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The USS Massachusetts (BB-59) is the centerpiece of Battleship Cove’s collection of historic naval vessels. Photo taken by Route 79/Braga Bridge Project staff from Bridge work platform.

The USS Massachusetts (BB-59) is the centerpiece of Battleship Cove’s collection of historic naval vessels. Photo taken by Route 79/Braga Bridge Project staff from Bridge work platform.

Fall River residents and visitors will gain a better view of their waterfront as part of the Route 79/Braga Bridge Improvements Project, which is especially exciting for one Fall River resident commonly known as “Big Mamie.”

“Big Mamie” is hard to miss as you drive along the Taunton River on Davol Street or over the Braga Bridge. She weighs 35,000 tons and is 681 feet in length, and she happens to be the official World War II Memorial for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

“Big Mamie’s” official name is the USS Massachusetts (BB-59) and she served in World War II as one of four South Dakota-class battleships. Her keel was laid down in 1939 in Quincy at the Fore River Shipyard of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. She was launched in 1941 and commissioned in May 1942. The USS Massachusetts earned 11 battle stars for her wartime performance, which included firing the first and last American 16” projectiles of the war. Over the course of the war, Massachusetts served in numerous Pacific and European operations. She returned to the United States to operate with the Pacific Fleet until 1946, when she was decommissioned.

Pleasure boats surround the USS Massachusetts as she arrives in Fall River on June 12, 1965. Courtesy of Battleship Cove

Pleasure boats surround the USS Massachusetts as she arrives in Fall River on June 12, 1965. Courtesy of Battleship Cove

In 1962, Massachusetts was removed from the Navy Register and ordered to be sold for scrap. Luckily for “Big Mamie,” her wartime crew had been holding annual reunions and lobbied to save her from the scrap heap. In 1964, with the help of 6,000 schoolchildren, enough money was raised to bring Massachusetts to the Fall River waterfront. Over half a million people lined the shores of the Taunton River and Narragansett Bay on June 12, 1965, to greet the grand ship as she arrived at her final berth. She was officially dedicated on August 14 of that year and two months later, the USS Massachusetts opened to the public as a museum, where she remains the centerpiece of the largest collection of historic naval ships in the world, at Battleship Cove.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of “Big Mamie’s” dedication, Battleship Cove and the community of Fall River hosted a weeklong celebration in August 2015. Thanks to MassDOT’s Route 79/Braga Bridge Improvements Project, other waterfront attractions will also benefit from improved access, such as Fall River Heritage State Park, the boardwalk, and Community Boating. To stay up-to-date on the Route 79/Braga Improvements Project, sign up for the project email list.

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