“I was born and raised in Bay Minette and started working at the USS Alabama out of high school. My brother cut grass and I came in after he did. I went into the interview for a maintenance job and they asked me if I was scared of heights, how is my back, and if can I paint. Then they asked when can you start. I didn’t expect to be painting on the mast, the tallest part of the ship. I graduated to sandblasting and maintenance. I also started pushing things for them with a barge. I retired and came back to restore everything you see on the Battleship to its original conditions. First aid kits, radios, doors, I restore them all one at a time. We do a lot of research and archeology to make everything as original as we can. I am always learning something new. This may seem boring or time-consuming to outsiders, but a lot of the guys who served on the boat and have come back with their family to see it. It means a lot to them and me that the ship looks the way they remember in 1942, down to the smallest details.
I take everything apart, clean it, reseal it, and put it back. It is the little things such as detailing a hatch, then restoring the original wrench that dialed the hatch down. Right now I am working on a gun director. Taking things apart is where you find the original paint colors. A lot of the colors here are ‘Sick Bay Green.’ We sand off the dead coat off and find the original paint behind it. While we were shut down for the Coronavirus, I repainted the red decks. I also painted the power boxes white, the original color. We have done a lot of work, but there are still places that need work.
The best part is getting old things to work again and bringing them back to life. It is also exciting to find things that have been stowed away for all of these years. Often I am the first person who touched something all of these years after the sailors touched it. I once pulled on a drawer and found hidden magazines and love letters still in great condition. We have found initials carved in cabinets and phones. JDR was scratched into a cabinet drawer. It was a cubby hole with his tools and he didn’t want anyone touching them. We redid a phone and on it was scratched TM + WP. Some lonely sailor was thinking about his girlfriend. There are stories all over this ship and it is my job to save them.
The first time I came to the Battleship was when my class raised money to come here. We got to the picnic area and they said something happened on the ship and we couldn’t go on. I was disappointed, but I couldn’t believe something this size could float.
I fix everything on this ship, but I don’t fix anything at my house. Our grandkids stay with us and it is a full house right now. I come home and they smile and hug me and want to play with Mimi and Paw Paw. It makes all of the difference in the world. They say the baby doesn’t need to walk because Paw Paw picks him up. One day my grandkids will come to the Battleship and see the work I did, even if they never realize it. The good Lord has been with me every step of the way.”