Tomorrow morning, December 7, 2013, one gun barrel each from two battleships, the U.S.S. Arizona and the U.S.S. Missouri, will be unveiled in Phoenix, Arizona, as the new World War II Memorial is dedicated in Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza.
Despite living in Arizona, I wouldn’t have known this was happening if our friend Joyce hadn’t forwarded a very special email my way. Not that it matters in one sense; although I’d like to be there for the dedication, that’s not happening. Our weather currently includes heavily overcast skies and occasional rain, essentially rendering our solar power generator useless. Since we live off grid, that means the gasoline generators are doing their usual backup duty.
My wife is deeply disabled, no longer capable of safely handling those generators. Without them, there’s no TV, and more importantly, no microwave. That translates to no food. I dare not leave her alone for the minimum twelve hour absence (probably more like fifteen) a trip to the World War II Memorial would entail.
So, no photos or video of the ceremony forthcoming.
But we do what we can. Both of our fathers, Pam’s and mine, served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. My Dad was one of those many young men who walked into the nearest Navy recruiting office the morning after Pearl Harbor was hit and said, “Sign me up!”. Both men served in the Pacific theater. Both had combat experiences they did not choose to share with anyone after their discharge from active duty, although it’s known that the fellow who sired me had his ship sunk by the Japanese.
Thus, both of us have deep roots in World War II. I was actually born right smack in the middle of the war. I’ve toured the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. We live in Arizona.
For us, this dedication in Phoenix on the 72nd anniversary of the sneak attack by the Japanese is a big deal.
Joyce’s email included the following video, which details how Arizona came to acquire both gun barrels. Here’s a quote from Ken Bennett’s explanation:
A gentleman who used to work at the House of Representatives when I was in the State Senate, his name is John Thomas. He’s kind of a World War II history buff and ran across a story that mentioned that the Navy still had one remaining gun barrel from the battleship Arizona.
The idea occurred to him to see if the Navy would give it to us, and we could put it out here in the plaza next to the anchor and the masthead that we already have from the Arizona.
So he came to my office about three years ago. He said, would I as the Secretary of State, take the lead in contacting the Navy and seeing if they would give us that one remaining gun barrel from the Arizona.
At first, they were hesitant, because it was the last one they had….
Ken goes on to explain that when (a) the Navy offered a gun barrel from the U.S.S. Missouri instead, then (b) our side suggested, hey, one of each would be good, (c) the Navy decision maker got pretty excited. We, Arizona, would have a display of the “bookends”, gun barrels from the start of the war (the sunken Arizona) and the end of the war (the Missouri, upon which the Japanese signed the papers of surrender).
Ken Bennett and the Salute the Fallen committee also have a website, gunstosalutethefallen.com, dedicated to making this memorial a reality. There’s been a lot of work involved; even ridding the barrels of a bit of unnecessary hardware was a task unto itself.
One of the most remarkable accomplishments? Every bit of this project, from transporting the huge gun barrels all the way from Virginia to building the display stands, sandblasting the barrels, and all the rest of it–has been managed without one dime of taxpayer money. Private donations have helped. Various companies such as Precision Heavy Haul, Marco Crane & Rigging, and SDB Contracting services, volunteered their services.
As a former trucker myself, though never a heavy hauler (defined as a company or driver moving rigs totaling anything greater than 80,000 lb. gross vehicle weight), I find the logistics of transporting those gun barrels to be impressive indeed.
You may have already gotten the idea from watching the video, but take a look at these screen shots. How would you like to be the one responsible for making this move successfully and safely?
Frankly, it seems to me that this acquisition by Arizona of gun barrels from the U.S.S. Arizona and U.S.S. Missouri is more than “just” a tribute to the fallen, as important as that may be. It’s also, in and of itself, a tribute to the living, the Salute the Fallen committee headed by Secretary of State Ken Bennett and every individual who donated cash as well as every specialized business that donated its service and expertise…without taking one penny from any level of government to do it.
The Greatest Generation involved millions of awesome individuals, but some of their descendants aren’t exactly chopped liver, either.