The Captain Retires

Capt. Terry Bragg, director of the Battleship North Carolina, begins a new chapter

BY Pat Bradford

Capt. Terry Bragg aboard the USS North Carolina, aka “The Showboat,” in December 2023. Steve McMillan
Capt. Terry Bragg aboard the USS North Carolina, aka “The Showboat,” in December 2023. Steve McMillan

June 3 was Capt. Terry Bragg’s first official day of retirement. He and Phoebe, his wife of 46 years, have been making the rounds of retirement parties and fielding phone calls.

How many retirement parties? “Lots,” Phoebe says.

“All wanted to say goodbye,” Terry says. “With many respects I have just been relieved. I have had a job continuously since I was 8 or 9 years old.”

He jokes about responding to phone calls, reminding his callers what the U.S. Constitution says about the pursuit of happiness. 

The couple’s 104-year-old South Front Street home will remain their primary residence. 

“We love our community,” Phoebe says. “We have no plans to move or take follow-on jobs. Wilmington has been good to us.”

Capt. Terry Bragg with his wife, Phoebe, during the Memorial Day 2024 Battleship North Carolina celebrations. Rubye Braye

Six years ago, on the day Hurricane Florence hit, the Braggs closed on the purchase of 28 acres of the Lincoln County farm that has been in Phoebe’s family since the original land grant to her ancestor Jonas Bradshaw. Bradshaw’s final resting place, the family cemetery, is on their farm.

“Phoebe and I purchased her family farm, which is only one hour from Blowing Rock,” Terry says.

They immediately started a major renovation of the house and outbuildings.

“Terry loved his 45 years on Navy ships, 15 of which were on the Battleship. Our years with the Navy and the Battleship gave us extraordinary experiences, opportunities, and many happy memories that no amount of money could ever buy. We are both happy and healthy and excited about our new chapter,” Phoebe says. “Retirement will give us more time to spend on our farm.”

The Braggs are working toward turning the farm’s forest into a wildlife preserve through NC State University.

Hailing from Jacksonville, North Carolina, Terry attended Appalachian State University in Boone for his bachelor’s degree, then went on to the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, for graduate studies.

The Memorial Day 2024 celebrations aboard the Battleship North Carolina included a Camp Lejeune Marine Corps honor detail at attention while a bugler played taps at the close of the service. Rubye Braye

“When Terry and I were in college and dating, he said ‘Don’t get too serious. I’m not ever getting married. I am going to buy an old scow and remodel her and sail around the world.’ So, we actually did that in reverse order. First, he sailed around the world in the Navy and then he got this old scow and remodeled her,” Phoebe says.

One week before their marriage in May 1978, Terry was commissioned into the U.S. Navy. His 30 years of service included multiple stations and ships, surface warfare, and subspecialties in financial management, procurement, and antisubmarine warfare.

In 2009, after six weeks at the helm of the USS North Carolina he was told to renovate the ship or else.

“He got a letter from the Navy that said renovate her or we’re going to scrap her,” Phoebe says.

Terry and his team raised $27 million to do just that during his 15 years as director of the Battleship.

“The most important thing I completed was repairing the hull,” Terry says of the repairs that were made in place rather than hauling the 35,000 ton ship from her berth to a shipyard, which were the original plans for repairing the extensive damage. 

“It had never been done before in the world. That is my legacy,” he says.

Other milestones under Bragg’s watch included a cofferdam to continue hull maintenance, construction of the SECU Memorial Walkway that surrounds the ship, and the Living With Water project to increase accessibility that is often restricted by floodwater.

“The project I have enjoyed the most was Living With Water,” he says.

The Battleship North Carolina photographed in December 2023, showing some of the improvements under Capt. Terry Bragg’s command — the cofferdam, the walkway, and the parking lots, which await the final stages of the Living With Water Project to mitigate persistent flooding due to the ship’s low-lying location on the Cape Fear River. Steve McMillan

Original plans had the project finishing before his retirement, but permit delays have pushed the completion date to October.

Phoebe describes Terry’s relationship with the 80-plus-year-old ship as almost an affair of the heart. 

“He can see the Battleship from his kitchen window, his lower garden, and his bedroom. That big old gray girlfriend. Now there’s going to be someone else sleeping with her,” she says.

The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners selected Dr. Jay Martin to be the new executive director. It’s the first time the Battleship has not had a military captain in charge.

Martin is a 40-year history and curating veteran. His specialties are maritime, military, and public history, as well as historic preservation and cultural resource management.

“It really is a happy day, as much as he loved his job,” Phoebe says three days into their retirement. “It’s strange, though. Ever since we’ve been married, Terry comes home smelling like metal. A ship is metal on the inside and out. Being onboard all day, it smells like metal. If he didn’t smell like metal, he wasn’t happy.”

For an in-depth look at the Living With Water flooding mitigation project, see Living With Water, Wrightsville Beach Magazine, January 2024.

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