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Old Posted Aug 3, 2011, 6:50 PM
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Arizona eyes move of WWII-era ship guns

Display would mark Pearl Harbor attack

30 comments by Emily Holden - Aug. 3, 2011 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

Arizona has big plans in the works to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7 - so big they have to be brought in by train.

The U.S. Navy has granted Secretary of State Ken Bennett permission to indefinitely house two World War II warship guns - weighing 70 and 140 tons - in front of the state Capitol. Bennett will soon begin trying to raise up to $500,000 in private funds to transport the two guns from Virginia and Maryland, clean them up and display them.

The state has official memorials at the Capitol for every war except World War II, Bennett said.

Arizona does have two large items from the war already on display at the Capitol: the anchor and signal mast from the USS Arizona, the ship that symbolizes America's entry into World War II. The USS Arizona sank during Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, killing more than a thousand people. But they are not part of an official memorial.

Now, Bennett wants to import the last unclaimed gun from the ship.

Bennett originally wanted just the one gun, but military officials were hesitant to give him the last USS Arizona gun. Instead, they offered him a 68-foot gun from the USS Missouri, the ship that was the site of the Japanese surrender that ended World War II.

"We thought about it ... and I said, 'Forget this,' " Bennett said. " 'This is Arizona.' "

So Bennett came back with a new offer to take both guns and position them around the items the state already has from the USS Arizona, as bookends representing the beginning and end of the war.

That plan sold the deal.

The Legislature still must approve the placement of the guns in the Capitol Mall, said Matt Roberts, spokesman for the Secretary of State's Office.

Bennett is still working out some details.

He'll need to hire a crane company to load the guns for transport from their current homes: the USS Arizona gun from Virginia and the USS Missouri gun from Maryland. Then he'll likely need to ship them by rail because licenses to carry heavy loads across 2,000 miles of different states would be costly.

He has asked the Arizona National Guard and state Department of Corrections to help with the cleanup process; the guns have been sitting around rusting for decades.

Finally, Bennett wants to build display bases for the guns, but he's not sure those will be done by Dec. 7.

"We're trying to do something in four to five months that normally takes four to five years," Bennett said.

But even before any of that work begins, Bennett needs to raise money to fund it. He said he's considering corporate sponsorships, but he wants individuals and families to make donations to honor loved ones.

To generate interest in the memorial once it's built, he wants to place markers around the Valley indicating how far bullets from the guns could travel - the Arizona gun shoots its 14-inch shells about 12 miles and the Missouri gun shoots its 16-inch ones about 20 miles, Bennett said.

Bennett admits caring for war memorials isn't in his official job description, "unless these guns want to vote or something." But he's been a "history nut" since childhood. He obsessed over a middle-school assignment he wrote about World War II. He said he loved it, even though he got an A-.

Bennett said he can't take all the credit for the memorial idea. John Thomas, another "history nut" who was previously chief attorney for the House, saw an article about war guns that didn't have homes at least 10 years ago. Unable to bear the idea that some of these historical guns might be sold for scrap metal, Thomas suggested bringing them to the Arizona State Capitol Museum. But nothing came of it until he brought it up again this year.

Thomas called Bennett's office because the secretary of state oversees the museum, a branch of the State Library, Archives and Public Records.

"It just seemed wrong to have that (gun) barrel sitting in a naval shipyard," Thomas said. "It seemed right to have it in Arizona."

Thomas said people won't be able to understand what time period the guns hail from until they see them up close.

"Battleships are a bygone era," Thomas said. "It's different than when you just see something on a piece of paper. You can touch it. You can see it. You can imagine."

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Well its pretty cool to get the USS Arizona gun and have the Missouri gun as sort of a thrown in. Sounds like this will nicely help fill out the Capitol Mall which has always been underwhelming, memorial wise.
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