Save Our Ship
Aside from sharing a name with our fair state, the battleship has no real connection to North Carolina. And yet some very fierce pride of ownership became firmly attached to it in 1959, when the announcement was made that she would be scrapped.
Private citizens from one end of the state to the other rallied behind the cause to save the old girl—Save Our Shop, or SOS—and launched a successful statewide campaign that not only included major corporate and individual contributions but also nickels and dimes from more than 700,000 North Carolina schoolchildren.
The USS North Carolina Battleship Commission's charter laid out the initial task at hand: to determine the location of the berth for the ship, prepare the site for the ship, and move the ship from her current berth with the Navy's Reserve Fleet in Bayonne, New Jersey.
Wilmington native James S. Craig, Jr., a member of American Legion Post 10, led the movement, with the endorsement of then-North Carolina Governor Luther Hodges. Commentator David Brinkley and actor Andy Griffith helped spread the word, and Hugh Morton's posters featured a photo of his young son, saving the money he would have had to pay for a model.
Children were selected to be ambassadors for each county in the state and while their initial target was somewhere in the range of $275,000, in the end something more along the lines of $330,000 was raised. Children raised approximately one-third of that, often by giving up their lunch money.
That's extremely appropriate, when you think about it, because it's mostly kids who come to visit the ship today. School field trips show up on a regular basis, as do scout troops and youth groups.
For their contributions the children received a pass for admission to tour the ship and, if their school had 100% participation, the school received permanent recognition aboard the ship. The heartfelt aspect of this campaign is that the school children of 1961, to a person, perceive their contribution as an investment in a partial ownership of the Battleship, a sentiment that remains pervasive among that adult population today.
Anyone who personally contributed $100 or raised $500 automatically became an Admiral in the North Carolina Navy, an honorary commission that entailed permanent recognition aboard the ship and a lifetime pass to tour the Battleship. With Former Governor Hodges in the Kennedy Administration, Morton and Governor Terry Sanford went to Washington to present the number one Admiral in the North Carolina Navy commission to President John F. Kennedy. Over 2,000 North Carolinians joined the President to receive their commissions in 1961.
The ship's move to permanent quarters began in ceremonies at Bayonne, New Jersey. In late September she was towed down the coast and, on October 2, she weighed anchor in the Cape Fear River. On April 29, 1962 she was dedicated as a memorial to all the North Carolinians who served in World War II, and in particular, to the more than 10,000 from all branches of the armed forces who gave their lives in the service of their country and state.
Unlike other local attractions that receive state funding, the battleship is self-funded, meaning that it derives its revenue through admissions, gift shop sales and donations. Proceeds go toward paying the salaries of a small staff and taking on preservation and restoration projects, such as the painting of the ship every five or six years. Painters took advantage of the slower winter months of early 2010 to scrape, prime and paint major portions of the hulking structure.
Volunteers run some of the special events aboard the ship and veterans of all wars have actively supported various facets of its operation, or more often just stop by to greet guests and spin some stories.
Terms: Battleship North Carolina: Save Our Ship
Battleship North Carolina: Save Our Ship