A Second Tour of Duty for the Immortal Showboat

USS North Carolina Memorial Dedication

“Eternal Monument,” Gallant Battlewagon is dedicated Sunday.

The above headline in the Greensboro Record on Monday afternoon, April 30, 1962 recalled a remark by Admiral Arleigh A. Burke’s the previous day.  Fifty years later, A View to Hugh contributor Jack Hilliard takes a look back at the upcoming anniversary this Sunday of the dedication of the Battleship USS North Carolina.  For a prequel, you might want to read Jack’s post from last October, “A North Carolina homecoming.”

Admiral Arleigh Burke speaking at USS North Carolina Memorial Dedication
Retired Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Arleigh Burke speaking at USS North Carolina Memorial Dedication. NC Governor Terry Sanford seated in right background.

Twenty one years and twenty days after its commissioning on April 9, 1941, the Battleship USS North Carolina was dedicated as a memorial to the 8,910 North Carolinians of all services killed in World War II.  Admiral Arleigh A. Burke, retired Chief of Naval Operations, was the principal speaker on April 29, 1962 at the dedication ceremony of the majestically moored battleship on the Cape Fear River near downtown Wilmington.

As she lies quietly here at Wilmington she is just as gallant as she was in the days when her big guns were firing.  She is gallant today because she stands silently to remind all who see her of our precious heritage, reminding us with her battle record and with the battle records of those to whom she is dedicated.

Burke then read the World War II roll call:

Guadalcanal, the Solomons, Saipan, Luzon, Iwo Jima, Okinawa . . . an eternal monument to brave men and a source of inspiration to all Americans.

The retired admiral expressed the hope that visitors to the ship in the years to come will “remember not only those who died—but why they died. And from this memory let us all strengthen our resolve to protect and preserve the blessings of freedom whatever the cost may be.”
Crowd onboard USS North Carolina during memorial dedicationMore than 2,000 people on the stern of the ship and thousands more in the nearby parking areas took part in the emotional ceremony . . . just as they had contributed money to the “Save-Our-Battleship” effort.  During the ceremony, the USS North Carolina Battleship Commission, headed by Chairman Hugh Morton and Vice Chairman Orville Campbell, drew praise for their tireless efforts to save the ship.
North Carolina Governor Terry Sanford, introduced by Master of Ceremonies Jim Reid of radio station WPTF in Raleigh, called the ship “North Carolina’s historic link with World War II . . . a great memorial to a fighting people.” He then reminded the audience that $315,000 had been raised to date, and more than 112,000 people had visited the ship since it’s opening on October 14, 1961.
Admiral Claude V. Ricketts, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, speaking at the USS North Carolina Memorial Dedication.Admiral Claude V. Ricketts, Vice Chief of Naval Operations added:

Her hull and her weapons may represent, in a way, a bygone era in the story of naval power and naval tactics, but her spirit remains modern and she will thereby continue to contribute in a great measure to the security of the United States and the moral fiber of her citizenry.

USS North Carolina Memorial Dedication, probably Charles J. O'Connor of St. Mary's Roman Catholic ChurchMinisters of three faiths also took part in the ceremony.  The Rt. Rev. Thomas H. Wright, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of East Carolina delivered the invocation; the dedicatory prayer was by Rev. Charles J. O’Connor, pastor of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Wilmington, and Rabbi Samuel A. Friedman of the Congregation of B’nai Israel, Wilmington, gave the benediction.  Commerce Secretary Luther H. Hodges, who as Governor was instrumental in acting on Jimmy Craig’s idea to save the ship, set out new marching orders for the old battlewagon:

We’re launching this great battleship on a second tour of duty . . . as a permanent reminder of freedom’s obligations.

Navy minesweepers plied the Cape Fear, ferrying guests from downtown Wilmington to the battleship site and later passed in review just before Army, Navy, and Air Force planes flew over in a magnificent aerial salute.
The radio broadcast of the ceremonies was offered to each radio station in North Carolina and adjoining states.  Wilmington television station WECT carried the proceedings live to coastal North Carolina.  Video tape replays were available to other TV stations.


In 1969 Vice Admiral Ernest M. Eller, Director of United States Naval History, wrote:

North Carolina, the first of the new battleships of World War II, has special significance to the Navy and the Nation.  Her brilliant performance in gunnery in the Pacific with the fast carrier task force played an important role in our ultimate victory.  She well deserved to be enshrined.


Hugh Morton at the USS North Carolina
Hugh Morton on deck of the USS North Carolina during an event, probably the April 29, 1962 dedication.

Hugh Morton, in his 1988 book, Making a Difference in North Carolina, dedicated an entire chapter to the ship.  Said Morton:

The (USS) North Carolina’s record speaks for itself.  She was in all 12 offensive naval engagements.  Applying any plausible yardstick one cares to use, the USS North Carolina may well be the greatest battleship ever floated by the United States.  We who hail from North Carolina were in luck the day it was decided to name this particular ship for our state.

On January 14, 1986, the ship was declared a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service.  So, on this the fiftieth anniversary of the dedication of the Battleship USS North Carolina (BB-55), I choose to believe there will be another gathering in a very special place.  Included will be, Burke and Ricketts, Sanford and Hodges, Morton and Campbell, Eller and Craig.  And as they did 50 years ago, leading this gathering will be Jim Reid along with Rt. Rev Wright, Rev O’Connor, and Rabbi Friedman.  All will be joined by 8,910 North Carolina heroes from World War II.

22 thoughts on “A Second Tour of Duty for the Immortal Showboat”

  1. Nice post! Obviously that was a different occasion from the time Gen.. Westmoreland and Bill Mauldin were there. (There wouldn’t have been room for them on the deck!) Many thanks for your hard work. Best regards, Julia

  2. Thank you, Julia, for the kinds words. It’s always good to hear from you.
    I believe the General Westmoreland – Bill Mauldin Battleship visit came on November 11, 1963. Mauldin gave the Veterans Day address. The story is in Hugh’s 1988 book, “Making a Difference in North Carolina,” on page 59 and the picture is on page 115.

  3. In the bottom photo Hugh Morton is wearing a pinback button reading “ADMIRAL **** / NORTH CAROLINA NAVY.” In the top photo Terry Sanford also seems to be wearing one. (These images blow up really well!) There’s an example of this button in the collection (frame 255). Was it a dedication item? Or might it have been given to contributors to the campaign to save the North Carolina?

  4. Thanks, Lew, for checking out the post.
    The “Admiral” button was indeed part of the campaign to raise funds for the Battleship.
    In the spring of 1961, a bill was introduced in the NC legislature creating the USS North Carolina Battleship Commission. Hugh Morton was installed as chairman with Chapel Hill newspaperman Orville Campbell as vice chairman.
    The commission determined that it would cost $100,000 to prepare a site to anchor the ship, another $100,000 to prepare the ship for display, and $50,000 to tow it to North Carolina…a total of $250,000. (That’s 1960 dollars).
    From the beginning, Morton insisted that no public money would be accepted from the national, state, or local governments. Former Governor Luther Hodges then suggested, why not get the people of North Carolina involved?
    At this point, Hugh Morton came up with a brilliant plan. He created a “North Carolina Navy.” From each of the state’s 100 counties, the commission members selected an “Admiral” responsible for seeing that each county met a fund-raising goal. Folks who gave $100 would also be named an “Admiral,” earning a certificate and lifetime free admission to the ship. Governor Terry Sanford suggested the commission involve the schools. Every child who brought in a dime received a pass for free admission.
    During the next five months, Morton, Campbell and Co. initiated an intensive “Let’s Bring the USS North Carolina Home” campaign that easily raised the needed $250,000, with 700,000 school children paying a dime and 2,400 North Carolina citizens paying $100, thus becoming “Admirals” in the “North Carolina Navy.” By the time the ship was dedicated on April 29, 1962, $315,000 had been raised.

  5. Can’t immediately find the source, but I’ve read that donors were also offered salvaged samples of the ship’s teak decking.
    Today recycled deck teak — there was an acre or so of it, maybe replaced more than once — can be found as decoration on the submarine USS North Carolina
    as ballpoint pens
    and as furniture.

  6. Hugh received a piece of the deck set in a very attractive way and ornamented with a small anchor. A small plaque naming him a “Plank Owner ” (by the Crew.) was affixed
    It was a very nice “Thank You” honor which pleased him a lot. My grandson still has it. I never heard of others being so designated but I am sure it was a special tribute given to many the men who worked so hard to bring the ship to North Carolina.
    The real Admirals were a little bit less than amused by the certificates and buttons which were given the Admirals of the North Carolina Navy, but were good natured about it.
    I think I have told you the story about Thomas E. Boney of Alamance County who realized too late that he had missed his chance to be an Admiral. by several years. He contacted Hugh asking if he could still “join” the NC Navy for $100.00. . Terry was still Governor and he and Hugh got together and had a special certificate created naming Tom “Rear Admiral in the North Carolina Navy” (The only one. ever.) They made him pay $200.00 for the privilege.

  7. Memorial Day is always special at “Mr. Morton’s Battleship”


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