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Piece of battleship departs for museum

By CATHY DYSON

A gun barrel from the USS Arizona began its westward trek on Tuesday, as it headed from the Navy base at Dahlgren to the state it was named after.

Officials from the state of Arizona, the Navy and local researchers with the Dahlgren History Project gathered  at the Naval Support Facility Dahlgren on Tuesday morning to watch the impressive operation.

Researchers saw a cherished piece of history lifted from the ground and American flags billow in the breeze—as if on cue—when the rusted metal gun was loaded safely onto a truck.

“It’s really kind of remarkable that this one has survived,” said Robin Staton, who retired after 42 years at Dahlgren but still researches the base’s history. “In the 1950s, the Navy scrapped 38 of these barrels—they were cut up and melted down.”

The Arizona gun faces a much better fate. It will become part of a new World War II memorial in Phoenix, scheduled to be dedicated on Pearl Harbor Day, Dec. 7, 2012.

“Thank you for sharing some of your history with our state,” Ken Bennett, Arizona’s Secretary of State, told those gathered.

Bennett is the No. 2 state official in Arizona, and he traveled to King George County to watch a crane lift the gun barrel from wooden planks that cradled it for more than 65 years.

“It was important to me, personally, to just be out here and see it,” Bennett said.

Workers with Lockwood Brothers Inc. of Hampton, which orchestrated the move, let Bennett ride in the cab of the trailer hauling the gun.

He waved to passers-by as the truck carried the 74-ton load, up and down the hills of U.S. 301, and across State Route 3 to the King George County Landfill.

From there, the gun will be loaded onto a railroad car provided by Waste Management and hauled by train from Sealston to Phoenix.

The 14-inch gun barrel from the Arizona will be on one end of the new World War II memorial, and a 16-inch barrel from the USS Missouri on the other.

The two serve as bookends of the war, Bennett said. They represent the beginning, when the Arizona was sunk at Pearl Harbor, to the ending, when the Japanese surrendered aboard the Missouri battleship.

Ernie Saunders, an 88-year-old from Newport News, was the commanding officer of the Missouri’s turret gun No. 2. He also was aboard the Missouri during the surrender—and at the Dahlgren Navy base on Tuesday for the gun move.

“It brings back some memories,” he said, as younger men, wearing USS Arizona hats, gathered around and asked him questions.

Historians like those who have researched Dahlgren’s past have worked in recent years to save gun barrels from the scrap heap. The big expense is transportation, and the move from Virginia to Arizona should cost about $100,000, Staton said.

The state of Arizona, at the request of Sen. John McCain, tried to get a gun barrel from its namesake battleship in the early 1990s, according to a history prepared by Staton, Wayne Harman and others.

Nothing ever came of the request.

The state asked again in 2011, about the same time that Dahlgren officials heard of the Navy’s plan to scrap eight of its 16-inch gun barrels because the United States no longer had battleships in service.

Members with the Dahlgren History Project started notifying interested parties to see if groups wanted to use the gun barrels as displays.

Pete Kolakowski, who heads the operations department at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren Division, was glad to sign over the 14-inch barrel and two projectiles to Arizona.

“I think it’s great when we can commemorate the history of the Navy and the history of the United States,” he said. “Dahlgren being a part of that is fantastic.”

The gun barrel moved on Tuesday 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 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.

Cathy Dyson:   540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

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