All hands on deck: Campaign launched to raise funds to repair USS North Carolina

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Battleship North Carolina. File photo.
Battleship North Carolina. File photo.

Officials with the U.S.S. North Carolina are calling for all hands on deck in a multi-million dollar fundraising effort to repair the ship’s deteriorating hull.

The “Generations Campaign” was launched Thursday in an effort to raise money for the $17 million project to repair the WWII battleship, which requires constructing a coffer dam to repair the hull where the ship currently is in the Cape Fear River.

Heather Loftin, marketing manager for the battleship, called the repairs “urgent.”

“Without these, the ship will no longer be able to serve as our state’s memorial to those who served and died during WWII and for all those who continue to serve and protect our nation’s freedoms,” Loftin said. “While the North Carolina defeated all enemies in battle, 50 years of corrosion has taken its toll. Her once thick steel hull is now wafer thin along the tideline. In some places a finger can poke through the hull.

“With no federal or state funding for operations, and over one-quarter million visitors each year, the North Carolina depends on passionate individuals to preserve her as a memorial and education center for our future generations.”

Related story: Duke Energy gives battleship $1M for hull restoration

In July 2009, the ship’s management received the following word from Naval Sea Command: “If the U.S.S. North Carolina Battleship Commission does not have a viable plan for the future dry-docking of this vessel, you [the battleship] should either develop a dry-docking plan or prepare and provide the Navy with a plan for the eventual disposal of the ex-North Carolina.”

The vessel–overseen by an 18-member, state-established commission–hasn’t been drydocked since the 1940s, and putting it up again would cost in the neighborhood of $35 million. But even if that kind of money was on hand, getting the ship to the yard in Norfolk, Virginia, would be an entirely different challenge, given the bridges and power lines and other obstacles that appeared after the ship found its home in the Cape Fear in 1961.

So, the $17 million plan includes improvement of the hull exactly where it is–just with less surrounding water. A coffer dam would go into place around the ship to allow the work, which will depend on successful fundraising. For its main operations, the ship is supposed to be self-supporting–relying on admissions fees, gift-shop sales, donations and investments, primarily–and is not a recipient of tax dollars. The ship operates on a $3 million annual budget.

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Once a fast-moving WWII vessel that participated in every major Pacific naval onset, the U.S.S. North Carolina was commissioned in April 1941 and earned 15 battle stars before its June 1947 decommissioning. For the 14 years to follow, it sat in the Inactive Reserve Fleet in Bayonne, New Jersey.

When North Carolinians learned in 1958 of the plan to scrap the battleship–known in its action days as “Showboat”–they launched a campaign to save it. The movement ultimately, in 1961, parked the ship at its current spot on the Cape Fear River across from downtown Wilmington.

“Time is of the essence, and the ships’ hull is deteriorating,” Loftin said. “The World War II crew of the Battleship North Carolina fought for our freedoms and now it is our turn to show bravery and honor by donating to preserve the legacy for future generations.”

To donate: 

  • Text the word “Battleship” to 41444
  • Visit battleshipnc.com and click the “donate” button
  • Mail a check to Friends of the Battleship North Carolina (note “Generations Campaign” on the memo line)
  • Visit the battleship for an online donation

 

The U.S.S North Carolina. File photo.
The U.S.S North Carolina. File photo.