A fixture of the Norfolk waterfront, the Battleship Wisconsin turns 75

NORFOLK, Va. - If the planks of the USS Wisconsin could talk, they would tell the stories of generations of Sailors to serve aboard America's last great battleship.

A fixture of the Downtown Norfolk waterfront for the past two decades, the Wisconsin is preparing to celebrate a major milestone.

Tuesday marks 75 years since the Wisconsin was first commissioned.

The Wisconsin quickly saw action in World War II, earning her first battle star for operations during the Luzon Attacks in December 1944. Over the following decades, she would be brought back to active service several times, serving during the Korean Conflict and during Operation Desert Storm.

On December 7, 2000, the Wisconsin arrived to her final home as a floating museum next to Nauticus in Downtown Norfolk. The City of Norfolk officially assumed stewardship of the ship in 2010.

Today, thousands of visitors from around the world tour the battleship to see what life was like for Sailors who served on the Wisconsin.

On those tours, they might meet volunteers like Dr. Matthew Pommer, a dentist who served aboard the battleship during his active duty in the Navy.

"30 years later, 15 duty stations later, to come back to duty station four and it’s now a floating museum, to be able to share that with people I think is a special gift," Dr. Pommer shared with News 3 anchor Todd Corillo.

The dental suite is largely the same as it was when Dr. Pommer served aboard, a time he looks back on fondly.

"The majesty and the lure of it was something altogether different, almost other worldly. I actually came aboard the ship while it was anchored out in the Chesapeake Bay," he remembers. "Stepping aboard and the first time your feet touch the teak wood decks - oh my goodness. It’s a Sailor’s dream come true; at least it was this Sailor’s dream come true."

Keith Nitka served on the Wisconsin during the early 1990s, tasked with helping navigate the mighty battleship.

"When I first got here it was a little overwhelming and a little daunting when I saw the size of the massive ship on the pier," he recalls.

Nitka's connection to the Wisconsin was so strong, he's now working at the Battleship Maintenance Coordinator.

"It’s just a plethora of history that’s surrounded by the metal that to some is cold and drab and dreary, but to me it’s my home."

As part of the 75th Commissioning Anniversary, more spaces on the Wisconsin are opening to the public this year for visitors to see during tours.

Clayton Allen, Battleship Operations Manager, says guests will soon get to experience the longest continuous passageway on the ship, affectionately known as 'Broadway.'

"When it’s all lit up and we are fully operational, you have several lights along here and shut off valves and things. It’s got this hot, steamy atmosphere coming from the engine rooms and frankly as the longest continuous passage, it looks and feels like a summer night on Broadway."

For all the years of history, the story of the Wisconsin is one that continues to be told to future generations.

"It’s not just the steel, it’s the people who worked here," Nitka said.

"Norfolk is a Navy town. It has been since the inception of the country, it really has. And to have the last, the best - and I am biased - the best battleship here is fabulous," Dr. Pommer added.

You can learn more about the Battleship Wisconsin and how to tour it here.

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