The U.S. Navy Role in the Creation of the Arizona WWII Memorial
By Robin Staton
In early 2011, Frank Thompson, the Head of the Curator Branch of the Naval History and Heritage Command, was contacted by Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett concerning the existence and whereabouts of any remaining
14 inch/45 caliber guns or other artifacts associated with the USS Arizona. Thompson passed this request to the NSWC Dahlgren Division. Dahlgren responded that barrel 28L3 and 22L4 had been donated to the Pennsylvania Military Museum and were on display there by November 2009. However, barrel 41L3 was still at Dahlgren, and records show that it was on USS Arizona (as 41L) from 1925-1938, and on USS Nevada (BB-36) as 41L2 from 1942-1944. This barrel was not at Pearl Harbor during the attack. It had tentatively been reserved for the Dahlgren Heritage Foundation because of its historic connections to World War II service on USS Nevada, the fact that it was probably the last 14 inch/45 caliber barrel proofed at the Naval Proving Ground Dahlgren since a yoke and breech mechanism were installed, and it was the last 14 inch/45 caliber barrel at Dahlgren with the original configuration. Another 14 inch/45 barrel at Dahlgren had been severely modified for an experimental test program at Dahlgren in the late 1940s/early 1950s for Project ELSIE and no longer had the same external profile. This barrel had also been on USS Pennsylvania during the Pearl Harbor attack (Number 15L5).
In early May of 2011, Jim Drake, Bennett’s assistant, visited Dahlgren to see the “Arizona” gun. (The gun was originally on USS Oklahoma (BB-37), commissioned in 1916, as gun serial number 41, manufactured at the Washington Navy Yard in 1914. (Source: C. Wright, Warship International No. 1, 2003, page 71)). It had been fired enough to be re-lined then proofed and placed on USS Arizona as 41L by 1925. Robin Staton hosted Drake's tour of the gun line and
inspection of gun 41L3. Staton also attempted to persuade Drake that, since Arizona already had a number of artifacts from BB-39 on display at the Arizona Capitol, including an anchor, a signal mast, the ship’s tea service, and a number of other artifacts from the ship, it would be highly appropriate for
the state to display a barrel from USS Missouri – representing the Japanese surrender and the end of WWII. This would convey the same “bookends of the war” symbolism that exists at the Pearl Harbor memorial with USS Missouri berthed beside USS Arizona. The “bookends of the war” term was suggested to Staton by Wes Pryce, a librarian and historian working at the NSWCDD Technical Library. In addition, there were three original USS Missouri barrels still available at St. Juliens Creek. Drake was provided with some photographs and documents supporting the rationale for displaying a Missouri barrel at the Arizona Capitol.
In late May of that year, Drake and Bennett contacted Staton by telephone. Staton continued to advocate that the state take a USS Missouri barrel, considering the cost of moving a single barrel from Virginia to Arizona and the reluctance to release the USS Arizona barrel from Dahlgren. They indicated that they had decided to request BOTH barrels and move them to Arizona for their WWII memorial. Considering the symbolism described above, Staton said it would be hard not to support such a proposal, and if Arizona would commit to taking both barrels and display them together he would advocate support with the NSWCDD command and with PMS-333. Bennett was advised to immediately contact Glen Clark of PMS-333 (now SEA-21).
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.