It’s funny how sometimes what you think will be least interesting on a trip turns out to be the opposite.
That was my experience during a summer trip to Wilmington, N.C.
My itinerary included an early morning stop at the Battleship North Carolina, which I had only a slight interest in and which I planned to give a quick once-over and move onto more fun activities.
Imagine my surprise when what I thought would be a yawn of a 30-minute stop turned into a riveting three-hour exploration.
First, a little history. Commissioned in 1941, the North Carolina was the first of 10 fast battleships to join the American fleet in World War II. It participated in every major naval offensive in the Pacific during the war, earning 15 battle stars. In 1960 when the Navy announced plans to scrap the ship, two Wilmingtonians galvanized state residents to save it. Thousands watched the ship’s dramatic entry into Wilmington on Oct. 2, 1961 and thousands more turned out for the ship’s dedication.
Since then, the battleship has been a popular Wilmington attraction.
The Battleship North Carolina, which measures 729 feet—approximately two and a half football fields—in length and nine decks high was designed to carry 1,800 men but by the end of WWII she was home to more than 2,000.
What makes visiting the ship so captivating is that one gets to see how the men lived and carried out their duties in service to their country. Visitors should be prepared for a workout as this is accomplished while climbing up and down stairs—many narrow, almost straight vertical descents—and moving through cramped passageways and quarters. One can explore the engine room, enter the gun turrets, see how the crew slept in metal bunks stacked five tiers high, view the galley where meals were prepared and examine an array of instrumentation and state-of-the-art (at the time) technology that went into the operation of the ship. One can also read the personal accounts of members of the crew, which made the experience all-the-more real.
And because this is a self-guided tour, one gets to clamor through portions of the nine decks of the authentically restored vessel at one’s own pace.
Along the way, lucky visitors may get to meet re-enactors like Chris Harrison, who I met while prowling around the ship’s engine room. Harrison really knows what he’s talking about. He served in the Navy for nearly nine years and now volunteers his time as part of the Battleship North Carolina’s living history crew. Harrison, dressed in replica garb of an engineer or machinist mate, took great pleasure in explaining the ship’s dry steam system.
The self-guided tour is well marked and is said to take two hours. Those who want to soak up more of the history and take time to read the many posted explanations should allow more time.
Located at the junctions of Highway 17/74/76/421on the Cape Fear River, the Battleship North Carolina is a National Historic Landmark and a memorial honoring the 10,000 North Carolinians who gave their lives in service to their country during WWII.
The ship is open daily, with admission ranging from $6 to $12 and free for children 5 and younger.
For more information on the Battleship North Carolina, visit www.battleshipnc.com.