From her humble beginnings on February 1, 1942 as the keel was laid at the Norfolk Navy Yard in Portsmouth, Virginia, Battleship USS ALABAMA (BB-60) has had a remarkable career. She began her World War II adventures in the North Atlantic in 1943, then later that year, went to the South Pacific seas. Home to a crew of 2,500 courageous Americans, this 45,000-ton gentle giant’s WWII adventure culminated when she led the American Fleet into Tokyo Bay on September 5, 1945, the day after the Surrender documents were signed. Nine Battle Stars for meritorious service were awarded the “Mighty A” during her brief three-year tenure as the “Heroine of the Pacific.”
Decommissioned in 1947, the ALABAMA was scheduled to be scrapped in the early 1960s. A forward-looking group of Alabamians saw a bright future in the aging warship as the anchor attraction of a Memorial Park to be located in Mobile. That dream came true on January 9, 1965 when USS ALABAMA Battleship Memorial Park opened to the public.
Today, Battleship Memorial Park welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world each year. These guests come to tour the Park and learn about the men who served aboard the USS ALABAMA and USS DRUM, our nation’s military history, and the price paid for freedom.
THE USS ALABAMA BATTLESHIP COMMISSION
As mentioned earlier, Alabama Governor George Wallace signed into law Senate Bill 152 (now found in the Alabama Code, Section 41-9-340/358) on September 12, 1963, establishing the USS ALABAMA Battleship Commission as a state agency to acquire, transport, berth, renovate, maintain, and establish Battleship USS ALABAMA as a memorial to all those Alabamians who had served so valiantly in WWII and Korea. The law has modified to make the memorial applicable to those from the state who served in all branches of the military service in all armed conflicts of the United States.
The law created an 18-member Commission, whose members are appointed by the Governor for terms of 8 years. The terms of one-half of the original members were 4 years, enabling Governors-elect to reappoint or replace nine of the Commissioners. At least three Commissioners must be residents of Mobile County and one a resident of Baldwin County, with the rest from all around the state. All must be residents of Alabama. Commissioners would receive no pay, but be reimbursed for expenses incurred on Commission business.
The Commission meets almost every month, with the majority of meetings held aboard the Battleship. One meeting per year may be held out-of-state. The Commission still receives no public monies (i.e. tax money), and has been self-sufficient for daily operations since inception in 1963, hence the necessity for charging admission to the park, a fact veterans sometimes do not understand, but a policy established by the original Commission, themselves all veterans.
The Commission, while it receives no public monies, can accept donations and grants, and it has authority in the law to issue revenue bonds to raise funds as well. Bonds have never been issued, for when money has been needed, the Commission has borrowed money commercially. The Commission is authorized to maintain an emergency fund, and it has done so on monies accumulated over the years.
In the early 2000s, the Commission, supported by a major fundraising effort, embarked on a major restoration and renovation program. 2.7 million gallons of fuel-contaminated water was removed from the Battleship in 1999, and then in 2001, the Commission moved Submarine USS DRUM out of the water to a land base, allowing complete hull repair and allowing visitors to see the bottom of a submarine. The project then completed a water-tight cofferdam around the Battleship so the water could be removed and hull repair on the mighty warship was completed in 2003. The project eventually totaled $15 million.2023 Commission Members
Original Battleship Commission Members:
- Governor George C. Wallace, Honorary Chairman
- Henri M. Aldridge of Mobile, Vice-Chairman
- J. T. McDow of Columbiana, Secretary
- Stephens G. Croom of Mobile, Treasurer
- Charles L. McLafferty of Selma
- Albert P. Brewer of Decatur
- F. E. Busby of Dothan
- H. O. Davis of Montgomery
- Robert S. Edington of Mobile
- Al Fox of Birmingham
- Raymond Hurlburt of Birmingham
- W. G. McGrady of Mobile
- Lewis McCray of Tuscaloosa
- Robert M. Milsap of Bessemer (succeeded by Jack Beasley of Birmingham after the first Commission meeting on 21 November 1963)
- L. D. Owen of Bay Minette
- Vernon St. John of Opp
- William M. Stewart of Monroeville
- Jack Tatum of Opelika
- Herbert West of Winfield
BATTLESHIP MEMORIAL PARK EXECUTIVE DIRECTORS
The Executive Director of USS ALABAMA Battleship Memorial Park handles the daily operations of the Park, and is answerable to the Commission through its Chairman.
The original Executive Director was Captain James G. Thwing, USN (Ret.), of Seattle Washington, who handled all negotiations and transactions for the Commission in Bremerton, Washington during the ship’s acquisition and mobilization of bringing Battleship ALABAMA to Mobile. His dedication and assistance to the project was invaluable, and greatly facilitated the monumental task of bring ALABAMA to Mobile.
Vice Admiral William V. Davis, USN (Ret.), a noted naval aviator, assumed command from Captain Thwing when the ALABAMA arrived in Mobile on September 14, 1964.
Admiral Davis was succeeded in 1972 by Captain Frank H. Brumby, Jr. USN (Ret.), who served aboard the battleship, and was one of its plankowners or original commissioning crew. Captain Brumby’s successor in 1977 was Captain William J. Diffley, USN (Ret.), who was stationed in Mobile in 1964 and served as the Officer of the Day when the mighty battleship came into Mobile Bay on the final leg of her record 5,600 mile journey “home”, retiring in 1989.
Captain Brumby’s successor in 1977 was Captain William J. Diffley, USN (Ret.), who was stationed in Mobile in 1964 and served as the Officer of the Day when the mighty battleship came into Mobile Bay on the final leg of her record 5,600 mile journey “home”, retiring in 1989.
Captain Frederick P. Smallwood, USN (Ret.) then took over, serving until mid-1991.
Lieutenant Colonel John R. Brown, AUS (Ret.) took the helm until a permanent Executive Director could be found. Colonel Brown had also been a ALABAMA plankowner, serving as Turret Captain First Class of Main Battery Turret # 3, 16″/45 throughout World War II. He was discharged in 1946, joined the U.S. Army in 1949, and saw action in both Korea and Vietnam before retirement. In 1970, he became Executive Director of the USS ALABAMA Crewmen’s Association, a position he held until his death.
Commander Frank G. Dengler, USN (Ret.) succeeded Colonel Brown in March 1992, and served four years.
Commander Dengler was replaced by William N. Tunnell, Jr., who assumed command 18 October 1996 and held the position until his retirement in late 2015.
Major General Janet Cobb, AUS (Ret), the current Executive Director, assumed the position on December 14, 2015, after a highly successful military career spanning 42 years and serving on the Battleship Commission prior to her selection as Executive Director.