The U.S. Navy Role in the Creation of the Arizona WWII Memorial
By Robin Staton
The earliest known involvement between the Navy and the State of Arizona concerning the acquisition of a gun that had served on USS Arizona (BB-39) occurred in the early 1990s
between U.S. Senator John McCain and Master Chief Petty Officer
Stephen Skelley, who was stationed at the Naval Surface Warfare Center at Dahlgren, Virginia. Research done by Skelley using records at Dahlgren showed that two 14-inch/45 caliber barrels still at Dahlgren had served on USS Arizona between 1925 and 1938. One of these barrels (Serial number 28) was on the USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Senator McCain expressed an interest in acquiring that barrel for the State of Arizona to use as a public monument. Probably due to the cost and complexity of moving a 70-ton barrel from Virginia to Arizona, there was no significant follow-up to the initial discussions. Barrel number 28L3 was donated to the State of Pennsylvania in May 2009, along with a second barrel that was on USS Pennsylvania at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack (22L4), and both are currently displayed at the Pennsylvania Military Museum near State College, Pennsylvania.
In April 2011, NSWC Dahlgren Division employee Jim Poynor became aware that the spare 16-inch/50 caliber MK7 barrels for the Iowa class battleships were being scrapped following the Navy decision to retire the four ships and make all of those ships available for public display as museums. Fifteen barrels were at Hawthorne, Nevada, and eight were stored at the St. Juliens Creek Annex to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Portsmouth, Virginia. While the Navy had made the battleship spares available to museums and other qualified organizations who might be interested in displaying them, little interest was expressed. Poynor, using the same records that had been used by Skelley twenty years earlier, discovered the true history of the barrels.
Newspaper reports suggested that the eight barrels at St. Juliens Creek were unused spares that had been intended to be used to arm the USS Kentucky (BB-65), which was cancelled during construction following the end of World War II. The records at Dahlgren showed that the barrels were in fact original barrels from USS Missouri (BB-63), USS Iowa (BB-61), and USS New Jersey (BB-62). All four Iowa class ships, including USS Wisconsin (BB-64), had been re-armed with new barrels in the 1953-1955 time period following the Korean War.
When personnel at Dahlgren became aware of the true history of the barrels, they contacted a number of museums and organizations to make them aware of the actual history of the guns, and to see if there was now interest in saving them from scrapping. Unfortunately, it was already too late to save the barrels at Hawthorne. The U.S. Park Service had reserved one barrel at Hawthorne for display at Battery Townsley in the Golden State National Recreation Area near San Francisco, California, and due to Poynor’s efforts, the barrel they chose was the Turret Two, Gun 1 position on USS Missouri (Number 386).
NAVSEA PMS-333, the Navy Inactive Ships Program (Now SEA-21), stepped in to temporarily delay the scrapping of the eight barrels in Portsmouth, to allow organizations to express interest and develop plans to move the barrels. Glen Clark and Gary Kitchen of PMS-333 were key individuals in delaying the scrapping operation. Dahlgren personnel had contacted Terry McGovern, an active member of the Delaware Ft. Miles Historical Association and the Coastal Defense Study Group (CDSG). He in turn contacted numerous organizations and individuals trying to find permanent homes for the guns.
About the Author
Robin R. Staton retired in 2012 from the position of Chief Scientist on the senior technical staff of the Directed Energy Division of the Electromagnetic & Sensor Systems Department. He had joined the Naval Weapons Laboratory at Dahlgren in 1969 after earning a B.S. in physics from North Carolina State University. After graduate study in electrical engineering with Virginia Tech (1970-1972), he worked almost exclusively in technology development and demonstration for various NSWCDD projects. In addition to that work, in 1998 he was co-editor of the NSWC Dahlgren Division Technical Journal and, during the final year of his career at Dahlgren, led an effort to document and preserve the technical history of Navy work at Dahlgren since 1918. Staton has authored or co-authored 27 technical reports or papers in DoD technical symposia. He is a member of the Phi Kappa Phi national honorary society, the Sigma Pi Sigma physics society, and the IEEE. He is a charter member of the Dahlgren Heritage Museum and has shared his knowledge with visitors as a docent.