She received two battle stars for her service in World War II and was credited with clearing eighty-two mines. She patrolled the waters around the Okinawa island chain during the struggle to control it in 1945, and helped clear the waters off Japan and Korea ahead of occupation after the war. Now, she lies on her side in the Mississippi River, defeated by the Great Flood of 1993.
She is the minesweeper Inaugural, brought to St. Louis in 1968 just months before the Arch was inaugurated, to be a museum ship. During her time on the Riverfront she was joined at various times by restaurant boats, showboats and even a replica of Columbus’ ship the Santa Maria for a brief time.
20 years ago today when the Mississippi reached 49.58 feet, more than 19 feet above flood stage, the Inaugural broke loose from her moorings at about 10:45 in the evening. She and three other vessels housing a Burger King, a Taco Bell and a heliport, floated down the river.
They hit the Poplar Street Bridge. Historian at the Jefferson Expansion Memorial, Bob Moore, picks up the story.
“The police actually closed the bridge for public safety reasons about 11:20 in the evening. They said that the bridge would be closed for several hours at the time, which it was, but the boat broke free of its hangup on the bridge.”
The heliport wound up on the Illinois side, the Taco Bell sank and the Inaugural and Burger King boat were corralled by the Coast Guard.
The Inaugural was pushed to the Missouri side of the River about a half-a-mile south of the Poplar Street Bridge and left there. On the morning of September 23 she was reported to be listing to her port (left) side and by that afternoon she was on the bottom of the Mississippi where she remains today.Moore says it’s a shame.
“She was a really nice ship in a great state of repair and a great example of that type of ship, and a reminder really of the bravery of all those sailors and officers who fought in World War II.”
Moore says most of the things that could be removed from the ship have been, either by salvagers or thieves, and today there is little hope that the ship will be salvaged. She lost designation as a National Historic Landmark in 2001.
“There may be portions of the ship that might be preserved that people might see at some point. I’m not sure who is salvaging it and whether they might be on display someplace, but the ship itself I think is a loss.”
Moore is among those who remember visiting the Inaugural when it was a museum ship.”I’m always disappointed when a piece of history is lost. It really was a shame. It was an unavoidable accident that was caused by nature, but it’s still a loss.”
An attempt was mounted to scrap the hull when Mississippi River levels were low in January, but they rose and the effort was halted.
The Inaugural was one of two remaining Admirable-class minesweepers. A sister ship, the Hazard, is the only surviving vessel of that class and remains on display in Omaha, Nebraska.
More information on the Inaugural including listings of the sailors who served aboard her and many photos can be found here.