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"The sad fate of the USS Texas" Topic

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jowady01 Dec 2013 2:58 p.m. PST

Last of the dreadnaughts;

Race against time: Corrosion slowly destroying USS Texas

Project once estimated to cost $25 USD million could exceed $80 USD million; donors sought as 100th anniversary nears.

Posted: 9:56 p.m. Friday, Nov. 29, 2013

Email 1Facebook 78Twitter 3ShareThis 82
By Mike Ward – American-Statesman Staff


With her 100th anniversary fast approaching, the old lady in gray is sinking fast.

Despite a $25 USD million state bond issue seven years ago to help preserve the retired USS Texas, the storied vessel — once the most powerful ship on the seas and the only remaining battleship that fought in both world wars — faces a bleak future as officials race against time to keep an increasing number of holes plugged in its hull and raise as much as $80 USD million more for long-lasting repairs.

+ Deborah Cannon
Race against time: Corrosion slowly destroying USS Texas
"Over time she's just rusting away," said Andy Smith, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's manager of the famed battleship site southeast of Houston. "Time and the elements are doing to the battleship Texas what two world wars couldn't — do her in."

Added Bruce Bramlett, executive director of the Battleship Texas Foundation that's raising private funds as fast as it can to assist the preservation project: "If you let this battleship go, if you don't restore her, you will lose an irreplaceable piece of history, a piece of Texas. You might as well crank up the bulldozers and knock down the Alamo."

Even as workers are racing to shore up the corroded mounts on the battleship's two, 1,100-ton engines to keep them from failing and perhaps knocking more holes in the hull, Bramlett and other supporters are working to raise $15 USD million for additional repairs — far less than might eventually be needed to restore the ship, "but a good start to save her."

+ Deborah Cannon
Race against time: Corrosion slowly destroying USS Texas
That initiative includes plans for a large-scale public celebration next March, marking the 100th anniversary of the ship's commissioning. It will feature "A Texas Uprising" musical extravaganza by Hill Country singer Robert Earle Keen, a reunion of remaining crew members, special historical exhibits, demonstrations and a fireworks show that will likely include firing one of the battleship's smaller guns.

One of just three former U.S. Navy ships of its age or older still in existence, the USS Texas was the second American battleship named for the Lone Star State. Replacing a smaller battleship that fought in the Spanish-American War, her hull was launched at the Newport News, Va., shipyard in 1910 — the same year as the Titanic — and she sailed into service with a crew of about 1,200 sailors on March 12, 1914.

The current USS Texas is a nuclear submarine, Navy officials said.

Related Gallery

Battleship Texas, 11.30.13
For a time, the battleship Texas patrolled the seas as one of the most powerful battleships in the world, boasting 10 huge 14-inch guns in five turrets that could destroy targets up to 12 miles away, plus an array of smaller but just as deadly weapons. About 350 men were needed to fire the big guns, which shot 1,500-pound shells.

"They were the thermonuclear devices of their day," Smith said. "At the time it was floated, this ship was fearful to anyone who came up against it."

As the only remaining U.S. dreadnought battleship still in existence, the Texas holds a number of other records — first to have a permanently assigned Marine contingent aboard, first to launch an airplane from its deck, first to mount anti-aircraft guns on its deck, first to show "talking pictures" for crew entertainment, first to control its gunfire with directors and range-keepers (the forerunners of computers), one of the first to receive radar, the first such warship to become a museum and the first to be declared a national historical landmark.

After World War II, the Texas transported thousands of servicemen back to the United States from Okinawa and Hawaii before being turned over to the state of Texas as a memorial museum in 1948. But deferred maintenance and a lack of adequate funding eventually took its toll, and, by the late 1960s, the hull was corroded and leaking, and the wooden deck was rotted and leaking badly.

In 1971, the hull was sandblasted and painted using $50,000 USD in donations from charitable foundations. In 1988, the ship was towed to a Galveston dry dock and given a $15 USD million makeover that replaced about 15 percent of the steel hull, before it was returned to its berth in brackish water on the Houston Ship Channel near the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site.

By 2004, the corrosive water was again taking its toll. Texas voters in 2007 approved $25 USD million in bonds to dry-berth the ship to stop the deterioration, along with $4 USD million to be raised in private funds. The first funds for the project were not released until two years later, and, by June 2010, the corroding hull had sprung new leaks that caused it to sink 2-3 feet in its mooring.

Two years later, 30 new leaks had to be fixed and the ship was closed to visitors for three weeks to allow for repairs. In July 2012, state and federal officials determined the dry-dock plan would be much more costly than expected. The ship's deterioration has continued, and, this summer, Smith said crews patched 90 leaks of varying sizes — with some sections characterized as "paper thin" due to corrosion.

Officials now say building a dry-berth for the ship at its current site could cost upwards of $80 USD million.

"The structure of the ship is in too bad a shape to get it into a dry dock," laments Smith. "A lot more is going to be needed to get the job done right. The Navy had 1,800 men working to maintain this ship, and we have 18."

But he and Bramlett remain optimistic that the ship can and will be saved, and ship museums around the country are closely watching what happens to the Texas.

"It's a significant icon of what the state of Texas stands for," said state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, a member of the Battleship Texas Foundation board. "It's to Texas what the Astrodome is to Houston, a symbol. I can't imagine not preserving it."

USS Texas: Historical highlights

A gun crew trained aboard the Texas fired the first American shots of World War I, targeting a German submarine in the North Atlantic.
After participating in the U.S. occupation of Veracruz, Mexico, in 1914, the ship worked convoy-escort missions in the North Atlantic and North Sea during World War I. It also escorted President Woodrow Wilson to the Paris Peace Conference after hostilities ended.
Between the wars, she served in the Pacific Fleet, was a training ship, and, after undergoing significant retrofitting, she became the flagship of the United States Fleet. In that role, she transported President Calvin Coolidge to Cuba for a multination conference in 1928.
During World War II, the Texas participated in Allied landings in North Africa with young war correspondent Walter Cronkite aboard. She later was part of the D-Day invasion of France, firing her massive guns at German shore batteries off Omaha Beach at a rate of 7.5 shells per minute for 34 minutes. War correspondent Ernest Hemingway wrote that the big guns "sounded as though they were throwing whole railway trains across the sky."
Once Nazi Germany was defeated, the Texas moved to the Pacific War, where she participated in the ferocious battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Waco resident Orlan Scott, 86, was an 18-year-old engineer assigned to the Texas just before Okinawa and served aboard for six months until Japan surrendered. "Because I was from Texas, I had made up my mind I wanted to serve aboard the Texas — and it was proudest day of my life when my name was called for duty there," he said. "I'm still proud to this day. That ship has a history like no other."

Expert reporting

Mike Ward has covered historic preservation efforts in Texas for more than two decades, and he chronicled the restoration of the state Capitol and of the Texas Governor's Mansion.

Augustus01 Dec 2013 3:49 p.m. PST

Demo it. No point in throwing good money into this project. $80 USD mil on this is a waste. Can't save everything I guess.

Allen5701 Dec 2013 4:24 p.m. PST

Why cant they do as the Japanese did with Mikasa? Put a cofferdam up around her and fill with concrete.

leidang01 Dec 2013 5:49 p.m. PST

I visited the Texas close to thirty years ago as a child and it was in terrible shape then. Also had vending machines and video games all over the deck to try and grab the tourist's money. Thought it was disgraceful then. Doesn't surprise me that it has gotten much worse.

By far the worst cared for ship I have ever seen.

Perhaps it is time to let it go.

Shagnasty Supporting Member of TMP01 Dec 2013 8:05 p.m. PST

It is much more accurate now. It is the only surviving WW I BB. It must be saved. Send money; I am

jowady01 Dec 2013 10:29 p.m. PST

Thanks Shagnasty, she is the last of her kind, there are no more Dreadnoughts left. One of the problems of course has been the horrible stewardship by the State of Texas. Texas, and I'm a native Texan, by and large doesn't give a darn about its heritage. Heck, around 1910 they even wanted to knock the Alamo down. In my hometown, El Paso, we're spending 70 million to build a triple "A" baseball stadium, 80 million to save an irreplaceable part of history really isn't that much. I will say that I contributed to preserving Constellation, Cutty Sark and Olympia. All three of those at one time seemed like lost causes.

Personal logo Murphy Sponsoring Member of TMP02 Dec 2013 7:00 a.m. PST

jowady..Wait…what's wrong with the field that the Diablos are playing at?…It was only built less than 20 years ago…

The Captain of the Gate02 Dec 2013 7:20 a.m. PST

I visited Texas two years ago. I saw no vending machines. Thirty years ago she had concrete on her decks-they're back to original shape now. Might try to visit a little more often, put some cash in the donation box. I was there right after the big leak that caused her to ship so much water and asked the rangers about it. "All museum ships leak. The only reason this was so big was a pump motor burned out on a Sunday when we were closed." Their opinion of why it made the news was that Parks and Wildlife was trying to force the senate to release the funds it was holding for repairs. "It wasn't a big thing."

The Captain of the Gate02 Dec 2013 7:25 a.m. PST

The soccer moms that infest the senate down in Austin are the problem. The rest of us do give a darn about our heritage.

Solzhenitsyn02 Dec 2013 8:00 a.m. PST

Truely a shame, hope she survives.

Who asked this joker02 Dec 2013 8:22 a.m. PST

One of my favorite ship designs with it's 5 main turrets! It is a beautiful ship and indeed part of our heritage. I'll flip some money their way.

Texas Jack02 Dec 2013 2:28 p.m. PST

I spent a lot of time on her when I was a kid back in the 70s. I remember we usually went in my uncle΄s Ford pickup (the kids of course had the best ride of all- in the back of the pickup!), and along the way we would stop for one of those spicy dill pickles and a coke. Then on to the Texas and afterwards a trip up the San Jacinto Monument, finally a stop to do a little crabbing before heading home. Those were indeed the days! I΄ll be sending in some money, just for the memories.

hocklermp502 Dec 2013 6:19 p.m. PST

I have been on the "Texas" twice, once in 1956 and later in 1971. In 1956 you could go down into the interior of the ship. I remember standing on the grating looking down at ladders and gratings that seemed to go on below me forever. You could even pop up into the main turrets. People have no concept of the size of those guns unless you see inside the turret. In 1971 all you could do was walk around the main deck, all else was closed. Air pollution was so bad that day it was like yellow-brown fog making the nearby towering San Jacinto Monument obscure. The ship seemed to be falling apart then and our visit was brief and very sad.

jowady02 Dec 2013 7:41 p.m. PST

Murphy, Cohen Stadium was deemed impossible to use, so they tore down City Hall Downtown, along with the Insights Science Museum and are building a new Stadium on the site. Needless to say there is a ton of local El Paso politics involved. Without going into it all ( this probably isn't the best place for it) let's just say that it's all very controversial, not least because the price tag went from 40 to 50 to 60 and then 70 million.

Personal logo Murphy Sponsoring Member of TMP03 Dec 2013 8:44 a.m. PST

Jowaday…I remember when they built it and the screw ups they did then…the "chicken manure fertilizer", the lights going out, the backed up bathrooms and the mayor getting hit by a flyball…

Why did they deem it impossible to use?

They tore down the city hall building downtown?…Where is city hall now, on Dyer Street or over in "The Barmuda Triangle"?…

Bizzbum Supporting Member of TMP04 Dec 2013 1:52 p.m. PST

Maybe they can do to the USS Texas what the Land Commissioner of Texas has done to the Alamo.. turn it into a political party zone for select rallies and other activities…

But there is a yearly miniature comvention held each year on the ship.. and the attendees can do a sleepover…

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