Congressman Ted Poe (TX-02)

School’s out, families are packing up and heading out for summer vacations. One thing we always did when I was growing up was spend a day at the Battleship Texas. My fondness for the USS Texas began many summers ago and has stuck with me throughout my life and career.

As a child, 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 of the “Mighty T,” 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.

And that's just the way it is.

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, including both World Wars. Commissioned on March 12, 1914 she was the most powerful war ship the world had seen and participated in the invasion of North Africa, Normandy, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Her most notable contributions came in WW II, firing 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.

As the flagship of the US fleet, 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. 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.

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.

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.

I grew up playing on the battleship and took all four of my kids to do the same. This summer when you’re making plans to head to Galveston, float the Guadalupe, and camp down in Garner, make sure you include the Battleship in your plans. The San Jacinto State Historical Park is just a short drive from the house – pack a lunch to eat out on the battlegrounds, tour the Monument and relive some history aboard the magnificent USS Texas.