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USS Alabama

January 5, 2013

Alabama – Tuesday, January 1

As I was crossing a bridge heading east out of Mobile, a big ship caught my eye, and I remembered reading something about a visiting a battleship. It was very impressive-looking, so I took the next exit and drove over a causeway toward the ship. This was the USS Alabama and it was in the Battlefield Memorial Park. I didn’t really expect them to be open on New Years Day, but it was, and I decided to take the time to visit – there’s the battleship, a submarine and a plane hangar to see. I started with the battleship and loved the tours. There were 3 different self-guiding tours, and they led all over the ship. There were a lot of little touches to make it seem as though the soldiers will be right back – office areas with cigarettes in the ash trays; half-eaten candy bars (NestlĂ©) on a desk; cereal snack paks waiting to be chosen, etc. With 1940s music playing in the background, I felt like I’d gone time traveling! This was a battleship that carried abut 2000 crew members and it was really interesting seeing the living areas (they had a soda fountain too!), and the medical and dental rooms, and offices and navigation room, and uniform and cobbler shops, a store (a pack of cigarettes cost 5 cents). We could go down to the engine rooms, the torpedo rooms and then climbed up a bunch of ladders to the different command centers of the ship. I was fascinated. There was a map of the USS Alabama’s travels in WWII, and it spent time in Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, and Saipan – all the places I’m heading for soon. I felt quite a connection to the ship! It was special for me to be standing on the decks of a ship that had been to all of those faraway places. After leaving the battleship, I wandered through the plane hangar, and then got on the submarine, and walked from one end of that to the other. They’re very awkward to walk through, since the hatches are only 3-4 ft tall and you have to step over and crouch down at the same time. It seemed so cramped after the battleship. Then I went back into the visitor center. I had noticed a retired military officer sitting at a table of books when I first arrived, and he was still there a couple hours later. I went over to look at the books he was selling, and we got to talking about how some of the proceeds of the book sales help support the park. Colonel Glenn Frazier survived the Bataan Death March in the Philippines, and several years as a POW and his book, Hell’s Guest, tells his story. He was also consulted for Ken Burns’ documentary on The War. He talked quite a bit, and showed me pictures in the book, and then I mentioned I was heading to Guam and Saipan soon and would be visiting the WWII memorials. He seemed pleased that people are still interested in the memorials and wnat to learn what happened. He had been to the territories also, and for me to meet a retired military officer who had been to those places, as well as stand on a ship that had been there made my day. I had already finished all of my Alabama donations, but I wanted to make an extra one when I bought a copy of the book. The book was about $31, so I made an extra $25 donation to Battlefield Memorial Park, just because it had been a special visit. The colonel was easy to talk to – at 89 was just a little older than my dad, and he made me think of my uncles and late father-in-law. I mentioned how many of their stories are gone when they pass away, and I’m guessing that’s one of the reasons he wrote his book. He also talked about forgiveness – incredible under the circumstances, and it took a long time, but was necessary in healing. He was interested in my journey, and told the cashier about it, then told me he liked what I was doing. Even if he said it just to be nice, it was fun to hear. His book is coming on my journey.

So I was all smiles as I crossed the bay, and headed south into the little panhandle of Alabama. I had covered a few miles at the battleship park, but needed to get some more walking in. We stopped in the town of Fairhope – and I found a big waterfront park and Tula and I walked a few miles. There was a big pier to walk out on too. Lots of people were out enjoying the pretty day.

Then I drove the rest if the way down to the coast to the Gulf Shores. There was another big pier, but dogs weren’t allowed on that one. Lots of people had been fishing, and there were fish-cleaning stations right on the pier. I didn’t recognize any of the fish! Then I called it a day – I have about 5 miles to walk tomorrow to finish up Alabama.
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