Congressman Ted Poe (TX-02)
There is truth in that old Texas saying: If you think it’s hot now, wait ‘till August. So naturally, I like to bring my Washington, DC staff to Texas during this time so they can get a true taste of a southeast Texas summer.
Among the many meetings and events scheduled throughout the district this month, I have a few additional requirements of my Washington staff: BBQ, Battleship, and a little required reading.
After receiving a copy of T.R. Ferhenbach’s book, “Lone Star: A history of Texas and the Texans,” I get them to a BBQ joint as fast as humanly possible to get them in the right state-of-mind. Then we head east to those famous marshy banks of the San Jacinto.
The staff gets an education on the importance of the Battle of San Jacinto and how Texas gained independence in 1836.
Next up, how the Battleship Texas, the “Mighty T,” has been woven into my life and career as a judge and congressman.
Growing up, I always looked forward to going to the battlegrounds, the Monument and of course the Battleship Texas. My best friend Pete Cliburn and I would climb from top to bottom, firing every gun and squeezing down every port hole along the way. We explored the many decks and climbed the ladders of the upper decks as high as we could go. When you reached the top of the ladder of the highest point, you better remember that the metal deck you were about to lay your forearms on was as hot as a cast iron skillet! But, as kids we couldn’t care less, we were fighting on the greatest battleship to have ever sailed.
The USS Texas is the last of the great Dreadnought battleships. She participated in the most important battles of the first half of the twentieth century. When commissioned on March 12, 1914 she was the most powerful war ship the world had seen. The Texas was the first of her kind to mount anti-aircraft guns, to use the first commercial radar, the first US battleship to launch an aircraft and lays claim to the First Marine Division in 1941.
Her most notable contributions came in WW II. She participated in the invasion of North Africa, Normandy, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. As the flagship of the US fleet, she fired at Nazi defenses during the D-Day invasion at Normandy. Called the “smartest man o’war afloat” the Texas was an integral part of many US victories.
At the end of the war, she made three trips bringing American servicemen home.
On April 21, 1948, the Texas was decommissioned and her place in history took root right here in our backyard. School children across Texas saved their nickels to help pay to dry dock the battleship at the site of the Battlegrounds on the San Jacinto River.
As a kid, it was obvious to me why General Sam routed Santa Anna – we had a battleship! It took me awhile to figure out that the Texas Revolution was in the 1800s and the Battleship Texas was used in the 1900s. After all they retired her on San Jacinto Day.
While that all made perfectly good sense back then, my love for Texas history in the years to come taught me that they were not one in the same and General Sam’s accomplishments became far more impressive.
During my tenure as a judge, the “Mighty T” found its way back into my life and the lives of offenders I ordered to be “enlisted” in the “Texas Navy.” I ordered probationers who were skilled welders, painters, plumbers and electricians to help in the restoration efforts of the Battleship. As one of many creative sentences, this became another effective tool that both served the public and the probationer – a few went on to be hired by the Parks and Wildlife Department.
In 1984, Texas Governor Mark White appointed me an Admiral in the “Texas Navy.” And, I am pretty sure I am the only Judge/Admiral to ever marry a couple on the bow of the Battleship as well.
During my first term in Congress, I joined efforts with Congressman Gene Green in securing federal funding to permanently dry dock the USS Texas so that my grandchildren and generations to come can climb all over one of the world’s finest fighting vessels and a great part of our naval and maritime history. We have continued each year to press for federal funding and find new ways to support her restoration.
Today, the Battleship Texas serves as a museum and a reminder of wars long past. In 1948 she was designated a National Historic Landmark. Major restoration projects and the efforts of thousands of volunteers have kept this old battleship alive for thousands of visitors each year. The Texas has an onboard museum that details her efforts in our fight for freedom and a history of the sailors that called her their own.
From the marshy banks of the battlegrounds of San Jacinto to the decks of the “Mighty T,” Texans have always answered the call for freedom.
And that’s just the way it is.