Quarters.
Today, that pantry’s nickel-plated water heater shines as if freshly polished, as do the nearby brass dish racks. The steel steam warming table and pans look new, as does the refrigerator set aside for the admiral’s delicacies. A fresh coat of white paint covers the bulkheads, and it takes close examination to reveal that the fine “hardwood” door is actually cleverly painted metal.
Battleship Texas superintendent Andy Smith and his staff take pride in bringing these scenes from 1944 back to life. Through a combination of research, salvage work, reproduction and restoration, a distant past returns to the ship every day.
Texas Correctional Industries reproduced the steam warming table and pans in the Admiral’s Pantry, Smith explains. “We salvaged the refrigerator from another Navy ship of the time and restored it,” he says.
Clearly this is detective work for the detail-oriented. For the ketchup bottles sitting in a rack in the nearby Wardroom Pantry, “we made copies of 1940s-era bottle labels” to ensure the right appearance, Smith says. Gathering the information needed to accurately re-create these scenes was a painstaking labor of love. In his office, Smith shares recollections of Texas veterans gathered by state parks interviewers over the years as oral histories.
There’s never been a better time to visit the Battleship Texas to see the results of these efforts. The restored Wardroom and Wardroom Pantry await, and, with work nearly complete, the Admiral’s Pantry will soon be open for you to see.
2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the ship’s commissioning, and a celebration (March 15) and final reunion of the ship’s veterans (March 12) will be held at the ship’s berth east of Houston, within sight of the San Jacinto Battleground and Monument. For information, visit battleshiptexas.org.
Join us at the Battleship Texas State Historic Site, 3523 Independence Parkway South in LaPorte. Call for information at (281) 479-2431 or visit www.tpwd.texas.gov/battleshiptexas.
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