Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Battleship Wisconsin Set to Celebrate 80th Birthday

Standing on the aft deck of the Wisconsin near Helo-Control. Helo-Control will open to visitors during her 80th birthday celebration. (Megan Roche/WYDaily)

NORFOLK — In honor of her 80th birthday, Battleship Wisconsin will open up new spaces on board, host a weekend-long celebration, and debut new tours.

Commissioned in 1944, Battleship Wisconsin was the last battleship built by the U.S. Navy. She saw action in three conflicts: World War II, Korea, and Desert Storm. Throughout her time of service, she earned six battle stars, two combat action ribbons, as well as a Navy Unit Commendation Medal.

Gearing up for the celebration, Battleship Operations Manager Keith Nitka gave an update on some of the plans.

“For the first time ever, we will have access to the ship’s interior superstructure on the general admission ticket. Before, you could travel in the superstructure before but only on a guided tour. This access also gets visitors to ‘Officers country,’ a portion of the ship where the bulk of officers on Wisconsin lived and worked. We will now have all living spaces open to see, from the newest enlisted Sailor in the Navy to the Admiral,” Nitka shared.

Officer’s Country living space will open during the 80th Birthday. Celebration for the USS Wisconsin. (Megan Roche/WYDaily)

Maintenance staff on board have been busy cleaning, painting, and adding exhibit items to the new spaces. Guests will be able to tour junior officer berthing areas, the public affairs division, the TV studio, and Helo-control.

There will also be a special spot, where guests can get up close to where she took her only hit.

“Available to access will also be Helo-control and the actual site of where the Battleship took her one and only damage over three wars during March of 1952 off the coast of North Korea. Lastly, as part of the ‘City at Sea,’ the ship’s TV studio will be available for visitors to see. The Battleship had three CCTV channels and did live broadcasts of news and weather, as well as game shows out at sea and public announcements by the ship’s Senior Leadership from the TV studio,” Nitka says.

Saturday, April 13 will be a celebration on board with special programming, meet and greets with Battleship Wisconsin veterans, guided tours, and more.

The fun won’t be just limited to on board the battleship, the entire Nauticus campus will be celebrating.

“In addition to exploring new spaces, we have plans for Explosive Ordinance Disposal divers to be present with possibly their dive tank for demonstrations as well as Military Working Dogs and their handlers for a meet and greet with America’s finest Navy K-9s.  There will be Navy and Marine Corps recruiters present to answer questions about joining and the Marines will have a pullup bar. Also expected is some USMC military vehicles to see up close,” Nitka said.

At 1 p.m., an FA/-18 Super Hornet will commemorate the birthday with a special flyover.

One of the new tours debuting will be the Battleship VIP Experience. Led by Nitka, who is a Battleship Wisconsin veteran, the tour takes guests to spaces on board the ship that are not accessible to the general public. Nitka will share stories of his time on board the ship as an active duty sailor. The tour concludes with a visit to the top of the ship, where guests can get panoramic views of the Elizabeth River, nearby naval shipyards and the city of Norfolk.

The new tour costs $80 per person and is only available on select days during the calendar year.

Inside the Helo-Control room on board USS Wisconsin. (Megan Roche/WYDaily)

For Nitka, getting the opportunity to curate this new tour has brought a sense of pride. When he served aboard Wisconsin in the 1990s, he saw her firepower first-hand.

“Battleship Wisconsin is a WWII-era vessel that served this great nation through three wars and countless missions around the world promoting peace and the U.S. Navy might! Battleships were the tip of the spear during their heyday and Battleship Wisconsin is the last battleship built for the U.S. Navy arsenal and the last battleship in world history to fire her main armament, the 16-inch/50 Cal Mark 7 Naval Rifles, in combat at enemy belligerent forces,” Nitka shared.

Preserving the ship’s history for generations to come is important to those who work on her decks. She may be just wood and steel to some, but for battleship sailors, she’s a special place.

“She has been a part of the Navy in some way for 80 years and a home to thousands of U.S. sailors and Marines. This place is now a home that they can visit and share with their families as well as people from all over the world and talk about what it is like to be a battleship sailor,” Nitka says.

On April 16, Battleship Wisconsin will celebrate her 80th commissioning with a time capsule ceremony. The time capsule will be filled with an artifact from each decade of the battleship and the capsule will be opened during the ship’s 100th anniversary in April 2044. While the ceremony is closed to the public, there will be a livestream available on

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