In 2011, the Battleship Massachusetts will return to action — at least on certain weekends.
The newly formed USS Massachusetts Living History Group will recreate an authentic, operational Navy company and Marine detachment aboard ship. The all volunteer crew is dedicated to supporting the mission of the Battleship Massachusetts Memorial in educating the public about the role of the "Big Mamie" during World War II.
"Our goal is to bring the ship back to life just as she was during the war," says Commander George Devlin, president of the group. A former Sea Cadet on the Mamie in the 1980s, Devlin prefers to call his group living historians rather than reenactors.
"We try to actually re-live the history of the ship," he says.
Rather than merely viewing artifacts and passively receiving information from static displays, a living history approach transports visitors back in time, allowing an opportunity to interact with impressionists interpreting the period. According to Devlin, Battleship Cove Executive Director Brad King is laying ambitious plans to transform the world's largest naval ship exhibit into just such an exciting interactive experience.
"Brad King has given us his full support," says Devlin. "Whatever equipment we'd like to use on the ship, he'll get it operational for us."
Volunteers plan to stand watch, just as crew members would on an active duty ship, providing a glimpse of what daily life was like aboard the wartime vessel.
"When we're here, we'll raise and lower the colors, use the ship's signal flags, and even simulate an authentic shipboard sick bay," says Devlin. The historians also plan to conduct by-the-book battle station drills and mock attacks by manning the ship's anti-aircraft guns.
Volunteer Bob Barber of Bedford, N.H., a 27-year Navy veteran and retired chief petty officer, brings his considerable experience and expertise to the group. Barber served on cruisers and destroyers and saw duty as an assault boat coxswain during the Vietnam war. Barber also trained as a naval aviator.
Pointing to the T-28 Trojan training plane on display at Battleship Cove, Barber says, "I flew that very aircraft while qualifying at Weymouth Naval Air Station."
Carl Kersting, a graduate of Maine Maritime Academy, and a veteran bridge officer in the Merchant Marines, serves as a lieutenant commander in the crew's chain of command and is the living history group's vice president.
Chris Texeira, a self-described history buff, acts as the group's vice president of women's units. Although women were never actually a part of a battleship's crew, nurses, USO volunteers and various female administrative personnel were often aboard ship while in port.
Sharply attired in a period Navy Wave uniform at the group's inaugural Jan. 15 meeting, Texeira said she wanted to make the experience more family oriented.
I see little girls touring military exhibits with their families looking completely bored," says Texeira. "I think having women interpreters authenticates the period and enhances the experience for everyone."
Jim Pereira, the crew's Chief Petty Officer and the organization's secretary and treasurer, deftly sums up the partnership between Battleship Cove and the enthusiastic members of the living history group.
"It's a unique opportunity," says Pereira. "Where else can you find someone who'll let us come and play in a museum?"
Battleship Cove is home to Massachusetts' official memorial to all Bay Staters killed in service to their nation during World War II. Located on board USS Massachusetts, this memorial symbolizes the eternal gratitude of a proud Commonwealth and nation.
More information, including how to join the living history group, is available by e-mailing Pereira at firstname.lastname@example.org.