Featured Work Friday: Kambiz Shabankare

The SJMC’s own photojournalism course instructed by Anna Mazurek has produced some remarkable content! Photojournalism student, Kambiz Shabankare, created this incredible feature story on the Battleship Texas BB-35 and San Jacinto Historic Site volunteer, Charles Smith. Check out his photos and story below!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Charles Smith: Fighting on Behalf of the History

Charles Smith, while carrying two boxes, walked toward a bench near the Texas Capitol building in Austin, Texas. The bench has been his spot every Saturday for the last four years. Smith opened the boxes one by one. He took out, from the first one, a model of the Battleship Texas BB-35 made of wood and from the other one several books and some DVDs. He placed each of them on the bench in an exact order, like every single object owned a particular area.

“I don’t want to be so close to the Capitol,” Smith said while placing the objects, “I don’t want to disturb the visitors who come to see the building, but this spot is perfect.” His spot is neither too close nor too far. Smith usually stands next to this bench, approaches visitors who are passing by and shares his knowledge of the battleship with them.

“It started 30 years ago. That was the first time I saw the battleship,” Smith said. He was 24 when saw the Battleship Texas BB-35 for the first time. On Aug. 31, 1983, the battleship transferred to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and was placed in Todd Shipyard in Galveston, Texas.

“She fought both first and second world wars,” Smith said, “I had read about her since I was a child, but it’s different when you are touching her beautiful body and walking on her deck.” The first meeting turned into a life changing event for Smith.

On April 30, 1948, few years after the end of the second world war, the battleship retired and became the first battleship, in the U.S history, presented as a memorial museum. The days of retirements seemed to be easy at the beginning. People remembered the battleship and her remarkable achievements during the war. The battleship’s presence in several battles like Iwo Jima and Battle of Cherbourg was not something that the Americans could easily forget. However, as time passed her heroic actions turned into the distant and forgotten memories. In 1956, she was commissioned as the flagship of the Texas Navy and was transferred to the Battleship Texas Commission, where her bravery turned into a nightmare.

“I am wondering if they hated her so much, they left her to die,” Smith said while his eyes were filled with a spark of anger. The commission’s negligent act against the battleship resulted in cracks and gaps in coated surfaces, water intrusion and steel deterioration.

“They knowingly destroyed her,” Smith continues, “they could have done some proper maintenance, but instead they used improper colors and materials. On one occasion, they painted the wall on the captain’s cabin and destroyed a historical world map on the wall.”

“I paid 20 dollars every week for the past two months, now I have it,” Charles Smith said while opening the box of the Wonder Woman action figure. The Comic Relief is one of few places that Smith spends time outside of his job and his passion for the battleship.

Finally, in 1983, Texas State Legislature decided to step in and assigned the battleship to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), and by Aug. 31, 1983, TPWD had the sole guardianship of the Battleship Texas BB-35. “It was a happy day,” Smith said, “She was, finally, going to be with the people who cared about her.” TPWD hired some engineers to repair the battleship. The maintenance took five years. In 1988, the Battleship Texas BB-35 began her final journey to Houston. “The problem was people could not accurately remember her anymore,” Smith alleged, “Somebody had to do something, I mean I had to do something.”

Smith always has been a lonely boy. His childhood memories are filled with being bullied by his brother and by his classmates. “I didn’t have a real friend. I was mostly hanging out with my brother’s friends. They were way older than me,” Smith said. In high school, he fell in love with history. “I was alone during the breaks, so I would go somewhere and read a historical book.” Smith added, “there was no one to protect me, not even my parents.”

Lack of protection and absence of a savior has always been Smith’s concern. Therefore, from Smith’s perspective, the Texas Commission’s negligent is comparable to what he experienced as a little boy.

In 1996, Smith, who was working in Austin mostly in seasonal jobs decided to move back to San Marcos, where he was born and grow up. “I ran away from Austin,” Smith continued while laughing, “My sister-in-law was tried to hook me up with some of her friends. I need my freedom.” He already owned a trailer, so it was a total freedom comparing to his experience of living with his married brother. He was free after all and more isolated this time.

Before moving back to San Marcos Smith realized that reintroducing the story of the Battleship Texas BB-35 to Texans has become the only mission he desired to focus on. “They don’t teach the real history in universities,” Smith emphasized, “She represents some of the most crucial events in the history of the world.” Smith’s first presentation, at the Wake the Dead Coffee House, was a total disaster. “I had my video books and my model of the battleship ready,” Smith said, “there were only a few people and I knew all of them.” After showing the video, when people started to ask questions, Smith suddenly froze. “At that moment I understood, love is not always enough,” Smith smiled and continued, “love without knowledge is incomplete.”

Charles Smith lives in an old trailer in Martindale, Texas near San Marcos. “I have everything I need,” Smith said. Alongside his passion for the battleship and a job that pays his bills, Smith feels there is nothing more he can wish for. “I don’t have a girlfriend or wife and my trailer is big enough for my books,” Smith said.

Smith spent the next two years learning every detail about the Battleship Texas BB-35, WWII, WWI and the history of America’s naval battles from 1914 to 1950. In 2010, He did his second presentation this time at the Grin’s Restaurant. “30 people were staring at me,” Smith said. Two years chasing and collecting the knowledge had paid off. “I was on fire,” Smith added, “there was no question that I couldn’t answer.”

On April 22, 2017, Smith has become an official volunteer at TPWD to represent the Battleship Texas BB-35. “No one is paying me to do it, but still is an honor,” Smith said while was collecting his belongings and putting them back into the boxes. Then he walked toward the horizon and disappeared like a lonely cowboy.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: