You can hardly miss it, the large number “64” looming in the sky as you near the Elizabeth River Waterfront in Norfolk, Virginia. Upon closer inspection realize the numbers belong to the battleship officially known as the USS Wisconsin (BB64). To those who know her more intimately, she is affectionately referred to as “Wisky”, a name resulting from a combination of the USS Wisconsin and the USS Kentucky whose bow was fused to the Wisconsin after an accident in 1956. After a long and proud history of serving the U.S. Navy, this formidable battleship was decommissioned and berthed in its current location where free tours are managed and provided by the Hampton Roads Naval Museum.
The USS Wisconsin is one of the largest and last of only four Iowa-class battleships ever built (the Navy switched over to an aircraft carrier based Navy). She has served in World War II, the Korean War and Desert Storm. This battleship is a staggering sum of numbers: 887 feet, 3 inches long, 108 feet wide, with 16”guns (among the largest ever made), even its anchor weighs an impressive 35 tons. She can shoot a projectile with the weight of Volkswagen up to 23 miles. This is certainly something you would not want to see moving toward you unless it was on your side. Though she currently is inactive, this ship could be re-called to service in the event of a national emergency. For this reason, all tours are limited to the exterior decks. However, you are able to literally get a peek inside the life of a sailor by peering through the portholes into the ships quarters.
In order to get the most of your tour, begin by visiting the Hampton Roads Naval Museum located on the second floor of Nauticus National Maritime Center. The Naval Museum is free and offers exhibits reflecting over 200 years of naval history from 1781 to today including “Wisky Walk: 50 Years of Service” which provides a detailed history of the USS Wisconsin.
The tour of the actual battleship is self-guided and takes about an hour. Information is posted throughout the ship and friendly docents are available to answer your questions. As these men have all served on the ship, they have intimate knowledge of its workings and as we were told “If we can’t answer your question, it probably can’t be answered”. They are also more than happy to snap a photo if you would like. Though its size and weaponry are intimidating, once you stand on its teakwood deck overlooking the sea, you begin to notice that is has a certain charm and start to understand why someone would become attached to it and call it “home”. For those of you craving the unique, this ship is available for rental for your wedding, reunion or other event.
A must see while you are in the area is the Armed Forces Memorial, which is located in Town Point Park to the left of the Nautilus. Here you will find bronze replicas of excerpts of 20 letters scattered about as though they were tossed in the wind. The letters were written home from servicemen who lost their lives in war. You can not help but be moved when reading the personal experiences which relate war on a very intimate level. The letters, written from 1777 to 1991, demonstrate the fact that though the years change, the sentiment stays the same – loss and grief are timeless. CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE - A VERY POWERFUL READ.
There are many other activities available along the waterfront: you may choose to see the many hands-on exhibits located inside the Nauticus (admission charged) or you may choose to walk along the waterfront and view many of the whimsical mermaid statues – a Norfolk trademark, or just sit on a park bench located along the walkway and watch cruise ships depart for the Caribbean. If you get hungry you can either have a picnic at one of the many tables available or dine at one of the many restaurants located inside Waterside Festival Marketplace located just a short walking distance from the USS Wisconsin. Whether you have an hour or a day to spend, you will find the perfect way to spend your time on the waterfront.
Admission: Naval Museum and USS Wisconsin Tour Free. An audio tour is available for rental for a nominal fee.
Hours: Mon - Fri: 10AM - 6PM, Sunday: Noon - 5PM
Directions: 64E to 264W to City Hall Avenue (exit 10) then follow signs to One Waterside Drive, Norfolk, VA.
For more information visit: www.hrnm.navy.mil
For more information on other exhibits located within Nauticus visit: www.nauticus.org
To schedule an event onboard the USS Wisconsin contact the Military Ceremonies Coordinator (757)322-2988