PHOENIX – In a west Phoenix industrial area, Master Sgt. Kelly Dugan and a team Arizona Air National Guard volunteers scrape rust from gun barrels that once graced the USS Arizona and USS Missouri.
“It’s a piece of military history, it’s a piece of American history,” Dugan said.
Later in the day came sandblasting and primer. Boy Scouts will paint topcoats in the next few weeks.
Refurbishing the two barrels, one from each battleship, is a final step toward completing a World War II memorial outside the Arizona State Capitol.
The memorial is to be dedicated on Dec. 7, commemorating the 72nd anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
“It will be a neat way to recognize the ultimate sacrifice of over 2,000 Arizonans that died serving our country during World War II,” said Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who spearheaded the effort to bring the guns here from East Coast shipyards.
The barrels will flank nine steel pillars that list the names Arizonans who died in the war. They will be 417 inches apart, with each inch representing 1,000 American lives lost in the conflict.
The 14-inch-wide USS Arizona gun barrel, which was removed for servicing when the Pearl Harbor attack occurred, weighs 70 tons. The 16-inch-wide gun from the USS Missouri, on which the Japanese surrendered to end the war, weighs 140 tons.
John Thomas, the former chief attorney for the state House of Representatives, approached Bennett about the USS Arizona’s gun barrel after reading an article that said it was stored at a U.S. Navy shipyard in Virginia.
“The unique thing about the barrel is that it was preserved and transferred to the USS Nevada, where it was used to help soften the beaches on the D-Day invasion in Normandy,” Thomas said. “The barrel is back home in Arizona where it belongs.”
Bennett said military officials were initially hesitant to hand over the last gun from the USS Arizona and offered him the USS Missouri barrel instead. He then proposed taking both.
“I told them that I wanted to use the Arizona barrel as a symbol of the beginning of the war and then the Missouri barrel as a symbol of the end of the war, since it was on that ship where the Japanese signed the surrender in 1945,” Bennett said.
The state already has the USS Arizona’s anchor and signal mast, which are displayed in Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza outside the Capitol.
Private funds are covering the $500,000 needed transport, clean and display the barrels.
The Arizona Department of Veterans Services helped raise $200,000 to load and transport the barrels. David Hampton, public information officer and legislative liaison for the department, said the memorial has been long-awaited, since the state has official memorials for every war except for World War II.
“It’s about time,” he said. “I think that with the best and greatest generation of veterans rapidly leaving us, time is of the essence.”