WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- Queen Azalea Heather French Henry's grand tour of Wilmington today included a visit to the Battleship North Carolina for the 70th anniversary of its commissioning and 50th anniversary of coming to the Port City. But the real celebrities of the event were the men who served our country aboard the battleship during World War II.
Out of the 250 surviving sailors of the USS North Carolina, 20 Navy veterans came out to celebrate.
"I was assigned to the USS North Carolina right out of boot camp in Newport, RI," Ernest Kisperd said. "I was assigned to the ship in December 23, 1940."
Out of the 22 years Ernest Kisperd served in the Navy, five were aboard the North Carolina. He says he tries to make the 18-hour drive from his home in Missouri to visit his old ship once a year.
"Everybody I knew, they've all passed away or kind of old to travel, but every time I come visit the ship I enjoy myself," he said.
Dale States began his service aboard the battleship as a storekeeper shortly after the ship's April 1941 commissioning.
"I never dreamed I'd be around here 70 years later, and I didn't expect the ship to be here either, but it's just so wonderful to come aboard and see our old ship and be a part of it," States said.
Though he served less that two years on the North Carolina, States says there are too many memories to count. He says he'll never forget the day he almost missed getting back on the ship when it was leaving Cuba in 1942.
"I could never walk out around that bay, so I jumped in the water clothes and all and swam across," he said. "I caught a liberty boat back to the ship. Never heard a thing about it."
All these years later, he and some shipmates are back again.
During the six years the ship was commissioned, more than 7,000 sailors and Marines served on board.