FOREST: Wilmington and North Carolina’s battleship have earned their national praise

Battleship North Carolina is featured in this August file photo. (A.P. Dillon | North State Journal)

The day before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the people of Wilmington crowded the banks of the Cape Fear River to celebrate the launch of the city’s first ship of the war effort.

Over the next four years, Wilmington would become a major hub in our fight for freedom.

Everything from Liberty ships to new recruits passed through the Port City on the way to the battlefield.

This week, that legacy was rightfully given national praise.

Aboard the Battleship North Carolina, President Trump announced that Wilmington has now become the first American World War II Heritage City in the country. This historic designation was possible thanks to the hard work of our congressional delegation, who helped usher the program into law last year.

Wilmington is certainly worthy of this national recognition. The people of North Carolina — and Wilmington in particular — have always risen to the challenge of defending America when we needed it most.

Wilmington served as a training center for each branch of the U.S. military, and maintained three prisoner-of-war camps during World War II. The city’s North Carolina Shipbuilding Company built a total of 243 ships in just five years as America defended freedom in Europe and the Pacific.

More than 24,000 people from southeastern North Carolina came together to accomplish that monumental feat.

Once the war was won, the people of North Carolina came together again to honor those efforts.

In the 1960s, schoolchildren from across the state saved up their nickels and dimes to raise the money to give the U.S.S. North Carolina its permanent home.

Today, the Battleship North Carolina is a crown jewel of our state, visited by tens of thousands from across North Carolina — reminding them of the crucial role that Wilmington has served in the defense of freedom.

For generations, the U.S. military has been a blessing to the great state of North Carolina. We are proud to be home to nearly 100,000 active duty military members across our bases and 670,000 veterans.

I thank President Trump and U.S. secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt for honoring all of them and the brave men and women who served before them.

Dan Forest is the lieutenant governor of North Carolina and the Republican candidate for governor in 2020.