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Historian: Battleship will remain in hearts, if not the region

Houston Chronicle logo Houston Chronicle 9/20/2019 By Yvette Orozco, STAFF WRITER

Although it closed to visitors in August and is destined to be moved from La Porte, the Battleship Texas will leave a lasting effect on area residents and communities, says historian Abbie Grubb.

The San Jacinto College history professor takes the story of the battleship to her students as well as the community.

Designated as U.S. National Historic Landmark, the ship has been the focus of efforts to save it from relentless deterioration. In May, it was announced that the ship will eventually be moved to a still-undisclosed location after renovation.

Under Senate Bill 1511 signed into law by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in June, a nonprofit organization named the Battleship Texas Foundation will take over the operations and maintenance of the 106-year-old ship.

Grubb recently led a discussion at the Deer Park Library that highlighted the ship’s role in world history and its connection to the cities that surround the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site in La Porte, where it has been since 1948.

RELATED: Battleship Texas will be relocated from San Jacinto site

The battleship was one of the first museum ships, but even many who have visited it may not grasp the full story, Grubb said.

“It seems like a lot of people have visited her don’t know all the different facets of what she did and how significant she is historically,” she said.

Flagship for D-Day invasion

The ship is the only remaining World War I-era dreadnaught.

In World War II, the ship played a crucial role in Allied attacks at Normandy, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and in North Africa.

“There are so many firsts affiliated with the Battleship Texas,” Grubb said.

The battleship was the first to launch an airplane off her deck. It had some of the earliest versions of radar technology. Battleship Texas was the flagship of the D-Day invasion at Normandy.

Battleship Texas had 34 years in service.

“For most ships, their life spans are about five to 10 years before they’re considered obsolete and either go on to a different service outside the military or are sunk or destroyed or used to target practice,” Grubb said. “The fact that she has those 34 years of service is unique in itself.”

Dimes contributed by children

After that, the ship came to the Houston area upon her retirement through the efforts of residents and businesses.

“(Houston) had to prove what they needed to create the spot for her and cover at least her first years’ worth of maintenance, and so it was a big local fundraising campaign,” Grubb said.

RELATED: Spending a night aboard the Battleship Texas, the last of her kind

While regional businesses put up the bulk of the money to bring the Texas to the region, there was an outpouring of support from the communities.

Schoolchildren, said Grubb, would donate nickels and dimes and would receive certificates naming them as honorary members of the Navy.

“It was purely the efforts of people on the ground in Houston that made it possible,” she said.

In her talks of the Texas, Grubb highlights the ship’s personal connections to people in the region, including her.

As a graduate student at Rice University, Grubb wrote a paper on the ship for a class.

“I had gotten to know everybody (at the Battleship Texas) and fell in love with the site and spent the next four years working there part-time off and on,” she said.

Grubb would also meet her future husband while working at the Texas.

She believes the region has its own emotional connection to the ship.

Memories of visiting the ship

“Throughout all those years I was there, so many of the visitors I had the opportunity to talk to had some kind of special story like we did,” she said.

They would tell Grubb about how fathers who were World War II veterans brought children to the ship and how the families would eat at the Monument Inn.

“There are so many people who have fond memories, and it may not anything to do with World War II or service, but that ship is a special place in so many people’s memory,” she said.

ON HOUSTON CHRONICLE.COM: Hundreds flock to Battleship Texas amid plans to move it from longtime home

For World War II veterans, the Texas served as a hallowed meeting place for reunions.

“One of the things that that ship does for people is that it is a physical representation of something they can’t otherwise see,” Grubb said. “Most kids today are not going to have the opportunity to go the beaches of Normandy or Okinawa, but they can see and touch the Battleship Texas.”

As someone who shares a personal history with the Texas, Grubb said the departure will be a sad goodbye, but as a history professor and historian, the fact that the ship will be saved from rust and ruin is the best possible outcome.

“I’m trying to focus on the fact that the most important thing is that she be saved,” Grubb said. “I would rather she be saved in her current spot, but if the move is what has to happen to enable future generation to have access to a ship as significant as the Texas, then I’m cautiously optimistic that the move will be a positive.”

yorozco@hcnonline.com

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