Keeping the USS North Carolina Battleship Afloat
Commissioned on April 9, 1941, the USS North Carolina was the first of 10 battleships to join the American fleet at the dawn of World War II. The ship emerged as a vital sea weapon for the Allied forces. It traveled more than 300,000 miles during the war, participated in every major naval offensive in the Pacific theater and survived several narrow escapes, including a torpedo hit.
The USS North Carolina’s crew served valiantly – and successfully – during the war, carrying out nine shore bombardments, taking down more than 24 enemy aircraft, sinking an enemy troopship and providing support to many aircraft carriers under attack from the air.
“She was the most decorated battleship of World War II,” says Captain Terry Bragg, executive director at the Battleship North Carolina museum in Wilmington. “When she came home after the war, she was decommissioned and placed in layup by the U.S. Navy for the next 14 years.”
A backlash against the navy’s decision to scrap the ship in 1958 emerged from citizens of North Carolina who wanted to bring it back to its namesake state.
“It was a nickels and dimes campaign organized by the people of North Carolina, mainly schoolchildren,” Bragg explains. “They wanted to make the ship a memorial to the more than 11,000 North Carolinians who served and died in World War II, and to honor veterans who survived the war and returned home.”
In 1961, the USS North Carolina made its way from New Jersey to Wilmington, where it underwent repairs in preparation for a 1962 dedication as a memorial and museum. Since then, the ship has functioned as a self-supporting attraction, welcoming over 300,000 visitors annually.
“Our audience is primarily school kids – we see more than 40,000 each year – and young families,” Bragg says. “All our messaging tells the story of the sacrifice, honor and courage of the men who served aboard this ship.”
Shortly after Bragg became executive director in 2009, he received an important letter from the U.S. Navy. “They said I needed to either repair the ship or make plans to scrap her,” he says. “The Navy’s standard is to put a ship in dry dock for repairs about every 20 years, and the USS North Carolina hadn’t been in dry dock since 1953, so we were seriously delinquent in meeting our contract with the navy.”
Bragg immediately organized a damage assessment. “The ship is not rusting, but we’re suffering from galvanic corrosion due to electrical charges running through the ship,” he says. “We commenced a $2.1 million project to assess the overall damage and to repair deteriorating metal under the water level.”
After the initial repairs, Bragg and his team launched the Generations Campaign, a fundraising drive to save the ship.
“Originally, there was discussion that the battleship needed to go to Norfolk for repairs,” Bragg says. “However when I got here, I estimated the towing fees and other expenses to take the battleship to a Navy shipyard at about $35 million.”
Determined to find a more economical option, Bragg searched for a way to make the repairs without moving the ship from its berth in Wilmington.
“That’s when we developed this strategy to repair the hull at the waterline,” he says. “We can do that for $15 million, and it should carry us through the next 40 years.”
The Generations Campaign is close to meeting its initial goal. “We’re up to $14.8 million dollars,” Bragg says. “It’s a partnership between businesses, private individuals and the state of North Carolina. The state is contributing $7 million of estimated $15 million to repair the ship.”
The chief goal of the Generations Campaign is to restore the USS North Carolina’s corroded hull after constructing a cofferdam, which allows water around the ship to be drained so repairs can move forward.
“We’re also building a permanent walkway around the ship, so people can see her from a different perspective, and to coordinate with the existing river walk in downtown Wilmington,” Bragg says. “An additional $3 million from the campaign is designated for education, delivery and development. We have all these youngsters and young families coming through, and they’re very social media-minded in their ability to communicate, so we’re jumping into new ways to share the ship’s story.”
For more information about USS North Carolina or to donate to the Generations Campaign, visit battleshipnc.com or text “battleship” to 41444.
By the Numbers
Year the USS North Carolina was commissioned for World War II
Miles the battleship traveled during World War II
Year the ship opened as a museum in Wilmington
Estimated cost to repair the USS North Carolina
– Jessica Leigh Brown