LA PORTE, Texas -- The centennial celebration for the Battleship Texas began Wednesday with the last scheduled reunion of the infamous dreadnought s surviving crew.
Thirty-two crewmembers, most in their late 80s, were honored in a shipboard ceremony. Family, friends, and dignitaries crowded onto the bow of the ship for the ceremony held beneath the shadow of the same 14-inch guns that rained shells down on both Normandy Beach and Iwo Jima in World War II.
The Battleship Texas, commissioned in 1914, is the only surviving big gun battleship that served in both world wars.
I missed the old lady and it was great to see her again, said Gordon Jones, 87, a sailor who served on the ship off Okinawa, Japan in 1944. It s just super. I ve just got so many memories and there were so many friends. It s hard to believe that there are so few of us left.
Orlan Scott, 86, from Waco was a fireman 1st class when the Battleship Texas last patrolled the Pacific Ocean. He and the other survivors were honored by local and state politicians and the Battleship Texas Foundation which presented each man with a Patriot Medal specially created for the occasion.
It s just wonderful l. I feel almost as young as when I was on it, said Scott. Every time I visit the ship it brings back lots of memories. I m still as proud of the ship today as I was when I served on it.
It s very vogue today to talk about paying things forward. And that s great I m all for it, said Battleship Texas Foundation executive director Bruce Bramlett. But every now and then I think we need to remember we need to pay it back too. And today was about saying thank you to some tremendous men and their families.
When the Lord s ready I m ready, said Jones of the time has left. But this is one thing I wanted to do. And it s the highlight of my life.
The centennial celebration continues on Saturday with public tours of the battleship and an all-day music festival that includes Kelly Willis, Charlie Robison and Robert Earl Keen. A fireworks show is planned as a finale along with a ceremonial firing of the ship s 14-inch guns.
For more information: http://battleshiptexas.org/