Battleship sparks memories

Published 8:24 pm Wednesday, January 11, 2006

By By Adam Prestridge
Growing up the son of a sailor was exciting to say the least.
There was never a dull moment in my household. Being in the military instilled a work ethic in my father like none I've ever witnessed. I used to tell people that he would clean house at 10 o'clock at night after a long day at work and after vacuuming the living room, he would sweep the carpet to get it cleaner.
As a young child, I spent a lot of time in airports saying my goodbyes as he flew away for two weeks of service. It was exciting when he came back from places like Hawaii with souvenirs for me and my brothers and sisters. I always thought it was interesting to snoop around in his sea bags and to read the white-lettered stampings on the side of them documenting the places he has visited.
During the Vietnam War, he served off the coast of the Pacific protecting international waters from enemies. Although he didn't see much action, he was there. Everyone's father is his or her hero, mine just had the opportunity to work as one as a Naval reservist.
He's told me all these stories about how cramped his living quarters were on ships during his four-years of active duty and how some nights the boat rocked him to sleep like a baby and other nights he had to literally tie himself into his bunk to keep from being slung to the floor.
When it was announced that Battleship Park in Mobile, which features the USS Alabama, was reopening Monday, it struck up more conversation about his time in the Navy. Although he didn't reenlist in active duty, he went on to serve more than 20 years in the reserves and continued to serve his country proudly.
Tuesday morning, my father recalled donating pocket change when he was still in school to help in efforts to have the World War II ship towed from Bremerton, Washington to its final resting place in Mobile following its decommission. When he told me that bit of history, I pictured children literally taking the pennies out of their Penny Loafers to help raise funds, which nearly reached $100,000.
My mother also recalled scraping together nickels, dimes and quarters in the late 1960s to donate to the cause. She also remembered using the 20-year USS Alabama card she received for donating her change, which awarded her free admission to Battleship Park for 20 years.
With such a rich history, it was only fitting that the old battleship, which not only endured many battles at sea, but several battles with Mother Nature, be rechristened with champagne during the reopening ceremony yesterday. The USS Alabama served our country proudly while in service earning nine Battle Stars during 37 months of active duty.
With the help of funds raised by Alabama school children, a campaign to preserve the "Mighty A's" past raised the balance of $1 million needed for the Navy to donate the ship. The money raised financed the cost of what is still the longest non-military ton-mile tow in history.
Now that Battleship Park has been re-opened, Alabama residents should take the opportunity to visit or revisit the historic monument, not only to help in the efforts to get the park up and running again, but to pay tribute to our servicemen and women.
Now that my family is settled in, I look forward to paying tribute and reliving the past with my father as we visit the park this summer. If there ever were a better tour guide, he would be the one.
Adam Prestridge is publisher of the Atmore Advance. His column appears weekly.

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