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USS Arizona gun belongs in permanent 70th anniversary tribute

As we celebrate our centennial next February, there are many days that stand out in our history, but few have had the impact on Arizona as much as Dec. 7, 1941. Now, some of that history is at risk of being destroyed.

Few could argue the events of Dec. 7, 1941, had no dramatic effect on our nation. The attack on Pearl Harbor propelled the United States to declare war on Japan. Four years later, under the guns of the USS Missouri in

Tokyo Bay, Japanese capitulation brought an end to World War II.

Since that time, our state has shared a special bond with the USS Arizona. The state has memorialized its namesake battleship by displaying the signal mast and anchor in Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza, and has maintained an extraordinary collection of artifacts in the Arizona Capitol Museum.

The unprovoked attack on Hawaii changed the course of World War II. But it also shaped Arizona’s future. Without doubt, the military presence in Arizona during the war helps explain the state’s post-war explosion of population and economic activity. Citing pleasant weather and plentiful opportunities in manufacturing, agriculture and mining, thousands of returning GIs flocked to Arizona and built our state into what it is today.

Preserving that history is an important function of the Arizona Capitol Museum and Secretary of State’s Office. When we heard that a 14-inch gun from the USS Arizona and a 16-inch gun from the USS Missouri could be sold for scrap metal, we felt that we should try to acquire the artifacts to honor World War II veterans and complete a memorial fitting of their sacrifice. By adding these two visible bookends that represent the beginning and end of the war, we will encourage people to reflect and admire the strength and courage it takes to defend a nation.

It’s important to note, that after 13 years aboard the USS Arizona, the gun was not there at the time of the attack, as it was being relined and tested in Virginia.

The biggest hurdle we face is transporting the guns from the East Coast to Arizona. Due to their weight, length and location in Virginia, the guns will require special permits, lifting equipment and logistics. Once the guns are here, volunteers will build the concrete mounts and restore the guns for permanent display. While several local companies have expressed interest helping us with the project, much remains to be worked out if we are to meet our goal of having the artifacts here by the 70th anniversary of the sinking of the Arizona this December.

The estimated costs of handling nearly 200 tons of U.S. Navy steel could be more than $500,000. With only private contributions and corporate sponsorships footing the bill, we cannot “Salute the Fallen” without grateful citizens, veterans, active military and their families to make a contribution to the project. What better way for us to honor their service and recognize their impact on Arizona?

To promote the effort, we have launched a website — www.GunstoSalutetheFallen.com — along with popular social networks like Facebook and Twitter where people can track our progress and find out how they can help, or how to make a contribution.

It’s our hope that on the 70th anniversary of the “date which will live in infamy” this December, we will pay special tribute to those who sacrificed their lives to preserve freedom around the world and have two visible reminders of what “peace through strength” really means.

— Ken Bennett is Arizona secretary of state.

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