Nov 5, 2012

Learning about the USS Alabama

On our recent trip to Mobile, John and I visited the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park and it turned out to be much more than we expected.  Besides the battleship there is also the USS Drum submarine, 24 combat aircraft that were used during and since WW II, tanks, a Vietnam River Patrol Boat and more.

The USS Alabama saw 37 months of active duty during World War II, earning her nine Battle Stars. Battle Stars were commendations awarded to Navy warships for meritorious participation in battle or for suffering damage during a battle. The “Mighty A” as she came to be known, safely carried her crew throughout the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean campaigns, and never suffered any casualties or significant damage due to enemy fire. She shot down 22 enemy planes during WW II. In 1947 she was mothballed on Puget Sound in the state of Washington. In 1964 she was berthed in Mobile Bay and became a museum ship sharing her heritage with visitors. There are three self-guided tour routes that explore various parts of the ship.  The Yellow Tour begins in the Main Exhibit Area where there is a 15-minute video about life on the ship during the war. Amazingly, it took 140 sailors to man the turret which had a range of 21 miles. It is hard to believe so many lived together in such close quarters. I get claustrophobic walking through the narrow corridors of battleships and submarines and can’t imagine what it would be like when it was fully manned with all the necessary provisions especially during battle conditions. 

The USS Drum has been at the museum since it opened in 1969 and is America’s oldest WW II submarine. She earned 12 battle stars for her service and claimed to have sunk 27 enemy vessels. The Drum made 13 war patrols in WWII, nine of which were deemed "successful". The crew claimed to have sunk 27 enemy vessels, but the Joint Army Navy Assessment Committee officially credits the Drum with the sinking of 15 enemy vessels. Every submariner onboard for each "successful" patrol earned his submarine combat insignia pin or else earned another star for their submarine combat insignia pin. They like to say, “The Drum can’t be beat.”

Also on display is the “Mary Alice II,” a B-25 which is currently being restored and will represent a member of the 5th Air Force's, 345th Bomb Group, 499th Squadron, "Bats Outa Hell."  The B-25s were the most heavily armed aircraft of WWII. The 345th Bomb Group had bounties on their crews and aircraft, as they were feared by the Japanese due to their relentless attacks on Japanese shipping, aircraft, and troops.  The 345th also flew long range missions.

It is one thing to imagine what it was like for those who served in any war – on land or at sea - but it really comes alive when talking to a veteran who shares his experience. While we were there Col. Glenn D. Frazier, a WW II veteran who spent over three years in Japanese POW camps, was there promoting his book, “Hell’s Guest.” Even though he never served on the USS Alabama, he was a survivor of the 62-mile Bataan Death March in the Philippines.

The USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park was much more extensive than we expected so we didn’t have nearly enough time.