3523 Highway 134
LaPorte, Texas, 77571
January 2004–There are few places in the country that can lay claim to pieces of history, and relics of wars gone past. Such places are normally museums, and the like. A couple of the museums are actual relics in of themselves, namely waterways that are now homes to mighty ships of conflicts of the past. Luckily, our state is home to one of these, the aging queen of battle, the Battleship Texas. This grand old lady, once flagship to the United States Navy, sits moored at her final home in the ship channel; awaiting all those who wish to experience some of what it was like, so long ago.
Since her renovation late in the 20th century, Texas appears once more the stately young lady she was when first commissioned before the First World War. After leaving the ticket office, you begin walking up a long ramp to the warship; it is then Texas first comes fully into view. Even from there, the battleship’s aura of history and power can be felt. Upon setting foot on her deck, history hangs in the very air, heavier even than the humidity that all Houstonians are familiar. By simply walking around the ship, one can imagine what it was like, for sailors at war, the crew of U.S.S. Texas, BB-35, unleashing the fury of her weapons against the enemies of the United States.
The ‘Mighty T’ began her long, distinguished career in March 1914 when she participated in the occupation of Vera Cruz during World War I. By 1918 Texas was in the North Sea with the Allied Grand Fleet, where she remained until the Great War ended. Texas returned to her regular duties at the end of the year, safely back with the Atlantic Fleet after war had finally been resolved. During the intervening years between wars, Texas served many roles, on both the Pacific and Atlantic, which included training and most exceptionally fleet flagship. Also, the mighty battleship underwent refit, with new boilers and other modernization to keep her competitive with her counterparts. Up to the entrance of the United States into World War II, Texas trained sailors for the Navy and patrolled the Atlantic Ocean to aid in ensuring the neutrality of her home country. A dark day at the end of 1941 changed all that. The battleship took part in escorting vital supplies to the embattled countries of Europe and Africa, until late in 1942, when the might of Texas aided in the beginning of the End for the Third Reich, the invasion of North Africa. During this time Texas supported the landings on Morocco, putting ashore a little known war correspondent by the name of Walter Cronkite.
Afterwards Texas returned to her less exciting duties of escorting Atlantic convoys (as unexciting as it could be with the ever present danger of the German Wolf Packs prowling the ocean). Excitement, such as it were, for Lady Texas returned in April 1944, when for several days the ‘Mighty T’ vented her fury, along with her allies, upon the coastal defenses of the Normandy coast. Two months later Texas again used her might against the Nazi-held city of Cherbourg, France, but this time did not escape unharmed. Twice coastal weapons smashed shells against the battleship, causing the death of one sailor and injury to thirteen others, but the ‘Mighty T’ fought on. Two months after that, Texas steamed in the Mediterranean, supporting landings in Southern France. After a restful overhaul, the battleship was sent to the Pacific, to aid in battling the threat still there. For four months Texas battled the Japanese Empire at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and was preparing to assist in the invasion of the Japanese homeland when the horror of nuclear fire aided in returning peace to the war-torn and tired world. The following months saw Texas given the peaceful, relaxing duty of transporting weary veterans back to their homes. With that done, Texas herself was allowed to rest until 1948, when she finally retired, then was given to her one true home, the state for which she was named.
Since then Texas has enjoyed a restful slumber, undisturbed by duty for many years. Only those who wish to meet this queen of battle would visit, like everyone’s kindly old grandmother, happy to give treats and stories to those willing to listen. Since 1983 Texas has called the Ship Channel her home, kept company by the San Jacinto Battleground historic site. During this time Texas underwent standard changes for when a ship is retired. Her armor was largely removed, as was her wooden decking. The decking was replaced with a more durable concrete, even though it was far from historically accurate. She almost faded into obscurity, but there were some that had not forgotten. At the end of the 1980’s Texas was restored, and not in a simple way. First was the replacement of the old lady’s clothes, placing her back in the Measure 21 blue paint she wore in wartime. Even her armor plating was replaced, giving Texas back her look, especially with all the other renovations, such as repairs to her superstructure and the replacement of her decking back to the original, more historic wood. The best news is that work is not finished, with a further renovation scheduled for 2005. All of the renovations are not simply by the government for the people, but are instead by everyone for everyone, for all who have any love for history.
However, the history of Texas did not begin, or end with the World War era warship. The first American vessel to bear the name was a 2nd Class battleship (1895-1911, renamed San Marcos in 1911). Two more vessels since the New York class battleship now quietly resting in the ship channel have had the honor of bearing the name of our state, the next a Cold-War era guided missile cruiser (1977-1993), and very recently (2002) the keel was laid down for a new Virginia class submarine.
The fickle Texas weather almost seems inconsequential at times while you make your way through the many points of interest. Much of the battleship’s armament is open to the public, allowing you to even take a front seat in an instrument of warfare. Most notable of these is Texas’s #3 Turret. A small ladder leads up into the twin-barreled weapon, and its steel surrounds you. Two small seats sit to either side of the entrance, and before you is an instrument panel. Just past the seats and the panel the turret opens up, revealing the machinery where crewmen would load 1,500 lb. shells and the propellant for them. Beyond that extend out two of the mighty 14” cannon, which make up part of the New York class Battleship’s 10 gun armament. Toward the front of the ship is the main tower, where visitors can go up, up, visiting the places where the most important decisions are made; the helm, fire control and the bridge. Then you go below decks, to the places the crew called home while at sea. Narrow hallways lead to bunkrooms packed almost claustrophobically close together. Such rooms can make you feel what it was like for Texas’s 1,820 strong crew. The engineering deck is also cramped, but somehow the mighty ship’s crew made serving here possible.
Even though for most the drive to Pasadena is quite a trip, and the Texas weather is never kind, a visit to a nexus of history such as U.S.S. Texas is time well spent for all, for the battleship is a part of all Texans, and for all Texans. And while Texas is not alone at being a warship monument, or a piece of history, there is one thing, one important item that does make her Unique. Texas is ours.