Local man represents Hartselle, North Alabama on USS Alabama commission
Bob Jaques served in the U.S. Navy from 1958-64, but he said he never spent any time on a battleship. Instead, during his years in the service, he traveled to 42 of the 48 of the contiguous U.S. States.
Jaques was a meteorologist with the Naval Weather Service.
The Hartselle man now represents North Alabama as one of 18 on the USS Alabama Battleship Commission, a post he was appointed to by Gov. Kay Ivey.
“I knew about the USS Alabama and had visited the park a few times, but several years ago, Sen. Arthur Orr – who is a friend of mine – was working with Gov. Ivey, and she told him she was looking for a representative for the commission from north Alabama,” Jaques exlplained. “He submitted my name.”
Another man from the Tennessee Valley, Chuck Gailes, represents north Alabama on the commission with Jaques.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Jaques said he enjoyed speaking to area civic clubs about the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile.
“A lot of people have heard about the USS Alabama and the park, but it’s amazing how many people haven’t been down to visit,” he said.
The commission meets monthly in Mobile. “We actually have a meeting room inside the ship,” Jaques said. “It’s interesting to me that I’ve spent more time on that ship than any ship in the Navy and haven’t gone anywhere.”
In the early 1960s, Jaques said a group of businessmen in Mobile saw a newspaper article that said the U.S. Navy had plans to turn the USS Alabama into scrap metal. At the time, the battleship was in a drydock area in Bremerton, Wash. – a home for battleships beyond their prime.
Jaques said within 24 hours, a committee of Alabamians had been formed to let the Navy know the State of Alabama wanted the save the ship and restore it to its former glory.
The park opened Jan. 9, 1965.
The ship had quite a history during World War II, according to Jaques, and it’s a history he enjoys sharing with people who want to learn more about the attraction.
Home to a crew of 2,500 courageous Americans, the 45,000-ton war machine’s WWII adventure culminated with BB-60 leading the American fleet into Tokyo Bay Sept. 5, 1945, according to ussalabama.com.
Nine Battle Stars for meritorious service were awarded the “Mighty A” during her brief three-year tenure as the “Heroine of the Pacific.”
Jaques said the park consists of an aviation pavilion with historical aircraft, a submarine and Vietnam and Korean War pavilions.
More than 15 million visitors later, and with a statewide economic impact approaching $1 billion, the park is one of the most recognized symbols of the state.
In 2020 more than 50 international visitors toured the battleship and memorial park.
The park is not funded by tax dollars, Jaques noted, and its mission is simple: It is dedicated to all Alabama citizens who have worn the uniform of all branches of the United States Armed Forces. The park’s numerous artifacts, exhibits and displays make the park one of the country’s most visited and most unique military attractions.
Jaques said he is passionate about the USS Alabama and Memorial Park. He said he hopes he is able to serve another term on the commission.
“As a historian, I’ve always enjoyed studying WWII, and I’ve given a lot of programs and written a lot of articles on WWII history,” he said. “The battleship was just a natural fit for me, and I enjoy being a part of the commission.”