The USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park, located in Mobile, Mobile County, honors the memory of Alabama veterans of all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces: Navy, Army, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine. It was opened to the public on January 9, 1965.
The centerpiece of the 155-acre park is the USS Alabama (BB-60), which was decommissioned in 1947 and scheduled to be scrapped in 1962 along with her sister ships, the USS South Dakota (BB-57), USS Indiana (BB-58), and USS Massachusetts (BB-59). Only the Alabama and Massachusetts were saved.
In Alabama, the USS Alabama Battleship Commission, a state agency, was established in September 1963 and the "Save the Battleship" committee was formed. The committee organized a statewide fundraising campaign that collected more than $800,000 in the spring of 1964, enough to bring the Alabama to Mobile and to build Battleship Memorial Park located on Mobile Bay. More than one million students raised approximately $100,000 in nickels and dimes from lunch money and allowances to help the cause. Each participating student received a free pass to the park, and every year since 1965 more than 50 of those passes have been redeemed for free admission. Approximately $225,000 was spent to dredge the channel and create the first 75 acres of the park and $525,000 to tow, balance, and otherwise prepare the ship for tours.
It took almost three months to tow the 35,000-ton ship from Bremerton, Washington, to Alabama. The 108-foot-wide vessel was eased through the Panama Canal with 11 inches of clearance on either side and entered Mobile Bay on September 14, 1964, to complete the 5,600-mile voyage. The Alabama was dedicated on January 9, 1965, by Under-Secretary of the Navy Paul B. Fay and received on behalf of the citizens of Alabama by Gov. George C. Wallace, a World War II veteran. More than 2,000 people crowded the decks to celebrate the vessel's arrival "home."
Three separate self-guided tours cover about two-thirds of the battleship. Each tour lasts about 30 minutes, and visitors are issued a pamphlet highlighting all areas. Visitors may view one of four engine rooms, the captain's quarters, a galley that hosted a crew of 2,500 for three meals a day, and rooms of bunks stacked five high in every nook and cranny. These experiences provide visitors with some sense of what it took to run the huge and complex ship and also celebrates the great sacrifices American sailors made to defend the United States and its allies.
The other major attraction in the park is the World War II submarine USS Drum, winner of 12 Battle Stars and the nation's oldest existing submarine and first ever to be opened to the public. It ranked eighth in enemy tonnage sunk and is credited with sinking 15 Japanese ships in the Pacific Theatre of Operations. The Drum was donated to the park by the U.S. Navy in 1969 and is also open for tours. It was moved aground in 2001 as part of a $15 million park renovation project. An aircraft pavilion is dedicated to the 29 Alabamians who have received the Medal of Honor and also houses 25 vintage warplanes from all of the flying services since World War II and equipment and artifacts from World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars, and Desert Storm, as well as tanks and other military vehicles.
The park, an independent self-funded state agency, is managed by the 18-member USS Alabama Battleship Commission; individuals are appointed by the governor for eight-year terms. So far, more than 200 Alabama citizens have served on the commission. A staff of 36 oversees day-to-day operations. The park is entirely self supporting, funded by admissions and gift shop sales. Maintenance costs for the ship alone exceed more than $1 million each year. Since 1965, more than 13 million people have visited the park, generating more than $500 million in indirect economic impact throughout the state from admission receipts alone. Each year, tourists from more than 70 countries visit the park.
The park has not been immune to adversity, largely in the form of hurricanes, including Camille (1969), Frederic (1979), Georges (1998), and Ivan (2004). Hurricane Katrina in 2005, however, caused the most damage, forcing the park to close for more than four months and requiring extensive repairs to the park and to level the Alabama, which had undergone a $15 million hull restoration project earlier in the decade. Total damage to the park exceeded $7 million.
The park has picnic grounds and rental facilites available in the exhibition halls and onboard the Alabama for various types of events. The park also sponsors the USS Alabama Crewmates program, which is a competitively selected group of local women ages 19-21 who promote the park and receive a portion
of a $7,500 college scholarship fund.
Garzke, William H., and Robert O. Dulin. Battleships: United States Battleships, 1935-1992. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Insitute Press, 1995.
USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park
Published November 5, 2010
Last updated November 19, 2012