WILMINGTON, N.C. — Before you head for the beach, WRAL's Morning News is cruising the coast for a look at what is new and changing. Our first stop is in Wilmington, with a trip aboard the U.S.S. Battleship North Carolina.
The U.S.S. North Carolina serves as a museum and as the state's memorial to the 10,000 North Carolinians who died in World War II. It was the first of 10 fast battleships built for the war.
Commissioned just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the small floating city was ready for war soon after. The timing was impeccable, according to the ship's current captain.
Capt. David Scheu says the battleship went on to become the most decorated ship of the war, serving in every battle in the march across the Pacfic.
What made the North Carolina spectacular then -- still does today, attracting thousands of visitors to the floating museum each year.
For example, one propeller weighs 34,000 pounds. In its heyday, it took 2,300 sailors to power the boat.
Scheu says the battleship was towed into Wilmington in 1961.
The 728-foot-long vessel moved through a 428-foot wide channel -- the maneuver was so difficult, it hit a floating restaurant.
Scheu says the memory of the event still lives large with many.
"Everybody who is old enough to know where they were when John Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot, will remember this," he said.
The ship is tentatively scheduled to move from its muddy berth on the Wilmington waterfront to a dry dock for work on its hull in 2007.
The battleship cannot sail on its own, so it will be towed to Norfolk, Va., the closest shipyard that can accommodate a ship of its size, and lifted out of the water.
In the late 1950s, officials considered scrapping the ship. Donations were made to save it -- including lunch money donated by 700,000 school children.
The ship that once inspired fear, will always command respect. It is open every day of the year, including all holidays.
Our next stop: The North Carolina Aquarium -- where big changes are expected to double the number of visitors.