Why not a museum in South Texas to highlight historical and future contributions of multi-modal travel—air, water, rail and space—along with the service of armed forces–especially the special alliance of the U.S. and Mexico in WWII?
Rather than dismantling an historic battle ship, the Rio Grande Valley could repurpose that battle ship, transforming it into a multi-purpose museum that celebrates unique contributions from both sides of the border.
May ends and June begins with joy, as the school year ends, graduations take place, and vacations begin. But, this time on the calendar also marks solemn times for reflection and sacred memorialization.
This year we observed Memorial Day on May 29. All too frequently, many don’t seem to understand what Memorial Day means. Instead the day is seen as a time for picnics, time off from work, and store sales. Many forget about those who gave their lives for our liberty, and the sacred duty we have to honor their sacrifices.
“It is not a priest that gives freedom of religion and it’s not a reporter that gives our freedom of voice. It is not the judge, lawyer, politician, or teacher, but the blood of a soldier that has sacrificed by choice…” (Tom Zart)
Memorializing loved ones by decorating their graves has long been a tradition. Following the Civil War, local observances of grave decorating had been taking place in towns throughout the country. Over time it became formalized into Decoration Day. Memorial Day was first officially celebrated on May 30, 1868, to commemorate sacrifices of Civil War soldiers on both sides, put in motion by proclamation of General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic. During that first celebration, former Union General and sitting Congressman James A. Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, after which 5,000 participants helped to decorate graves of the more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.
“We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke; but we do know they summed up and perfected by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.” (James A. Garfield)
By the late 1800’s, many communities observed Decoration Day. After World War I, it no longer was associated with the Civil War, instead it became an occasion for honoring those who died in all of our country’s wars. New York was the first state to formally designate Memorial Day as a public holiday. In 1971, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act which established the last Monday of May as the day to observe Memorial Day.
Following on the heels of Memorial Day is the anniversary of D-Day. On a clear and windy day on June 6, 1944, the world was forever changed by Operation Overlord’s first day of invasion. Half of the landing troops were American and the rest were from British Commonwealth realms. On that day, and subsequently, about 160,000 in contingents of troops poured onto Normandy beaches to establish a beachhead in the largest land, air and sea military operation in history. D-Day is the name given to that first day of invasion. About 9,000 were killed or wounded. Land, air, and sea brought forth personnel from the United States, the British Commonwealth, and Free France joined by Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Czechoslovakia, and Greece, air and naval support of Royal Australian Air Force, Royal New Zealand Air Force, and the Royal Norwegian Navy.
“D-Day raised the curtain on the conflict that foreshadowed the end of Hitler’s dream. The largest joint conflict landing ever… the blood from both sides flowed like a stream. When their boats hit the sand, their ramps went down, and all within paid a visit to Hell. They jumped out to do good for their country, and kill the enemy without fail.” (Tom Zart)
Second Memorial Day: June 1, 2017
South Texas observed a second Memorial Day this year. Commissioned in 1959, the 1,070-foot long aircraft carrier USS Independence completed its final 16,000-mile journey on June 1 to South Texas. “Indy” had been home to tens of thousands of veterans in her 39 years of service. Some of these veterans, their families, and other South Texans gathered to memorialize this warrior vessel. Decommissioned in 1998, the 60,000-ton last member of the Forrestal class of aircraft carriers was towed through the Brazos Santiago Pass on the way to the Port of Brownsville for recycling. This magnificent veteran of American combat is being broken up by International Shipbreaking Ltd. (ISL).
The Independence saw battle in Viet Nam in the mid-60’s, and when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, the Independence was the first U.S. carrier to enter the Persian Gulf in 28 years. The Independence saw combat in the Lebanese Civil War, and participated in Operation Southern Watch in Iraq.
“Indy” left the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, WA on March 11, coming around Cape Horn in South America. Overall dismantling will take about eighteen months. The ship’s rich armor plate is high in nickel steel, and worth about twice as much as conventional steel. The armor plate is sent directly to a mill for repurposing into other military products. The plate stays in the US; scrap is sold elsewhere.
Previously in Brownsville, the USS Constellation and the USS Ranger were dismantled. The port has dismantled five retired Navy vessels; “Indy” is the third aircraft carrier dismantled.
Re-purposing a Veteran Vessel in the Rio Grande Valley
Located in New York City, the Intrepid is a Sea, Air and Space Museum Complex, showcasing: the supercarrier USS Intrepid, the submarine USS Growler, a Concorde SST, a Lockheed A-12 supersonic reconnaissance plane, and the Space Shuttle Enterprise. The Museum is the result of hard work by many advocates who had saved the USS Intrepid from being scrapped in 1978. It was designated a national historic landmark in 1986.
Repurposed vessels have been drawn from the Mothball Fleet. Most of the mothballed ships are not easy to bring back to combat readiness. Frigates have been used for low end counter drug use and for partner support missions. The fleet has been picked over, but some ships can still be repurposed.
Corpus Christi advocates competed with other locations for the privilege of getting the USS Lexington to become a museum in that city. Others, like Los Angeles, which recently captured the battleship USS Iowa to become “the Best Cool Exhibit to See with Your Kids”, have looked to create similar museums. There are still some ships that might be good candidates for museums, and there is a process to follow to win such a prize.
Why not duplicate the transformation of veteran battle cruisers and supercarriers in South Texas? Dismantling military battleships and supercarriers can be lucrative, but these stalwart and veteran warriors are part of our historical legacy. They are not just a combination of metal parts. They hold stories and memories for thousands of veterans who live in this region, on both sides of the border, and those who visit here. Such a museum in the Valley would create a special destination with many possibilities.
The U.S. – Mexico Military Connection
The U.S. was very visible in World War II. Mexico’s role is often overlooked, but its story is an important part of the international fabric of our region.
As WWII loomed, Mexico wanted to join the fray. Many Italian immigrants lived in Mexico, and there were many Communists in the country. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, Mexico was one of the countries to pledge support and aid, and they severed ties with Axis powers. Mexican had been cool to Germans after Pearl Harbor. German submarines began to attack Mexican merchant marine ships and oil tankers. Mexico finally broke with the Axis powers in May 1942. The Mexican Navy began to engage German vessels, and Axis spies in the country were rounded up and arrested. Mexico prepared for battle if necessary; Mexican Armed Forces would eventually see combat.
In May of 1942, Mexico declared war on the Axis Alliance. Even before their official declaration of war, Mexico closed its ports to German ships and submarines. Had they not done so, the effect on the U.S. might have been disastrous. At a 1942 conference of Latin American foreign ministers in Brazil, the Mexico delegation convinced many other countries to follow them and break with the Axis powers.
Historic grievances with the US often colored Mexico’s thinking; trust was an issue. The U.S. had been a traditional foe. Before the war, relations between the U.S. and Mexico were marked by battles, invasion, and conflict. For the first time, the U.S. and Mexico would be working together against a common enemy. Both would see immediate benefits of this cooperation.
Mexico saw immediate rewards for its support from the U.S. Capital flowed into Mexico with building materials for wartime needs. U.S. purchased Mexican oil and sent technicians to quickly build up Mexican mining operations for much needed metals. Mexican armed forces were built up with U.S. weapons and training. Loans were made to stabilize and boost industry and security.
This invigorated partnership also paid great dividends for the U.S. For the first time an official organized program for migrant workers was developed and thousands of braceros came north to harvest crops. An estimated half million Mexicans joined the U.S. armed forces and fought bravely in Europe and the Pacific. Citizenship was automatically to be given to the veterans.
Mexican pilots were trained in the US; by 1945 they were ready to fight in the Pacific. It was the first time that Mexican armed forces were deliberately prepared for overseas combat. The 201st Air Fighter Squadron, nicknamed the “Aztec Eagles” was attached to the 58th fighter group of the US Air Force and sent to the Philippines in March 1945. It consisted of 300 men; 30 were pilots for the 25 P-47 aircraft that comprised the unit. By all accounts, they fought bravely and flew skillfully—seamlessly integrated with the 58th. They lost only one pilot and aircraft in combat.
About 13.9 percent-18.6 percent of Mexican-Americans joined the military in World War II—375,000 to one-half million. According to records, Mexican-Americans fought in every branch and in every battle in WWII, and received the highest percentage of Congressional Medals of Honor of a minority group. Nine thousand Latinos died in World War II.
Not many people seem to know that Mexican-Americans also played an important role in the Korean War. In fact, many of the Mexican-Americans who fought in WWII were part of the 65th Infantry Regiment. This regiment was an all Hispanic unit of the U.S. Army. For its courageous service in the Korean War, the 65th was recognized with many awards for their meritorious service. Just as in WWII, Mexican Americans once again took to the battle front and came away proud. In Viet Nam 170,000 fought; 3,070 died. This was ten percent of the U.S. population; 20 percent of casualties. Because many were infantry, they most often served at the frontline of battle. Once again, they bravely served this country.
Let’s bring a decommissioned battle ship in this patriotic region to serve as the core of a multi-faceted museum that would tell a unique story. A vessel-related museum has been quite successful in Corpus Christi with the USS Lexington on the Bay, in Los Angeles with the USS Iowa, and a major success in New York City with the USS Intrepid. Unlike the successful uses of retired naval vessels in other parts of the country, re-purposing a battleship in South Texas could also focus on the special relationship shared by the U.S. and Mexico. Let us honor the world’s best, and those who served aboard. for educational benefit of those who visit it. Let’s create a multi-purpose museum that celebrates our heritage and the unique contributions from both sides of the border.
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above editorial shows guests saluting the national ensign aboard the decommissioned Iowa-class battleship USS Wisconsin (BB-64) during a ceremony in April 2010 USS Wisconsin was officially transferred from the U.S. Navy to the city of Norfolk, Virginia. The transfer ended the requirement for the ship to be preserved for possible recall to active duty. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Scott Pittman/Released)