Glory days relived

Story by Lois Carol Wheatley

The Battleship USS North Carolina is believed to be haunted, maybe because at every turn in the self-guided tour a visitor is encouraged to imagine a bygone swarm of military personnel eating, sleeping, showering, getting a haircut, visiting a dentist, playing cards, reading books, writing letters and, ultimately, manning some sort of battle station.

It's easy to see Gregory Peck on the upper deck scanning the horizon through binoculars while James Mason issues crisp commands on the main deck and, down below, Montgomery Cliff dreams of Deborah Kerr. The visions take on a grainy sort of black-and-white quality straight out of an old reel-to-reel documentary film.

Like anyone with a storied past, the North Carolina is well entitled to her fond memories—and related minor quirks.

She set out from the New York Naval Shipyard in 1942 at full capacity, with 2,339 men bound for Pearl Harbor in the aftermath of the Japanese attack. During the course of her four-year career she landed Marines on Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima and at one point took a torpedo hit that forced her to return to Pearl Harbor for drydock repairs.

All things considered, her casualties were minor—only ten fatalities throughout her participation in every major naval offensive in the Pacific theater—and she emerged from the war as the most decorated US battleship.

When that relatively brief blaze of glory was over, she was decommissioned in 1947 and it was later announced that the scrap yard was going to be her next stop. Hugh Morton, founder of Grandfather Mountain in western North Carolina, was one of several leading citizens who led the Save Our Ship campaign in 1961 that raised the money to bring her home and get her safely and permanently anchored in the Cape Fear River in full view of historic downtown Wilmington.

Today she is a floating war memorial that welcomes year-round visitors and maintains a full slate of special events. The ticket office is onshore (adults $12, kids $8) in a building that also houses a gift shop, a snack bar and an auditorium, where a film runs continuously throughout the day.

A long, upward-sloping wooden ramp attaches the building to the ship and, as you ascend to the main deck, you might want to listen sharp. You should be able to hear the distant tones of a boatswain's pipe, piping the captain aboard.

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Battleship North Carolina

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