World War II Day at Battleship Cove (5 stars)

by Johnny Monsarrat


An hour’s drive southwest from Boston is the largest collection of preserved US Navy ships in the world. It’s called Battleship Cove, in Fall River, Massachusetts, and they often have sensational events.


Last week they generously invited me to World War II Days, when 50 re-enactors from the World War II era told their stories in military dress. These hobbyist historians are eager to share their enthusiasm and knowledge. I learned a lot that I had the pieces to but never really thought about before.


The costumes are marvelous and the energy is infectious. You’ll find both men and women representing American, British, and even Chinese militaries. (The Allied Chinese government that fought in World War II would become Taiwan, driven out by the communists, and are still our great friends.) Germans soldiers are there too, which unnerved me a bit. I can’t tell whether showing empathy for German soldiers makes someone an apologist for the Nazis or simply recognizes the reality that lots of Germans were drafted who were not Nazis or racists but did not have much choice but to fight. I also had a long discussion about the American use of nuclear weapons in Japan. That decision was a brutal calculus, but war is hell.


It all takes place on and around a real World War II battleship, the USS Massachusetts, which you can explore. See the bunks, the mess hall, the equipment rooms. Watch your head! They have a modern commissary serving lunch. Next to the giant battleship you can tour a submarine and other vessels, see a helicopter, ride a carousel, or stroll the park. Next door there’s a Marine Museum and a Train Museum!


Although Fall River, where my grandmother grew up, and where I have lived, is known for its poverty, being in the bottom 10 towns in Massachusetts based on average income. However, the reason that the textile mills failed in the early 20th century was that Massachusetts pioneered child labor laws and worker safety. The mills moved to North Carolina, but for a great reason that locals should be proud of. It’s great that they have Battleship Cove to celebrate local pride.


I only wish they had a bigger budget to advertise their events, as Battleship Cove is worthy of much more attendance! Go anytime, or attend one of their other events such as the Engine Room Tour, September 17, their Navy Christmas with Santa in December, their July 4th celebration, next year’s World War II Day, or one of their overnights where you can sleep in the bunks! And they have serious remembrances on Memorial Day, Pearl Harbor Day, September 11, Veterans Day, and more.


The event was too unstructured compared to Old Sturbridge Village and other re-enactment festivals I’ve attended that have a real schedule, but that just means it has even greater potential. I’m already glad to give it a full 5 stars.