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Law authorizing World War II memorial at Capitol turns focus to fundraising

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PHOENIX – With pending law clearing the way for a World War II memorial outside the State Capitol, organizers are focused on raising the remaining money needed to complete the job.

Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who is leading the effort, said supporters are about halfway toward the $500,000 needed to transport gun barrels from the battleships USS Arizona and USS Missouri from the East Coast and complete the memorial. Plans call for featuring a gun barrel from each ship between the Arizona’s anchor and masthead, which already are displayed in Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza.

Bennett expects the guns, which are at U.S. Navy storage facilities in Virginia and Maryland, to arrive in Arizona in the next two months.

“It looks positive,” Bennett said. “I think the closer the barrels get to Arizona and once we have them here in our possession, it’s going to really start to create a lot of enthusiasm so that we can meet our total goal of raising all of the money from private contributions.”

Earlier this month, Gov. Jan Brewer signed legislation authorizing the memorial and requiring that it be privately funded.

After the guns are sandblasted and restored, Bennett will decide whether to dedicate the memorial this summer or wait until Dec. 7, the 71st anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

The gun from the USS Arizona will signify the beginning of the war, while the gun from the USS Missouri will signify the end, as Japan surrendered on that battleship’s deck.

The memorial also will feature nine metal pillars that will look like the hull of a ship and will display the names of the approximately 1,900 Arizonans who died in World War II.

The Phoenix Rotary 100 and Arizona Department of Veterans Services have been raising money with Bennett over the past year. David Hampton, spokesman for the Arizona Department of Veterans Services, said a World War II memorial is needed to go along with other war memorials outside the Capitol.

“It’s long overdue,” he said.

Meanwhile, Robert Flores, project coordinator for the Arizona Capitol Museum, has been giving speeches to groups around the state to stoke interest and encourage donations.

“It’s a great honor to be able to give these speeches,” said Flores, whose father fought in World War II. “This memorial means a lot to me and my family, but this also means a lot to all the veterans who fought in that war. It’s only right to honor them in this way.”

Bennett said he initially inquired about a gun from the USS Arizona that had been removed for maintenance at the time of Pearl Harbor, but the Navy balked because the gun was the last from the Arizona. Officials offered a gun from the USS Missouri instead.

Through negotiations with the Navy, Bennett was able to secure both guns.

Bennett said he’s glad the state will finally have a memorial to allow generations of Arizonans to learn about the sacrifices made by service members in World  War II.

“I hope they will feel very proud of the fact that we’re honoring and remembering them,” he said.