LA PORTE, Texas — It’s the only surviving battleship that served in both world wars, having fought in Europe during World War I and against the Nazis and the Japanese Army during World War II. But the greatest challenge in recent years for the USS Texas has been a leaky, rusty hull that at times forced workers to pump out about 2,000 gallons (7,570 liters) of water per minute from the 110-year-old ship.
To ensure the historic vessel, commonly known to Texas residents as the Battleship Texas, doesn’t sink and can continue hosting visitors, the foundation in charge of its care successfully towed the ship on Wednesday from its longtime home along the Houston Ship Channel to a shipyard in Galveston for repairs.
Tony Gregory, president of the Battleship Texas Foundation, said the process of pulling the ship by tugboats and getting it on its way went perfectly. He said any problems would have happened in the first 15 minutes and there were no issues.
“It went smoother than we thought and quicker than we thought … and she’s gone, down the channel,” he said Wednesday morning.
About nine hours later at around 4 p.m., the ship arrived in Galveston to cheering crowds of spectators. Four tugboats had pulled the vessel at a pace of about 5 knots.
Travis Davis, the foundation’s vice president of ship operations and who was aboard the vessel during its trip, said Battleship Texas did really well during its journey and the organization never had to implement any of its emergency plans.
“She's been a champ the whole time,” Davis said in a video from the ship just before it arrived in Galveston.
The 40-mile (64 kilometer) journey from its longtime berth at the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site in the Houston suburb of La Porte is part of a $35 million project to repair the hull and ultimately restore the ship to its former glory.
The foundation plans to eventually resettle it in a new location in Texas, possibly in one of three nearby cities, including Galveston, to attract more visitors and increase revenue.
Moving the vessel is “the major step in getting the ship back to tiptop shape,” Gregory said Tuesday as he stood aboard it while workers made final preparations.
Since 1948, the USS Texas has been at the state historic site where the decisive battle in the Texas Revolution was fought. There, it’s served as a museum and tourist attraction. The battleship was previously taken to the same shipyard in Galveston for repairs in 1988.
For the last three years, the ship has been closed to the public as the foundation has been preparing for the repairs. In 2019, the Texas Legislature approved the funds to fix the hull. The foundation plans to make other fixes that it’s paying for. All the repairs are expected to take up to a year to complete.
Tricia Thomas, 50, who was one of the people invited to watch as the ship was unmoored early Wednesday morning, said she became emotional and teared up as she saw it begin its journey and heard its whistle sound. As the ship started moving, Thomas said, people clapped and cheered.
“It’s amazing to see a ship that’s 100 years old out on the water again, moving like she did for so many years. It was exciting,” said Thomas, who lives in the Houston suburb of Kingwood.
Thomas said it’s important to preserve the ship so future generations can learn its history and it can remind people how they can come together for a common cause that’s greater than them.
“I think that’s probably the biggest story she can tell,” Thomas said.
At the Texas City Dike, a 5-mile-long (8-kilometer-long) levee that stretches into Galveston Bay, several hundred people gathered on Wednesday for a chance to see the ship go by.
Members of the Texas history group Lone Star Volunteers fired blanks from a cannon five times in salute of the ship as it floated by. Many of the Texas flags that flew in the state during its history, including the Texas Navy flag, were planted in ground near the cannon, nicknamed “Rolling Thunder.”
"We’re not going to shoot a projectile," said Lone Star Volunteers member Mike Wilson, who wore a loose-fitting red shirt, white linen-type pants and black riding boots, designed to be an approximation of what volunteers in the Texas Army might have worn. "They might turn the guns of the USS Texas back on us.”
“The USS Texas, it represents freedom,” Wilson said.
Todd Homman, another member of Lone Star Volunteers, said the ship’s journey brought back fond memories of visiting the vessel with friends as a teenager and hiding and staying aboard after hours.
“We didn’t do the teenage stuff,” he said. “We cleaned, picked up, polished the brass. We beautified her and cleaned her up.”
Homman said the ship inspired his brother to join the Navy.
Chris Fleming, 67, from nearby Dickinson, waited four hours in hot, humid weather to watch the ship float by the Texas City Dike.
“It’s history in the making... I just wanted to see it float. I just wanted to see it go by. It was neat. I enjoyed it,” Fleming said.