The battleship on the battlefield

For generations the visitors to the battlefield at San Jacinto have found the Battleship Texas parked on the edge of the water. Recently, the Friends of the San Jacinto Battleground have led the charge to ship the Battleship Texas off to a new location. According to a story in the Dallas Morning News (“Lines are drawn over plans for Battleship Texas at San Jacinto state historic park“) argue that this is needed because the Battleship Texas Foundation has a plan for dry-berthing the battleship so that it can be protected from further damage by the water. The plan also calls for a new visitors center and a replica 1940s-era wharf around the ship. While the champions of the battlefield believe that the battleship should be towed to another location, state park officials say there’s no suitable location nearby.

The question is whether sharing the space conflicts or complements the history of the battlefield and the battleship. One can hardly blame advocates of the battlefield for reservations about the arrangement. It is hard to overlook a battleship. Clearly, the presence of the battleship transforms the feel of the battlefield. However, the same can be said for the San Jacinto monument itself. The monument (built by the Public Works Administration project and dedicated in 1939) towers 570 feet  above the battlefield and has a museum (complete with gift shop) at its base.

Aboard the Battleship Texas

My first visit to the Battleship Texas in 1970

The Battleship Texas was decommissioned and made a museum in 1948. Visitors have been roaming the battleship and share one of the few opportunities to get a real feel for living and serving on a battleship.

Like many Texans that visited over the last six decades, I’ve taken the pairing of these two monuments to Texas for granted. Could the San Jacinto battlefield be restored to something like its state at the time of the battle? Perhaps. However, the chemical plants that surround the park will never allow visitors to escape to the days of the Texas Revolution. In fact, few Texans walk the battlefield today as most prefer to rely on the view of the battlefield from the observation deck of the monument.

Texas history is never as well-preserved as we might like. Today, what remains of Alamo is surrounded by hotels, restaurants, and gift shops. The visitor gets almost no feel for that battle. Still, visitors stream to the Alamo and don’t seem to need the full battlefield to appreciate the sacrifice made there.

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