It’s only a matter of time and money before one of the original 16-inch gun barrels from the Battleship USS Missouri has a permanent home in Cape Henlopen State Park.
“It’s always been our goal to have a 16-inch gun,” said Gary Wray at the Aug. 8 meeting of Lewes Mayor and City Council.
The gun barrel is 66 feet long and weighs 136 tons. It required 670 pounds of powder to fire a 2,240-pound projectile up to 25 miles.
Wray, president of Fort Miles Historical Association, gave the panel a detailed update on the organization’s plans to bring one of the historical guns to Sussex County.
Wray said for years, the association has worked with the US Navy to acquire one of the gun barrels, but it wasn’t until May that the Navy was willing to part with one.
The association would add the new gun to its collection of an 8-inch and 12-inch gun.
The 16-inch gun is similar to two that were in the fort’s Battery Smith during World War II. Fort Miles Museum is on its way to becoming the only location housing displays of all three guns.
Wray said the collection would be further enticement for those interested in World War II history to visit the museum, perhaps bolstering its count of more than 10,000 visitors a year.
The Navy kept the barrels because one ship, the USS Wisconsin, was still in service and naval officials thought it might be needed.
Wray said the historical association nearly missed its opportunity to obtain barrel Mark-7 No. 371. The gun barrel is one of nine aboard the Missouri when representatives of the Empire of Japan came aboard in September 1945 to sign documents of unconditional surrender, ending World War II.
The Missouri was rebarreled in 1955, and the barrels that had been aboard her were declared surplus by the Navy and stored. But, Wray said, it wasn’t until last year that the Navy declared the barrels scrap, and 16 stored in Hawthorn, Nev., were cut up.
Of the last eight barrels, two from the USS Missouri are stored at St. Julian’s Creek Annex, which is part of Norfolk Naval Shipyard. Wray said the state of Arizona has applied for one, and Lewes will take the other.
“Our big issue now is raising money,” Wray said about the estimated $100,000 needed to ship the barrel by barge and by rail to Cape Henlopen State Park.
He said fundraising to pay for the move is critical, and so far they have more than $20,000.
Wray said a representative from Cranemaster in Richmond, Va., will visit Lewes to determine how best to lift the massive barrel from a rail car and, probably using a cradle, walk it 1.5 miles into the state park, where it would be displayed opposite the Biden Center.
Wray said the association’s long-range plan is to install the barrel – complete with its carriage and breech – to make it the last static display of a 16-inch gun in the world. He said it would take about two years to complete construction of the display.
Wray said the Navy has given the historical association until September 2012 to pick up the barrel.
“People know they’re a part of history, and once they’re gone, they’re gone,” he said.
The USS Missouri was launched Jan. 29, 1944, and commissioned June 11, 1944, assigned to the Pacific Third Fleet.
The Missouri was part of the force that carried out bombing raids over Tokyo and provided firepower in the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. During the war’s final month, the Missouri served as Admiral William “ Bull” Halsey’s flagship.
In 1955, the Missouri was decommissioned and mothballed at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Wash.
In 1986, the battleship was recommissioned after extensive modernization and refurbishment.
The Missouri was deployed to the Persian Gulf in 1991, where it fired its 16-inch guns and launched Tomahawk missiles against Iraqi positions during Operation Desert Storm.
The battleship’s final mission occurred Dec. 7, 1991, when it led a contingent of ships into Pearl Harbor as part of a commemoration marking the 50th anniversary of the Japanese attack.
In 1992, the Missouri was decommissioned for the second time.
In August 1996, the Navy selected the nonprofit USS Missouri Memorial Association as caretaker for the battleship and Pearl Harbor as its permanent home. On May 4, 1998, the Navy officially transferred the Missouri’s care to the association.
For additional information about the Fort Miles Historical Association, go to www.fortmilesha.org.