Fort Miles volunteers honor fallen Delawareans

V-J ceremony takes place under shadow of USS Missouri gun barrel
September 12, 2018

The symbolism was not hard to understand.

The Fort Miles Historical Association held its third annual Victory over Japan Day ceremony under the shadow of a gun barrel from the USS Missouri, the ship where surrender documents were signed Sept. 2, 1945, in Tokyo Bay, ending World War II.

“We tend to forget those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, so that's why we celebrate V-J Day,” said Association President Gary Wray.

Volunteers read the names of 100 of the 774 Delawareans who died during World War II, including seven sets of brothers. Will Short, who coordinated the event, said the remaining names from what he called the sacred list will be read over the next seven years, 100 names at a time.

As the names were read, Sussex Academy eighth grader Nicholas Schimmel rang a bell donated for the ceremony by World War II Marine Corps veteran Rudy Swanson of Lewes.

About half way into the ceremony, a clap of thunder and rain sent everyone into Battery 519. Rain forced the 2017 ceremony to take place inside as well.

Wray said the association plans to construct a wall of honor listing the names of Delaware's fallen heroes during World War II at the site of the USS Missouri barrel at the entrance of the Fort Miles Museum in Cape Henlopen State Park.

In addition, he said, the group is obtaining a piece of the structure of the USS Arizona, which was sunk on Dec. 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor. He said that way the museum would have an artifact of where World War II began and where it ended.

Gun barrel was to be scrapped

The historic gun barrel, one of two remaining from the ship, was destined for scrap when it was rescued by the association. Donated by the U.S. Navy, the association raised more than $100,000 to transport the 66-foot, 120-ton barrel from Norfolk, Va., to Fort Miles via rail and truck in April 2012.

Four mega-ton carriage parts were located and trucked to Fort Miles in 2014. It took another two years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore and paint the rusted gun and carriage, which was assembled near the entrance to Battery 519 in May 2016.

Work on projects gets underway

Work on two long-anticipated projects at Fort Miles is now coming to fruition.

The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control's Division of Parks and Recreation, in partnership with the association, began construction Sept. 4 on a new outdoor event and programming venue at the museum.

The overlook at the top of the park’s bike trail will be closed during the two-month construction period. However, the main bike trail, the cantonment area, Tower 3, and the artillery park will remain open. Construction was timed to have the least impact on visitors, events and programming, said DNREC spokesman Michael Globetti.

The construction is the result of fundraising by the association, which includes foundation grants totaling more than $600,000 from Longwood Foundation and Crystal Trust. The venue work will be followed this fall by a project to provide a new entrance and parking lot for the museum, along with accessibility upgrades.

The work is a continuation of a series of projects spearheaded by the association, totaling more than $1 million in public and private investment over the last eight years.

Fort Miles was largest on East Coast

Fort Miles was the largest East Coast combat-ready post during World War II, with 2,500 personnel trained to protect the coast and the entrance to the Delaware Bay and Delaware River. Fort Miles had 32 of the Army's largest-caliber artillery pieces plus anti-aircraft weapons. It continued to serve in military capacities for another three decades until more than 540 acres of the area were returned to the state of Delaware, forming the heart of Cape Henlopen State Park.