March 6, 2013

Stories from the Sea: A WWII Battleship Gets a Historic Blog

  • By: Gwendolyn Purdom
Reflection. Credit: Battleship North Carolina
Battleship North Carolina

In its years at sea, the USS North Carolina held more than 2,300 aboard at one time; was the first of ten fast battleships to join the American fleet in World War II; and participated in every major naval offensive in the Pacific area of operations, earning 15 battle stars. When the battleship was set to be scrapped in 1958, a group of citizens banded together to save the vessel and bring her back to her home state.

Five decades later, the ship’s storied history is getting a different form of preservation through Sea Stories, the Battleship North Carolina’s new blog. Launched on January 24, the web series posts actual firsthand accounts of life on the ship, which now serves as a WWII memorial and museum, each week.

We caught up with Battleship Promotions Director Heather Loftin to find out more about the unique project.

Sign on board. Credit: Battleship North Carolina

Where did the idea for this series come from?

Part of the idea came from the crew members passing each year. We’ve tried to keep oral histories of these folks as much as we can and on the tour on the ship we do a really good job of telling their stories on the signs. We’re finding that a lot of our visitors really enjoy reading those and a lot of those who come to the ship are not as into the guns, they’re more interested in reading those stories and having that connection.

So we thought what a better way to continue to tell this story, take some of the stories that may not be on the tour route, open up the archive, and let them continue to learn more about the ship, learn more about the crew, and about what it was actually like to live on a living city at sea.

Where are these accounts coming from?

We had oral history videos taken a long time ago which we don’t have access to, so we’ve actually been working with the Library of Congress and they’ve been digitizing those for us. So now we can view those and listen to those, so we’re still gaining new stories. And ultimately what we would like to do as we get more of these is we would like to incorporate that video of them telling the story on the blog as well.

Paul A. Wieser, Boatswain’s Mate 1/c. Credit: Battleship North Carolina
Paul A. Wieser, Boatswain’s Mate 1/c

So are these all interviews or are there diary entries or some other form?

There’s a little bit of everything. Some were notes that were found on the ship. Some were diaries even though they were illegal at the time onboard. We have letters that have been donated to us from the families. Some are from oral histories. They have an annual crew reunion every year where we get to see a few of them, it’s about down to 21 [veterans] now. There are more that are still living but only about 21 are still able to travel. So when we’re here, we try to gather as much information from them as we can as well.

Have you heard any feedback from soldiers as these stories are being told?

We have heard from a couple. Of course they’re an older generation so we first have to explain to them what a blog is, they don’t quite understand that, but we’ve been in contact with a couple of them and they just love it. The family members are the ones who are genuinely appreciating it. The first one that we did from Paul Wieser, his wife was just ecstatic and it meant so much to her to continue to tell the story.

How do you go about choosing what’s going to be featured each week?

What we try to do is go by the time that was appropriate. Let’s say in September, when the torpedo hit the North Carolina what we’ll do is focus on what a crew member remembers about when the torpedo hit.

Guns. Credit: Battleship North Carolina

Have you found any favorite entries or found anything surprising as you’ve been posting these?

I think what’s so great about them is it’s not all solemn. It’s not all gloom and doom. It’s interesting to see how comedic some of these guys were and I think that’s what’s the most fun reading them for me personally because they definitely had a jovial side about them and, to hear some of their stories, it just makes you laugh. So I don’t have any favorites, I just think it’s so interesting. And also to see the wording that they used to use, like “swell.” I think that’s always fun.

What would you say the overall goal for this project is and how does it tie into the battleship organization’s mission?

We’re the state’s memorial to the 10,000 North Carolinians who served and died during World War II. So that’s our mission, to interpret that, but it’s also to tell the crew members’ stories.

As we are having to market to a younger generation, most of these folks don’t know anyone who served during World War II so we try to educate them on how important World War II was and what was considered the Greatest Generation. We’re trying to use the new technology to entice them and obviously it’s to educate them about the ship but also have them come and visit the ship.

We don’t receive any state or federal funding for our operations so we really need the ticket sales for people to come through to maintain the ship. That’s our ultimate goal, to inform, and then have them come visit to see firsthand what it was like to live on the ship.

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