Who is the Longest Serving Crewmember?
Who served onboard Battleship Texas the longest? While we can’t say for sure because we don’t have complete copies of the ship’s muster rolls and officer rosters, we do know of some strong competition for that title.
Chief Turret Captain Taylor Gonzales enlisted in the Navy sometime in the 1930s and served on Battleship Texas from 1939 or earlier through 1946. He came aboard as a Gunner’s Mate 3rd class, eventually working his way to Chief Gunner’s Mate in 1942. Not long after Operation Torch in November 1942 he was transferred to 3rd Division and made Turret Captain. This put him directly in charge of about 60 men and most of the operations of Turret #3. In that role he also had the unique responsibility of directly overseeing the firing of the ship’s aircraft catapult. This gave him a close working relationship with the ship’s aviation detachment, who referred to him as “their” chief. In 1946 Texas went into reserves and CTC Gonzales was transferred to USS Mississippi (BB-41, later AG-128) in July to oversee training of gun crews for major caliber turrets. CTC Gonzales remained in the Navy until at least 1958 and passed away in 1972 at the age of 61.
Chief Cook Alejandrino Dumlao enlisted in the Navy in 1930. Dumlao was born in 1909 in San Narcisco, Zambales, Philippines – being a Filipino man, when he enlisted he was restricted by law to serving in messman branch ratings (Officer’s Steward and Officer’s Cook at that time). He served on Battleship Texas from 1938 or earlier until 1946. In 1938, while serving aboard Battleship Texas as an Officer’s Cook 1st Class, Dumlao and another Filipino cook from Battleship Texas, Fidel Landaz, went to the federal courthouse in Norfolk, Virginia to begin their naturalization process. In late 1942, Dumlao was promoted to Chief Officer’s Cook within a month of the Chief rating being established for cooks and stewards. After he left the ship in 1946 he continued serving in the Navy through at least the Korean War. Chief Dumlao passed away in 1999 and is now buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Before we get to our top contender for the longest serving crewmember, we have an honorable mention for Captain Victor Blue. Captain Blue was the longest serving captain of Battleship Texas, in command from August 1916 to December 1918. After the US entry into World War I, Battleship Texas attempted to cross the Atlantic in September 1917 to join the Grand Fleet in the North Sea, but ran aground at Block Island. Captain Blue’s career survived the investigation and court martial that followed, without loss of rank or being relieved of command. Battleship Texas went into dry dock for repairs after she freed herself, then successfully crossed the Atlantic under Captain Blue’s command in January 1918. After the Armistice went into effect on November 11th, 1918, Texas took part in the surrender and internment of the German High Seas Fleet. Texas returned to the US under Captain Blue’s command, by which time the points towards promotion he had lost after his court martial had all been restored. Captain Blue was selected as the new Chief for the Bureau of Navigation and promoted to Rear Admiral in December 1918, ending his never (officially) beaten tenure as Captain of Battleship Texas.
The longest serving crew member that we know of is Chief Machinist’s Mate John Jack McKeown. Chief McKeown enlisted in 1917 and served onboard Battleship Texas from 1937 until her decommissioning on April 21st, 1948. That same day he was discharged from the Navy so that he could serve as the ship’s caretaker. He was honorarily referred to as the ship’s captain during that time, living aboard the ship and continuing as her caretaker until shortly before his passing from cancer in 1970. “Captain” McKeown beat out Captain Blue’s tenure as captain, if only honorarily. McKeown was instrumental in the maintenance of Battleship Texas during her first two decades of operations as a museum and his passing proved a great loss for the ship. After his passing he was cremated and his ashes scattered in the waters around the ship on San Jacinto Day, April 21st, 1970. Here is a brief excerpt from the service held on that day: