Battleship Park –
When traveling through our country, I am often amazed if not amused at the collections of war “junk” that we decide to place on our city squares and courthouse lawns. I wonder if the howitzers on display are a show of Government might so we don’t go off on the unsuspecting DMV worker. For some reason, an M16 tank with barrel pointing down main street is just a little too much, in your face, largess for my taste.
I am all for honoring the men, women, and K9’s (more on that later) that served our country and Battleship Park does that eloquently. Battleship Park, is a showplace for American military ships, planes, tanks, and armament. I am a bit conflicted on the collection before me. These are marvelous machines of destruction and for ensuring our way a life, it’s just unfortunate that they are necessary.
The first outdoor exhibit upon entering the park is Vickery’s bridge, a Korean War Memorial. Adjacent to that is a wall with a Huey Helicopter hovering over it memorializing Alabamians lost in the Vietnam war. I view the wall and upon closer inspection of the Huey, I notice a dog statue with a torn and faded flag around his neck. Much to my surprise, this is a memorial dedicated to Alabama War Dogs. Recognizing the 4 legged soldiers that have made the ultimate sacrifice in our armed forces. Reading names like Bruno, King, Rover, and Sarge, I have a sense longing for my little general, Murphy.
The showpiece of the park is the USS Alabama, a World War II era Battleship that saw action in the Pacific theater. I enter the ship and proceed along the self directed tour. The 40’s big band music playing throughout the ship immediately places me back in time. A time, when men were obviously much smaller than I. The halls, doorways and stairwells are cramped at best. It is unimaginable that 2,500 men once called this place home.
I have always had an soft spot for the greatest generation and those that served in WWII, but that appreciation hits a new level today. What those young men must have endured in those dark, dank rooms, away from home never knowing if they would see their families again. Heck, I am put off by the smell of paint fumes from a small cabin being restored, I don’t think I have the mettle to serve like that generation did.
The ship is literally a floating city that is armed to the hilt. Below the gun turrets are: the sleeping quarters, barber shop, cobbler, galley, bakery, print shop and even the brig just to name a few. I’m quiet certain you could’ve found me at the Gedunk (the soda fountain) on most days.
The Pavilion in a cramped hanger displaying planes of all war eras. While pursuing the aircraft,I notice a shaking and gyrating simulator on the other side of the hanger. I beeline for the thing. The display is an F-18 simulator and there is no line for it. In fact, there is no one around. Excited I can ride it by myself, I quickly pluck down the $5 and jump aboard for the Top Gun type ride.
I think the USS Alabama is a claustrophobics nightmare, that is, until I enter the submarine USS Drum. The DRUM is the oldest American submarine on public display. Hats off to the 80+ crew members that could live in the football field length thermos bottle. The submarine is meticulously restored and polished to the hilt. It is a marvel of ingenuity and beauty. I enjoyed learning of Stateside, the crew’s pet dog who served aboard the submarine. That would be a fun place to toss a tennis ball around.