Fifty years ago this week, the first of more than 10 million visitors boarded the newly docked USS North Carolina in its new home on the Wilmington riverfront.
Thanks to the efforts of Jimmy Craig and Hugh Morton, along with 700,000 school children across North Carolina, the battleship was saved from the scrapyard. Bringing it home, however, was no easy matter.
The move, originally scheduled for October 1, 1961, had to be delayed for a day because of the weather and problems with some of the tug boats.
At nearly 729 feet, the North Carolina was the longest ship to navigate the river, which was only 500 feet wide at the time. Also, the ship drew 30 feet of water, and the channel was only 32 feet deep.
After 10 hours of intricate maneuvering with a fleet of tugs pushing and pulling, the huge, 35,000 ton battlewagon was edged into a slip here at 5:37 p.m.
Thousands of persons lined the Wilmington waterfront and had a grandstand view as the ticklish maneuver of edging the ship from the Cape Fear River into her slip was executed.
The bow of the North Carolina apparently went aground at one time during the move into the slip. The only other mishap to mar the big ship's final voyage came when gunmounts at the very end of her stern crunched into the topside of a floating restaurant, the Ark, moored at the end of Princess Street.
This was not the first time the Ark had been on the losing end of such an encounter.
On prominent display inside the restaurant has been a Navy submarine plaque in honor of the fact that the Ark some years ago was involved in the only recorded collision between a "man-of-war and a restaurant." The man-of-war was the Navy sub USS Crusher. -- The News & Observer 10/3/1961
The USS North Carolina's service in World War II included downing 24 planes, fighting in every major offensive in the Pacific, and earning 15 battle stars. Six times the Japanese reporting sinking it.
The Japanese couldn't sink the battleship, but a history book nearly did. In 1971, Sandy Bunn, a high school junior from Rocky Mount wrote to the staff of the Battleship Memorial, asking if the ship had been recovered or if the memorial was a replica. He had read in a library book, The Story of Submarines by George Weller that the USS North Carolina had been sunk.
Weller's book was published by Random House, Inc., as part of it "Landmark Books" for children in the middle grades of school. On page 121 it tells of submarine attacks sinking the battleship North Carolina and the cruiser Indianapolis.
But the North Carolina was never sunk, only damaged by a torpedo in September 1943, memorial officials said. The memorial organization reported it will set the record straight.
Meanwhile, Sandy was brought to the memorial to visit the battleship and see for himself that it is the real thing. -- The News & Observer 2/14/1971
Read more about the campaign to save the battleship.
Clayton Price (left), a crewmember of the USS North Carolina during World War II, reassures Sandy Bunn of Rocky Mount that the ship is authentic. (File Photo)