It’s all about honoring the people who protected our freedom, not the guns.
AZ Secretary of State Ken Bennett, April 20, 2012
Guns to Protect the Fallen Ceremony
School was closed on Friday and that meant a trip downtown to witness the U.S.S. Arizona and U.S.S. Missouri guns arrive by rail. I’ve followed the story of the project online. Having a free day meant my boys could see the plaza, mingle with people that love history and welcome the guns to the State Capital. We can donate online, we can attend the dedication and later we can enjoy picnics near the monument and know we are a small part of it’s story. It felt great to welcome the train as it pulled up to the Capital. There was an audible feeling of happiness in the air. Volunteers from BNSF railroad had polished the engine the night before for the ceremony.
I am curious about these guns, so I did some research. The U.S.S. Arizona is at the bottom of Pearl Harbor, so where did the gun come from? It seems this particular gun barrel was on the USS Arizona from 1925 until 1938, when it was relined and sent to Dahlgren for testing. It later was installed on the “super dreadnought” USS Nevada in 1942 and supported the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. The gun fired 244 rounds between June 25, 1943 and Aug. 26, 1944, according to Navy records. The Arizona barrel still includes the yoke and breech mechanism, part of the gun’s firing assembly. Other gun barrels at Dahlgren are missing those components. “The fact that this one is intact is kind of nice,” said Capt. Michael Smith, the NSWC commander. Because both of these ships were involved with the beginning and the end of the war (the peace treaty was signed on the U.S.S. Missouri) then the guns are considered an alpha and omega to World War II.
Among those in attendance were vets, a WWII WAV, Buffalo Soldiers, representatives from the Rotary Club and BNSF railroad who all had a stake in making the monument happen. Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett described how he called the Navy Department of Inactive Ships (INACTSHIPOFF) to track down the guns. He asked for the U.S.S. Arizona gun (understanding it was their last one) and the Navy said no, how about one from the U.S.S. Missouri, we have seven? Secretary Bennett persisted, as we are Arizona after all, and not Missouri. He said, “how about both?” In recognition for thinking big, we were granted both and the challenge of bringing them to the state. Secretary Bennett joked that this taught him that when you ask for one thing from the government the answer is no, but if you ask for two things, the answer is yes. I was impressed at the tenacity of the journey to bring this monument to life. Apparently Senator John McCain started the process in 1990 and here we were 22 years later, welcoming them to Phoenix. It is easy to walk by a monument and take it for granted but I learned from growing up near Gettysburg Battlefield that each monument represents a caring community who want to honor their loved ones.
Following the ceremony, we had the privilege of meeting some of the vets. Lambert Mudder is 91 years old. He is known as “Old Gramps” to the students at Greenway Middle School. He visits the school every year to talk about Pearl Harbor. One particular class impressed him so much that he invited them to join him in Hawaii for the 2011 dedication of the Visitor Center–against the odds, they raised the money and joined him. Nelson Mitchell was a server aboard the USS Jarvis, during the attack. His ship was one of the first to engage the Japanese and join the fray. When I researched both of these men, I found coutless incidences of them showing up around the community speaking, inspiring and making history come alive. This is one reason we call them the Greatest Generation.
The Arizona State Capital was converted to a State Museum in 1977, it is free and open to the public. 2012 is Arizona’s Centennial, which makes this the best time to take advantage and visit the museum. I’m always looking for a way to beat the heat in the summer, so we will be sure to stop by again in June and tour the interior. The copper domed capital is set in a plaza with free 2 hour visitor parking. The Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza is a generous sized green space in the capital complex, in the style of the National Mall. It features 30 monuments or memorials set among trees, pavilions and grass. The boys ran all over the grounds, lacing in and out of monuments. The U.S.S. Arizona currently has two monuments at the plaza, a ship anchor and a mast. I knew I was pushing it with 3 little boys under the age of 7 taking them to a ceremony. They made me proud.
Alpha and Omega,
P.S. The story behind the addition of the U.S.S. Arizona mast is a testament to the power of one person to make a change. “…The upper 26 feet of the USS Arizona Signal Mast or “pig-stick” can be found at the Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza. The superstructure above the waterline was removed soon after the attack. Admiral Earnest J. King, Chief of Naval Operations, sent the signal mast to his hometown of Lorain, OH. Commander Edwin C. Keyes, a close friend of Adm. King, commanded the naval armory in Lorain, OH. He had the mast modified and erected at the armory to be used for training purposes. The Navy added the yards (cross pieces) to the mast. Allen A. Perhach, of Lorain Steel Fabricators, made other modifications including the 36 ft. length added to the bottom of the USS Arizona’s original 26 ft. mast. The vertical shaft represents the 1,177 crewmen who gave their lives on that “Day of Infamy.” The yard stands for all those who served aboard. The USS Arizona’s modified signal mast was used until the armory was razed in 1980. It was offered to the city of Lorain, OH but was refused. In order to save the mast from destruction, Cdr. Keyes obtained authorization from the Navy for Brenne Donofrio, a naval engineer to take possession of it. The mast was moved to Brenne Donofrio’s property where it was stored for 10 years. Robert Manzetti, a retired railroad engineer from OH, learned of the mast while visiting his daughter who lived near Lorain, OH. Mr. Manzetti and Dr. Earl L. Field, a professor at Arizona College of the Bible and both residents of Glendale, Arizona formed the U.S.S. Arizona Signal Mast Committee. The Committee purchased the mast, transported it to AZ and erected it in Wesley Bolin Plaza. It was dedicated and donated to the state of AZ on December 7, 1990.” –(Source: Trip Advisor: Travels with Food)