Most slumber parties involve too much junk food, a rowdy pillow fight and a few pranks on whoever falls asleep first. But wouldn't it be infinitely cooler to bunk on the Battleship Texas, check out the gun turrets and get a leg up on the siblings?
The USS Texas was commissioned as a warship in 1914, making her the most powerful weapon on earth. She was the first U.S. battleship to mount anti-aircraft guns. By the time WWII came around, she was deemed expendable due to her age so they always put her toward the front during battles. She was there on D-Day to fire on Nazi defenses in Normandy and was later sent to lend gunfire support and anti-aircraft fire at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
Today she is known as the Battleship Texas (we now have a submarine called the USS Texas) and has been declared both a National Historic Landmark and a National Mechanical Engineering Landmark. And, amazingly enough, this veteran of two world wars is available for the sleepover of a lifetime.
The Battleship Texas Overnight Education Program isn't just for kids; adult groups have participated in this mini immersion into early 20th century crew life. The adventure begins right after supper with the raising of your group's flag. After a night tour of the lower decks, campers meet in the Dreadnaught room to watch a documentary; bonus points for those who pay attention because it gives clues that will come in handy during the ten-minute scavenger hunt. There's a lot riding on the hunt, too, because the winner gets officer-worthy privileges and the losers must obey.
"They give [campers] a guided tour and then they watch a documentary film about the Texas, live action shots and interviews with veterans," says Overnight Education Program Manager Kandace Trujillo.
"Part of the tour is going into turret one, one of the 14-inch guns, the most powerful guns in the world. It's not loaded," says Trujillo. "They get to see the barrel, see how it’s raised. [We] show how the shell went in, the gunpowder, how they closed it. The ship has some anti-aircraft guns that still move up and down and side to side and they can imagine what it was like to man the guns during the war."
Trujillo says some of her volunteer guides are veterans of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force, and that one of them even served on an actual aircraft carrier.
"Taps" is played at 10 p.m. and then campers spend the night on bunk bed-style racks using their own sleeping bags.
In the morning it's rise and shine to the sound of "Reveille" before dining on a kid-friendly breakfast (breakfast taco, pancakes and sausage or cereal), another tour, then flag-raising and graduation ceremonies. All campers disembark with a newfound understanding of our nation's history, a graduation certificate and a patch.
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The battleship managed to escape both wars virtually unscathed — well, the Germans did fire on the ship twice, injuring 12 and killing one — but ironically her biggest battle to date is against erosion.
More than 300,000 gallons of water are pumped out each day to keep the shift afloat. "Basically the pumps kind of keep up with the water unless there’s a new hole," says Trujillo, who says that divers usually can patch new holes within a few hours; she's only had to cancel two overnight groups.
The Battleship Texas Foundation has been established to help keep this valuable piece of history afloat. "The ship itself is run by Texas Parks and Wildlife. I work with the Battleship Texas Foundation," says Trujillo. During the last legislative session they managed to get $25 million in funding for a round of repairs. "We do a lot of stuff that the state can't."
The Battleship Texas Overnight Education Program runs year-round, 5:30 p.m. to 10 a.m., Battleship Texas State Historic Site, 3523 Independence Parkway South, LaPorte, 281-479-2431, battleshiptexas.org/register, $32 to $42.