Sunday, April 18th, 2021

Shopper Client Stories


Year-long celebration honors historic ship's 75th anniversary

by Candance Moore

Battleship Operations Manager Clayton Allen in front of the Wisconsin

Battleship Operations Manager Clayton Allen in front of the Wisconsin

It's been called the last great battleship. Born of hard-fought lessons learned in bloody Pacific conflicts, it integrated emergent technology to fight a new enemy in the Cold War. It was resurrected for modern service in the Middle East. From the jungles of Luzon to the deserts of Kuwait, Battleship Wisconsin witnessed America's transition to a military superpower, forging a unique chapter in U.S. Naval history, 75 years in the making.

The story of the Wisconsin is the story of how America learned to win wars. So, when Nauticus on Norfolk's downtown waterfront planned to celebrate its 75th anniversary, a simple slogan seemed most appropriate: "Their Stories, Our History." Those who served on this vessel are now sharing their stories with the public.

To honor this battleship's 75th birthday, Nauticus is hosting a year-long celebration with a series of diverse events and attractions that has something for everyone. Spaces of the ship which were previously restricted are opening, replete with all the trappings and equipment. Most amazingly of all, veterans who served on the ship during combat are coming forward to connect with future generations.

"This ship really belongs to all Americans," Battleship Operations Manager Clayton Allen remarks. "It's the history of us, and we ought to know the story."

Battleship Wisconsin's journey began at the height of World War II. Naval technology was improving by the day, forcing engineers to make quicker, more accurate vessels. Air superiority drove up the value of aircraft carriers as traditional battleships lost their prominence. Along came the Wisconsin, a new Naval vessel fresh off production that reflected the transitional feel of the moment. The U.S. Navy had cut off production of new battleships while the Wisconsin was finishing up. She barely survived the cut, making her the last battleship ever produced by America.

Ships were ravaged in battle so often that no one could predict how long a vessel would last. As dozens of ships met their doom in the waters around Okinawa, the Wisconsin valiantly held her own against a kamikaze onslaught. She left the Pacific with a collection of stars and medals.

After serving in Korea, the Wisconsin retired from combat and carried out training programs. Ronald Reagan's famous 600-ship Navy to oppose the Soviet Union brought her back into action. Then came Desert Shield, thrusting the Wisconsin into battle once more.

She was a hodgepodge of old and new. Guns that pounded Japan immovably dominated her deck, so obsolete by the time of Desert Shield that retired veterans were called upon to explain them. Down below in mission control, computers were hurriedly installed alongside antique equipment. Paintings, sketches, and hidden gems of the past waited to be discovered by inquisitive young sailors. The result was a battleship with an identity all its own.

"This ship really belongs
to all Americans.
It's the history of us,
and we ought to know the story."

- Clayton Allen

By the mid-1990s, the Wisconsin was simply too old for effective use. She floundered in a Naval shipyard; her fate uncertain until the City of Norfolk offered to host her. In the early days, she was still technically U.S. Naval property, which meant no civilians inside. She was fully bequeathed to Nauticus at last in 2009. Since then, administrators have made impressive gains in allowing the public to see more and more.

On May 18 and 19, Battleship Wisconsin will unveil several new sections including the hospital, the barbershop, the library, and other spaces. Festivities will include recruit-style haircuts, musical entertainment, and a flag ceremony. Wisconsin veterans will be present to talk about combat operations. It's an excellent opportunity for young people to encounter American history in a fun, upbeat atmosphere.

The Chief’s Mess aboard the Wisconsin

The Chief’s Mess aboard the Wisconsin

"If you've never seen the Wisconsin, this is the perfect time to visit," PR Specialist Beth Bilderback notes. "So many great resources will be on hand to share information. If you saw her several years ago, it's time for another visit to see how much the tour has grown. We've doubled the explorable space."

General admission grants access to all public space (discounted on unveiling weekend to $7.50), with optional guided tours for an additional fee that illuminate an incredible wealth of knowledge. There's even a room for limited mobility visitors to enjoy virtual tours. Guests who enjoy a challenge can book an escape room adventure in the Admiral's cabin.

In July, Hampton Roads' own Hurrah Players will perform the 1930s-themed musical production  Dames at Sea on the fantail. September brings an innovative BBQ tasting event on the deck with refreshments, live music, and entertainment. For visitors who might enjoy a more low-key outing, the Wisconsin is currently open for general admission six days a week. Beginning May 27, it will be open seven days a week.

Battleship Wisconsin is operated by Nauticus, Norfolk's maritime science museum. Visitors enjoy a wealth of educational exhibits, interactive programs, touchable marine life, and special events. Children relish the thrill of a scavenger hunt that takes them in every direction.

Nauticus and Sail Nauticus have become prominent advocates for helping underserved children gain access to STEM knowledge and participate in maritime activities. Summer sailing camps for children and adult sail outings provide funds to serve the underprivileged. Then there's the annual bash known as Frisky on the Wisky, a sellout event that benefits the Sailing Center.

June 22 will be special this year as Nauticus celebrates its 25th anniversary with a birthday party. Much like the Wisconsin, Nauticus has grown in recent years to include a broader spectrum of activities. First-time visitors to Nauticus are encouraged to relax and take their time.

"People often tell me they've been to Nauticus," Clayton says with a smile. "Then I mention some of the amazing programs here, and they say they had no idea."

Beth explains that this is why the anniversary events are so valuable. "If you wonder what's so special about the Wisconsin, come visit this year and find out!"


One Waterside Dr.
Norfolk, VA 23510